In the last few years, Marathi cinema has been attracting a lot of attention in the country. A new life seems to have been injected into it. If we may ask as to what is essentially new about it, then the answer is the bunch of new directors, with fairly contemporary sensibilities.
These directors are mostly young and well aware of the world cinema as well as the other art forms. They are aware of the National Film Archives of India, the international film festivals, the DVD market etc. Their individual approach to their chosen subject is the most refreshing thing about them. Firstly, most of them have chosen and developed subjects that are close to their lives and beliefs. Significantly, most of them write their own screenplays. They have not done any adaptation so far. Their films do not depend upon the previous reputation of a known writer like Tendulkar. None of them are big budget, star driven films. Also, these are not films after any particular genre like comedy, family dramas, action, adventure, romance etc. So what makes them tick? The answer is their originality.
The rural and semi-urban setting of Umesh Kulkarni’s Valu and Vihir is a far cry from the depiction of the same in old Marathi films. Both his films create a world, which is peopled with characters, whose lives and destinies are interrelated. There is always a lot of activity emotional and otherwise in this world that is close to everyday life.
Sachin Kundalkar’s Restaurant and Gandha are subjects without much precedent in Marathi. A young entrepreneur breaking out of the moulds and trying to set up her own business is indeed a new and novel theme. Considering the fact that Maharashtrians are not a business community, such an effort on the part of the female protagonist is a refreshing experience. And the ambition of this protagonist is consistent with the progressive social tradition of Maharashtra. She is not ambitious for the sake of ambition, but her aim is to find a place of her own in life through doing something that she likes doing. Similarly Gandha with its triptych approach and the novel idea seeks to recreate a fairly contemporary experience that is inclusive of a range of experience.
Satish Manwar’s Gabhricha Paus is the only films made on the subject of the suicides of cotton farmers of Vidarbha. Eschewing melodrama, the film follows the daily truth of a cotton farmer’s life. His never-say-die efforts and the resoluteness in facing the adversities is well contrasted with the anxiety felt by his wife and mother for his safety. The tragic irony in the end is quite disturbing.
Harishchandrachi Factory is not just a film, but a cultural event in itself. Dadasaheb Phalke is a subject that should have been tackled before this considering the status the subject has. Phalke, Paluskar, Bhatkhande have been giants in the cultural fields and their contribution to arts and Indian culture is a living legacy many decades after their deaths. Unfortunately, it has not been recognized to the extent it should have been. Paresh Mokashi’s film is an attempt to revoke that spirit. Harishchandrachi Factory is not a biopic in the traditional sense of the word, but rather a saga of the monumental pioneering effort that he put in to lay the foundation of Indian film industry.
And, finally, one comes back to forget Dombivli Fast by Nishikant Kamat, which more or less began this trend in 2005. An idealistic and upright middle class Marathi manus standing up to injustice that we meet at every step in contemporary life is a theme that would appeal to Maharashtrians. This film like all the others that followed it stayed close to daily life.
Given the wide variety of themes that these films have one thing that is common and outstanding about all of them is to stay as close as possible to the daily life. They have also avoided larger than life subjects, wanton play of techniques, have not made a virtue of the socially conscious/progressive themes. Realism, therefore seems to have become their main tendency.
To have this positive development in barely four to five years is indeed a phenomenal achievement. Although one says that the New Marathi Cinema still has quite a distance to travel before it could make its mark on the international scene, there is enough room for hope.