Earlier this month there was a brouhaha over the compulsory screening of Marathi films in the prime slot at multiplexes. The industry came up in arms against this regionalism, and the order was quickly altered to any time between 12 noon and 9 pm.
The political issue apart, Marathi cinema deserves all the exposure and encouragement it can get. Over the last decade or so, Marathi films have been through a renaissance and some of the best films in India are made in Marathi. Earlier Bengali and Malayalam films were admired at film festivals and feted at the National Awards, now it is the turn of Marathi films.
Earlier Marathi films used to target rural or small town audiences with Dada Kondke kind of comedies. Then, the educated, middle class audience wanted to see films that spoke to and for them, and there was a gradual shift to stories that appealed to a wider audience. The usually insular Bollywood woke up to the potential of Marathi films when Sandeep Sawant’s Shwas (2004) was picked as India’s entry for the Oscars. Suddenly there was a sense of pride in the city (and state) because a Marathi film was representing the country. A lot of people supported the team in its efforts to lobby for the film in Los Angeles. A few years later, Paresh Mokashi’s Harishchandrachi Factory (2010) was sent to the Oscars, a film that was highly acclaimed at festivals in India.
Films like Dombivli Fast, Taryanche Bait, Shala, Tingya, Gabhricha Paus, Deool, Vihir, Natarang, and more recently Nagaraj Manjule’s Fandry and Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court have been winning accolades both at home and abroad.
The most obvious reason is that these films have terrific stories, that don’t follow the empty escapism route. They want to engage audiences in real stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. They know that they cannot compete with Bollywood in the 100 crore race, but they can teach smug and arrogant Hindi filmmakers a thing or two about making films on shoestring budgets without compromising on aesthetic quality. Marathi films get subsidies and grants from the government, which helps, but the spirit behind making meaningful films is that of the producer and director alone. And, of course, the writers should be given due credit. Part of the qualitative success of Marathi films could be attributed to the fact that their writers, directors and actors come from the theatre. They have the intelligence, sensitivity and talent to make great films.
Today, Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court is being released—the finest films to have emerged out of Indian cinema in a while. Go watch it.