Film Education


MARATHI NEW WAVE CINEMA: A Special Article by Rasik Tirodkar

Marathi New wave

A Special Article by Rasik Tirodkar

Started from Shwaas…Mainly first time directors…coincided with state funding…most people from theatre background…many people from Pune…

The consistency with which quality Marathi films are being churned out in the last 7-8 years  definitely deserves an identification. The significance of the films with respect to world cinema might be minuscule, but the shift from only cheap comedies and formulaic in the 80s & 90s to a cinema which has a conscience and at the same time an artistic leaning is definitely worth some attention. But there still hasn’t been a name for this renaissance of sorts. The National Centre For Performing Arts in Mumbai, being true to its reputation has been wide-eyed enough to notice this significant change in Marathi cinema. They have been organising a film festival for the past 3 years showcasing quality Marathi films made in that respective year. The name given to the wonderful event is ‘Nave Valan’ which roughly translates to ‘a new turn’ or ‘a change in tracks’. This has been the only major attempt to identify the whole lot of films with a name. But this sobriquet feels like a Marathi equivalent of the term ‘New Wave’ which the French Cinema of the late 50s and 60s was famously called. So for the time being, due to lack of ingenuity, one has to make do with the borrowed title of ‘New Wave’.

The Films

The Marathi New Wave doesn’t have a common cinematic thread like the Italian Neo-realistic movement. But a conscious effort to push boundaries is definitely visible. Gandha(The Smell) written and directed by Sachin Kundalkar is an apt example. The film has three independent stories that are not intertwined and are told in the most linear manner. The only common link being that the protagonists in each of the three stories are going through an experience deeply involving the sense of smell. Now, the sense of smell being explored through cinema is rare not only in India but in all of world cinema. Gandha succeeds handsomely in its attempt to use smell as a cinematic tool and thus becoming a landmark film in the whole of Indian cinema.

Then there are a string of films on socially relevant topics like the Vikram Gokhale directed Aaghaat which is a fine effort to portray the racket in the private health industry with some high credible performances. The most favourite social topic seems to be rural poverty mainly based in Vidarbha. Baboo Band Baaja is a unique story of Jaggu, a bandwallah in rural Vidarbha, and his family’s attempt to break the shackles of poverty. Aarambh by writer-director Akshay Datt deals with child abuse in the most sensitive manner. Satish Manwar’s brilliant Gabhricha Paus(The Damned Rain) is a tale of a cotton farmer’s struggle to grow cotton in Vidarbha and it easily stands out among the socially relevant films. Gabhricha Paus is not only beautifully shot but the grim story is masterfully interlaced with ‘dark humour’ which is again rare in Indian cinema. Gajendra Ahire’s films (around 20 of them in the last eight years) are almost always made with a social awareness.

Harishchandrachi Factory, directed by Paresh Mokashi, is a film which gives a very fresh treatment to a bio-pic. Taking a cue from Roberto Benigni’s ‘Life is Beautiful’, the efforts put in by Dadasaheb Phalke to make India’s first feature film, Raja Harishchandra, have been displayed by adopting a humourous approach which is also slapstick at times. But never does the film undermine the significance of the event. Dadasaheb who was reportedly a jolly fellow couldn’t have got a better tribute.

The one kind of films Indian cinema has completely neglected until the recent past would be films for children. Pakpakpakkak starring Nana Patekar is one such lovely piece of cinema meant for children. Gautam Joglekar, the director, has beautifully included a social message that fits into the story without even a hint of being preachy.

Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni’s Vihir is probably the most celebrated film of the lot. It is an incisive exploration of the existential crisis which adolescents tend to grow through. The striking feature of the film would be making the visuals speak for themselves, a peculiar quality of cinema that was majorly unexplored by Marathi filmmakers. Great filmmakers like Satyajit Ray have felt that cinema majorly being a visual art, it is the visuals as a whole that should be used more prominently to convey a thought than only the background score or the dialogues which is usually the case with Indian films. In that context Vihir, Gabhricha Paus, Harishchandrachi Factory and Gandha can be held the most significant of the Marathi New Wave.

