Marathi cinema’s contribution towards Indian cinema cannot be understated.
In fact, it can be considered as a precursor to what can be called as modern Indian cinema. An argument can be made stating that Marathi cinema’s initial lack of dialogue had crippled it, to an extent. Regardless of the debatable truth in this argument, one must keep in mind that if ‘Harishchandra’, produced by the eminent Marathi Dadasaheb Phalke, had the facilities for proper recordings and post production, it would have been a Marathi film.
Many social issues were tackled through cinema, with contributions by Marathi directors, who had also tried their hands at Indian cinema and filmmaking on a grander scale. This includes a studio such as Prabhat. Writers, filmmakers and actors such as Tendulkar, V.Shantaram, Dr. Lagoo and Nilu Phoole were in their prime. The versatility in Marathi Cinema could not be questioned at the time, with devotional films like ‘Sant Tukaram’ to political films such as ‘Saamna’ & ‘Sinhasan’ gracing the big screen.
This golden period did not last for very long, however. During the 1980s through to the 1990s, a vicious circle had started playing its part. The middle-class Marathi families would only invest in a film if the content quality was marginally high. Unfortunately, quality of the films began to decrease, as did the investment of middle-class families in films. Marathi cinema started targeting a more rural audience with lackluster films, which repeated the quintessential ideas of a “masala” film. Comedy films with a lack of social importance started to gain ground. A few exceptions came to this rule. Nevertheless, what was the norm soon turned into the exception.
One such movie grabbed the attention of audiences with its story and performances. This movie was called ‘Shwas’. ‘Shwas’ bagged quite a few awards after its release, such as ‘Svarnakamal’. When ‘Shwas’ was nominated to be India’s official entry into the Oscars for that year, Marathi cinema heard what its audience with finer tastes desired. Following this, Marathi filmmaking took a giant leap. So, what is the current state of Marathi cinema?
Marathi cinema has broadened itself to the extent in which the films can be categorized into types. One such type is a banner film, which can be sponsored by a huge company and can attract the biggest of stars. Even though most banner films take the idea of the “masala” film to a bigger stage, there are a few exceptions, which act as an experiment. However, commercial films continue to hold the reign. A project which will be easy on the audience’s eyes and minds is the project which can often be chosen for funding. The end result? These films go on to become big hits.
The second type of Marathi cinema is a more balanced one. Regardless of commercial backing, the filmmakers decide to try something different and are given much more freedom to think creatively. Their desire to tell a story supersedes the desire to please the audience or rake in profits. Their marketing strategies are well funded, however, and can also be popularized by word-of-mouth. ‘Sairat’ can be considered as a balanced film.
The third type of cinema is what can be called an independent art film, or belonging to the art house genre. Their lack of budget is compensated through a gripping storyline. The movie is produced keeping in mind the idea of storytelling and proper screenplay, instead of the mainstream audience’s likes and dislikes. If critics appreciate the films, their publicity is multiplied. Winning a well-known award can also increase their chances of interesting a decent crowd of movie lovers. For example, films like ‘Court’, and ‘Kaasav’ managed to acquire good publicity when they received an award. ‘Court’ won a National Award and was India’s official entry for Oscars. ‘Kaasav’ received a National Award as well.
To sum it up, filmmaking in Marathi cinema; art, genre, stardom, public cultures and techniques have developed and have gone through revolutions of its own. What probably differentiates the crust of the film industry is the fact that filmmakers in Marathi cinema are visionaries. Having said that, other regional industries in India are also brimming with talent and innovative ideas, but collaborative ventures could profit the production of films backed by good funding, that will ultimately expand the market. As an industry, it needs to go through exchange programs and endorsement strategies to increase viewership, loyal audience base and smart tactics that will inflict a positive future for Marathi cinema.