100 years of Marathi Cinema

Its history is as old as Indian cinema. The Marathi man gave birth to Indian cinema and since then the Marathi film industry has continuously contributed to the mainstream cinema simultaneously enriching the Marathi movies as well.

Marathi cinema took off in 19th century with some unusual experimentation. Around 1885, Mahadev GopalPatwardhan performed a unique experiment ShambarikaKharolika. This much talked about experiment was akin to today’s animation. Patwardhan had hand drawn a series of small human figures with expressions smaller than 5 cm, on a 10 cm-slide.Hehad drawn more than 1,000 slides and he would display these slides in quick succession, there by producing animation. He performed these slide shows all over India and had also received recognition from the British government for his efforts. The first Marathi movie released in India was Shree Pundalik by Dadasaheb Torne on 18 May 1912 at ‘Coronation Cinematograph’, Mumbai. Marathi cinema has a unique relationship with Indian cinema. The father of Indian cinema industry, Dada sahebPhalke and who made the film Raja Harish chandra in 1913 – was Marathi and the journey of Indian cinema began from the Coronation theatre in Bombay (Mumbai was called then), where the movie was released.

It was a silent film, but that silence spoke loud and clear. The theme of the film was  about a mythological king, but many experts believe that it symbolised the struggle against subjugation and silencing of the Indian expression by the British rule.

Soon afterwards, the Marathi cinema began flourishing and unlike many other Indian language cinemas, it developed simultaneously in two cities – Bombay and Kolhapur in Western Maharashtra and over time it also spread to Pune. Kolhapuris the home of art in Maharashtra. The two brothers from Kolhapur, Anandrao and Baburao were all-rounders in the field of art and cinema. After the demise of Anandrao, with grit and determination, Baburao single-handedly created a projector and a camera. He also created the printing machine and the developing speedometer. On December 1, 1918, he founded the Maharashtra Film Company. He produced the first film, which had a female character in it – Sairandhri. It was released on 7th February 1920 in Aryan Theatre in Pune. In 1925, Baburao produced a socially relevant silent film Savkaari Paash using the technique of flashback. This became the very first India film to be shownat an international film  festival. His company, the Maharashtra Film Company, was responsible for nurturing the talents of many great artists like H M Reddy and Nagi Reddy from Chennai and V Shantaram, Damle, Fattelal, Dhaybar, BaburaoPendharkar, Master Vinayak and Nanasaheb Sarpotdar from Maharashtra. This company also launched many actors like Ruby Myers, Master Vitthal, Prithviraj Kapoor, Zebunnissa and LalitaPawar. Baburao’s contribution to Indian Cinema includes innovation,  ideals, realism and social relevance. He produced 17 silent films between 1920 and 1928.

The centenary of Marathi cinema is truly a journey of talented filmmakers working with smaller budgets to bring forward wider issues of the emerging world that is transforming the local social scenario. ‘Dadasaheb Phalke’ Award given annually for the exceptional contribution to National level Cinema itself is testimony to the contribution of Marathi to the Indian Cinema.

NanasahebSarpotdar, who had earlier worked with Baburao Painter, founded the Aryan Film Company in Pune in 1927. His film MaharachiPor based on the contemporary social issue had become a huge hit. Great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu appreciated his efforts for contributing to the social cause.

When the first Indian talkie AlamAra in Hindi was release, at the same time, Marathi movie Shamsundar was released which went onto become a success. Baburao Painter’s students, V Shantaram, Dhaybar, Damle and Fattelal decided to move out of the Maharashtra Film Company and formed their own Prabhat Film Company on 1st June 1929 in Kolhapur. They remade the silent film Sairandhri into a colour talkie. The first Marathi talkie film, Ayodhyecha Raja was released in 1932, just one year after AlamAra the first Hindi talkie film.

One of the biggest studios in India at that time was the powerful Prabhat Film Company, based in Pune. Its production SantTukaram was the first Indian Film to win the Best Film Award at the Venice film festival in 1937. The period from 1940s to1960s is considered as the classical and golden era of Marathi cinema. The Prabhat studios produced a series of Marathi films. BhalajiPendharkar, Baburao Painter, V Shantaram, Raja Paranjape, Raja Thakur, G D Madgulkar, SudhirPhadkewere the distinguished names who brought the family drama as well as social issues very craftily to the public through creative story lines. One such cinema was JagachyaPathivar (Around the World) of Raja Paranjape that weaved very gripping story line with very meaningful and melodious songs that captured the audiences.