Non-Cinematic Features

First time Directors

Like the youth being the heart of most movements the recent spate of Marathi films also have been made by young directors who weren’t seen in the 90s. Young minds with fresh ideas have been the face of the ‘Marathi New Wave’.

Brotherhood

In complete contrast with the notion of jealousy and egos that is associated with a film industry, this young brigade has formed a kind of a brotherhood where cinema is worshiped. It is not unusual to find a Girish Kulkarni writing the script of Vihir and also acting in Gabhricha Paus and Gandha. Sudhir Palasane and Amalendu Chaudhary have been cinematographers for a number of these films. It is also quite common to find the names of these young men and women in the ‘special thanks’ section in the credits of each others films.

Impact of Theatre

Many people involved in making the films mentioned above like Sachin Kundalkar, Satish Manwar, Paresh Mokashi have formerly been involved in theatre. Marathi theatre has a rich history. In Maharashtra, unlike cinema, theatre has been a medium which the more thoughtful audiences have approved of. The spirited Maharashtrian youth who wanted to share their ideas with the world more often than not chose theatre as a medium over cinema. Thus in the last 50-60 years the quality of Marathi Theatre is way above the cinema during the same period. This young talent in theatre has now spilled over into cinema. Probably the modern art of cinema has caught their attention due to the exposure to cinema from across the world first through the advent of cable television and then the internet and also the film festivals which had caught on in India by the late 90s.

But the impact of theatre is most visible in the acting department. The strong performances across the board that Marathi cinema boasts of must be credited to theatre as almost all actors are the export of theatre. Of them Neena Kulkarni, Jyoti Subhash, Sonali Kulkarni, Vikram Gokhale being the most famous ones.

State Funding

This is a feature which it shares with the French New Wave. Marathi films are given grants by the state government. From nearly shutting down in the 90s, today one can say that commercially Marathi Cinema is in a much better position. The policy of giving grants to Marathi films seems to have worked on this count. But it has also given way to a trend which is detrimental to its interest. It has been observed that some producers recover their money through grants and thus don’t care to promote the film resulting into very few people actually seeing it in a cinema hall and thus defeating the purpose of making the film in the first place. Vihir, for example, was inadequately promoted during its release and even after more than a year of its release there is no sight of its DVD.

Coming out of the shadow of Bollywood

Though Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra, the city of Pune can be called the cultural capital of the state. Expectedly, directors from the current lot like Umesh Kulkarni and Sachin Kundalkar and even actors like Sonali Kulkarni, Amruta Subhash hail from Pune. Also, premier film institutions like FTII and NFAI are based in the city. Some recent movies are even shot in Pune and other parts of Maharashtra like Kolhapur, indicating a shift back to the two cities which were also home to legendary production companies of the black-white and silent era like the Prabhat Film Company and Maharashtra Film Company. The presence of ‘Bollywood’ in Mumbai has always intimidated the Marathi Film Industry as it has failed to match the big budgets and nation-wide distribution of Hindi films. Also, unlike states in the southern part of India, Hindi as a language is widely understood in Maharashtra adding to the woes. With recent trend of shooting films with budgets of around 5croresin studios outside Mumbai one can say that Marathi Cinema is slowly managing to come out of the shadow of Bollywood.

Finally, it is also necessary to understand that though good films are being made at regular intervals, the number of low quality Marathi films being made is still high. It may be because very few of the films discussed have been lapped up by the masses. The commercial fail is understandable but neither have them been acclaimed by the mainstream Marathi or even the national media. Noticeably, directors like Paresh Mokashi, Satish Manwar, Gautam Joglekar and Akshay Datt haven’t yet come up with their second films. Sachin Kundalkar’s next film is in Hindi. Marathi cinema buffs would only hope that this kind of a dream run doesn’t meet its end so soon.

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