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|September 25, 2000||
The same audiences who had fled from Marathi films over the last decade-and-a half are now beginning to trickle back. That's a start.
While only ten Marathi films were made in the latter half of the 1990s, almost 30 films have hit the floor now. That's a new life.
After years of churning out copies of Hindi films and worse-than-slapstick comedies, the Marathi film industry has recently thrown up films like Bindhaast, Tu Tithe Mee, Ratra Arambh... That's hope.
ALL of a sudden, there has been a new stirring of life in the almost down-and-out Marathi film industry over the last year. New enthusiastic filmmakers are stepping in, ready to experiment and deliver. They have realised that since the audiences -- whether Marathi or national -- are rejecting all films, any new subject or fresh perspective stands a good chance today.
Director Chandrakant Kulkarni, who dared to make his film, Bindhaast, with an all-women cast, took the first step.
"Marathi has a storehouse of beautiful literature, waiting to be tapped by filmmakers," says Reema Lagoo, who has been working in Marathi theatre and films since childhood. "The black-and-white era of Marathi films tapped it to a great extent. After which it got completely sidelined by 'formula' plots and comedy. But now, we're all collectively trying to get the industry back on track, by returning to our strong background of literature."
Right now, Reema is excited about her latest film in Marathi, Raatrani.
Based on an acclaimed Marathi play, the film explores the tragic love story between a pianist and a violinist in an offbeat manner. "I love doing the mature, well-fleshed out characters that Marathi films offer me," Reema claims.
"For here, there is a lot of scope to experiment. In Hindi films, you can't step off the beaten track for a minute since there is so much money and a whole chain of finances involved. My only problem is that I don't get as many offers for Marathi films nowadays as I would like. There seems to be this misconception about me that since I do Hindi films, perhaps I will not do Marathi ones."
AN added phillip is the government support that has been extended to the Marathi film industry. The Maharashtra government subsidy now allocates Rs 16 lakh to be refunded to a producer from the entertainment tax collected for his next production. A 50 per cent concession has also been granted for shooting at locations at Film City and other studios of Mumbai and Kolhapur.
"Apart from this, we are also negotiating with the government to grant some concessions to cinema halls screening Marathi films," informs Balasaheb Sarpotdar of Marathi Chitrapat Mahamandal. "This will make them less reluctant to screen Marathi films -- which will see us through one of biggest hurdles in the business."
ALTHOUGH the industry is excited by these changes, a few who would rather wait before rejoicing. Like Shrabani Deodhar, who set trends with her Sarkarnama three years ago. "Yes, the subsidy is a good move, but I've come across filmmakers who are misinterpreting it -- by trying to make the entire film within that Rs 16 lakh, instead of treating it as an addition to their budget! This has the potential danger of leading to a further downfall in the quality of films."
As it stands, Marathi films run on tight budgets, with the typical budget ranging from Rs 30 lakh to 35 lakh. In the case of extensive location shooting, some films even touch Rs 50 lakh. "Compromises do have to be made, of course, in films made on such tight budgets," says Shivaji Satam (of the Mahesh Manjrekar-directed Aai).
"But I still think it is possible to make good films within these parameters. And that's what all the new directors are doing now."
AMOL Palekar, who has provided a strong backbone to the Marathi film industry with his realistic films, believes that Marathi films are more realistic and intelligent than their Hindi counterparts whatever the parameters. "This explains why Marathi actresses' roles are as important as the male characters, not just singing and dancing," he says.
It's a viewpoint that most actresses in the industry seem to second, from Reema Lagoo and Varsha Usgaonkar to Mrinal Kulkarni. Reema Lagoo, for instance, enjoyed playing the ambitious politician to the hilt in her recent film, Gharabaher.
Nishigandha Wad claims to have got "utmost artistic satisfaction" from playing a fiery journalist who adopts a child in Pshandyug.
Mrinal Kulkarni portrayed a housewife made of sterner stuff in Jodidaar. "It was fun to play a woman who doesn't dissolve into tears at her husband's extra-marital affair," she recalls. "I thought it was apt because I feel women are psychologically much stronger than men. It's just that Hindi films refuse to believe it!"
VARSHA Usgaonkar, whom the Marathi press dubbed as 'Wonder girl of Marathi cinema' after her debut under director Sachin in Gammat Jammat, goes a step further. She insists that that is the incentive of doing regional films, despite the minimal fan following they provide, as compared to Hindi films.
"Most regional films have something 'different' to offer, however cliched that might sound," smiles Varsha. "As an artiste, I'm always greedy for meaty roles in heroine-oriented films. Now, with the advent of satellite television, the Marathi language has become pretty global. I get the satisfaction of seeing at least one of my 40-plus Marathi films being aired on some channel or the other every day." Varsha has four more Marathi films on hand today.
DESPITE the upbeat mood, however, the fact remains that the Marathi film industry lacks an organised distribution network. Which leaves filmmakers to market films on their own. So much so that the marketing strategy of each individual film has become a key to the success rates of films.
Prof Macchindra Chate marketed his Bindhaast aggressively. As a result of which his film was seen by a lot more people, especially youngsters across the state.
Smita Talvalkar, too, scored a 'hit' with Tu Tithe Mee, with polished marketing strategies and actually collected Rs 25 lakhs from Prabhat cinema alone, in Pune.
"But, ultimately, it is up to the Marathi-speaking audiences to watch films in their language," concludes Varsha.
"And that's the only grouse I have against our audiences. They are not proud of their own language like people in the south are. They prefer to patronise Hindi films rather than watch Marathi.
"All I want to tell people is that they should give Marathi films a chance."
For if they do, this time, the industry promises to deliver the goods alright.
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