With films like Court, Natsamrat and now Sairat, Marathi cinema has left behind big brother Bollywood in its growth trajectory. Yogesh Pawar reports on the resurgence in the industry, with films that are finding both commercial and critical success
Shwaas, the 2004 National Award winner which brought honour to Mararathi cinema half a century after Shyamchi Aai ( 1953), was a breath of fresh air. “We e took it to small villages, hirring marriage halls, school ol auditoriums and makeshift venues for screenings. Though Shwaas has no songs or recognisable stars, we were able to grow the buzz around the film,” remembers director Sandeep Sawant.
India’s entry to the Oscars lost out as it was ranked sixth. But Sawant remembers the way communities, school children and celebs like Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar came together to help raise funds for Shwaas’ Oscar journey.
A journey that began with Shwaas in 2004 and Harishchandrachi Factory ( 2009) continues to this day, believes film critic Amit Bhandari. “Later, with Jogwa ( 2009), Fandry ( 2013), Killa and Elizabeth Ekadashi ( 2014) and Court ( 2015), Katyar Kaljat Ghusli, Natsmarat and now Sairat, Marathi cinema has not only been able to break free of the formulaic, but also proved that these projects can work with the masses,” he says. In March- April 2013, a box- office slugfest between 20 films releasing in a month emerged as the biggest crisis for Marathi cinema. With over Rs50 crore riding on them and none of the biggies associated backing down, it seemed inevitable that the face- off would bleed an industry still emerging from decades of a rut.
Film critic Bhandari remembers how six films were slotted for release in April 2013. “After IPL began, big Hindi films began avoiding April- May. The multiplex owners and Bollywood stand- off led to a windfall for Mee Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy ( 2009) and the die was cast. Everybody and his monkey now wants their film to release in this slot.”
Sanjay Chhabria, MD of Everest Entertainment, which produced Aajcha Divas Maajha which released then, says such tussles can take Marathi films back by a decade. “After a long struggle to break away the farce- parody- tear- jerker formula, Marathi films are getting both mass and critical acclaim. Such crises can singe everyone.”
Unlike Bollywood, Marathi films struggle from the fund- raising step itself. While the government gives grants depending on gradation by a state- appointed panel, this is rarely more than Rs30 lakh. The grants also create a crowd of also- rans. “The state culture department needs to re- look at its grants policy for films, otherwise it’s counter- productive,” says Bhandari.
Prasad Surve, president of the Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Chitrapat Mahamandal, says filmmakers and producers have finally realised that a Marathi film needs a minimum window of two weeks. “We don’t have a star system or a season/ festival factor ( Eid, Diwali, etc). Our films depend more on word of mouth. Collections of all big hits show that the second and third weeks gross higher than the first.”
Looking ahead, filmmaker Mahesh Manjrekar says, “Marathi cinema has become synonymous with good cinema in recent times. Whether Kaaksparsh, Natsamrat or Sairat, the subject and treatment is so different. In a sense, each of our projects pushes the envelope further and thinks of something unique and different.” With the increase in the number of quality Marathi films that have found an audience not just in the state but outside too and its continuing successes, Marathi cinema is all set to soar high
er and better its records.