India is a nation that loves two things more than anything else; movies and cricket. Although they were introduced to India by the British, it was thanks to the efforts of some passionate Indians that they evoke such a response today. Cricket has many greats who make the game wonderful to watch, Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar (both Marathi) being the leading ones on the list. With regards to movies, on the other hand, it was Dadasaheb Phalke. At a time when people believed in superstitions like “taking a photograph can kill a person as the machine captures his/her soul”(reference: Harishchandrachi Factory, a Marathi movie), Phalke almost went broke to fulfill his dream of making an Indian movie. India’s first full-length feature movie, released in 1913, was ‘Raja Harishchandra‘ which was a Marathi film. The Dadasaheb Phalke Award is India’s highest award in the field of cinema. Marathi film industry has given movies like ‘Shwaas‘ and ‘Harishchandrachi Factory‘ as India’s submissions to the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Yet, after all these accolades to its credit, the Marathi film industry struggles for survival.
I feel happy remembering the days when ‘Mi Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy‘ released. It was the first time a Marathi movie was a rage and the first time I saw a Marathi film getting all slots for the best screens at multiplexes. It was greatly talked about and maybe, even the only time a Marathi movie was widely discussed. The movie instilled in us The Marathi Bana and pride like no other. This kind of magnanimous success was somewhat replicated by ‘Natarang‘, giving one hope of the revival of the Marathi film industry. However, with Bollywood and Hollywood movies getting most of the attention, it’s a hard time for Marathi movies to create a space for themselves. It was after the state Government’s order to make screening a Marathi movie mandatory, supported by the morchas of some political parties (mainly MNS and Shiv Sena), that they stood a chance of being screened. This, however, cannot be the solution.
It is not that Marathi films are “not-up-to-standards” that the industry is dying slowly. It is mainly to do with language barriers and some people’s half-witted mindset (the one’s who think English is sophisticated and Marathi is for the useless). The Marathi film industry has come a long way and one can say that it is way ahead of Bollywood in terms of filmmaking. However, it has lost the mass appeal it once had (remember Dada Kondke?). It is said that even Bollywood stalwarts were scared to clash dates with his releases. Today, Marathi movies are not given a second thought. They are given a screening just for the heck of it (more to do with the Government orders) and the time slots mostly make it hard for the employed audiences to even think of watching them. This leads to less revenue collection. No amount of compulsion or dum daati (intimidation) can save it if the producers don’t make profit, let alone recovering their investment.
Marathi pride can be seen in Punekars with everything they do. Just a few days ago, my article on Sheldon Cooper was greatly liked by many. Just then, a few comments cropped up, saying “It should have been written in Marathi”. The same happened with another article of mine, the one on Kothrudkar traits. I agree completely with the comments and would love to be able to write in Marathi (though my language is fluent, my writing is not. I still make Rhaswa-Deergha chuka). The problem lies with readership. Marathi limits it to a particular audience and most Marathi people too prefer reading in English. If enough people start reading in Marathi and give it enough attention and hits, even people who’ve studied in English medium schools like me would happily take the shift. After all, I am a proud Punekar and the first thing about being a Punekar is being proud of our suddha Marathi! The same is the case with Marathi movies.
The letter to Prithviraj Chavan (he’s our CM by the way, not to be confused with a Warrior King) by Neelesh Navalakha (producer of ‘Anumati‘) spoke about the plight of Marathi films. It was this letter that set me to write this article. Although the movie was screened at various national and international festivals and got a lot of attention, it did not get its due in terms of multiplex/theatre screening. This has been a case with a lot of other great films and we cannot blame the multiplex owners here. They are thinking money and profit and the fact that Marathi movies don’t do well forces them to allot them less number of screens (fulfilling only the mandated order). In the letter, he writes about ensuring there are more screens for Marathi films. But will that really help?
The only way the industry can survive is if we change our thinking and go watch Marathi movies. Yes, they are not as glamorous as Bollywood, the actresses’ aren’t as voluptuous and seductive (exception: Saee Tamhankar), the stories are mostly serious and hard-hitting (though there are comedy Marathi movies too) but they are definitely worth the money and time. We may not have larger-than-life stars like in Bollywood or action like in Hollywood but we have unmatched screenplay and storytelling abilities along with talented actors. So go ahead, watch a Marathi movie but don’t do it thinking “you’re a saviour for the Marathi industry”. Do it to enjoy yourself and the paradigm shift towards Marathi will gradually happen.