Another form of films in Marathi that became very popular in the 1960-70 period was films based on Tamasha or folk dance and drama. Many of such films were based on the personal stories of the actors and actresses working in Tamasha theaters. Ananat Mane and later Dada Kondke captured not only the rural audience, (Of the 90 million Maharashtrians, 70 per cent live in rural area), but also in the cities like Mumbai. Dada Kondke went on to make bawdy comedies with ‘double entendre’ rustic dialogues.Those movies did not have a long-lasting impact and that era ended swiftly having got entangled in ‘too much of the same’.

Late 70s and 80s saw some hallmark films produced by Jabbar Patel, Sinhasanor The Throne about competition among power-hungry politicians and Umbartha, or The Threshold about a woman trying to establish her identity outside the family. Other notable filmmakers were Jayu and NachiketPatwardhan, who made 22 June 1897, about revolutionaries in the Indian independence movement, Vijaya Mehta, who made SmritiChitre or Memories, based on memoires of famous woman writer and Amol Palekar, whoseBangarwadi was based on a well-known story about rural Maharashtra. These films clearly demonstrated that Marathi cinema was indeed turning the page from the period of racy films.

SachinPilgoankar, Mahesh Kothare, SmitaTalwalkar, Chnadrakant Kulkarni were some other trend setters who brought back young audiences to Marathi cinema by handling unusual subjects. Mahesh Kothare made the first Marathi film shot on the anamorphic format or cinemascope. He brought a great deal of innovation in the technical quality of Marathi films, including Dolby Digital sound. He made the first film with digital special effects in 2004.

Post 2004, Marathi cinema has seen a remarkable turn around in the show and substance of Marathi Cinema. Sandeep Sawant’sShwaas (Breath) came like a fresh wave of breeze. Its success clearly demonstrated that stories handled in a simple but mature manner can make an impact. The film bagged the President’s Medal for the Best Film and was also India’s official entry to the 77th Academy Awards. After P K Atre’sShyamchiAai, (Shyam’s Mother), Shwaasis the only Marathi film to have won President’s Medal and the only regional film to enter academy awards as India’s official entry.

Movies like SatchyaaatGharat about neo-liberalism in the youth, Dombivali Fast about commuters’ woes and common man’s impotence in face of corruption, Uttarayan about love between two senior citizens, Valuabout taming of a wild bull in the village, Joshi Ki Kamble about reservation quota for low castes), Mahasattaon a worker’s ordeal in face of power of industrialists,Thaang on homo sexuality, BalirajachaRajyaYeu deon farmers’ suicides demonstrated that Marathi cinema had reached an important milestone and searching the root problems caused by globalisation.

Young film makers like KedarShinde, GautamJoglekar, GajendraAhire with veterans like Mahesh Kothare, Smita Talwalkar, AmolPalekar managed to turn around the fortunes of Marathi cinema. The industry once stuggled to make 30 odd films a year in 2007 now 100 films at time in the pipeline to realise. AnkushChaudhury and Sachit Patil’sSaadeMaade Teen, and Umesh Kulkarni’s Valu fetched about $1 million each, a sum not considered as small for the regional language cinema.

Nowadays, some of the Marathi films have also found interest in other parts of the country and they have been remade in other languages. For example, NishikantKamat’s award winning film Dombivali Fast was remade in Tamil in 2007.

Young directors and producers have also found interesting and sharp stories
based on the impact on their societies of the ruthless wave of globalisation.

And even as the cine industry itself is becoming globalised, they also find it a challenge to keep off competition from other languages. But the new wave of producers and directors has managed to keep many Indian language cinemas alive and kicking and the same is true of Marathi cinema. Such a revival is set to make Marathi cinema richer even though confronted with Bollywood’s proximity in Mumbai.

In 2009, the Marathi Film Harish Chandrachi Factory, which was based on DadasahebPhalke’s journey in making India’s first feature film, was India’s official entry to the 82nd Academy Awards. In 2012, Marathi film Deool won the best Golden Lotus National Award for the best feature film. With these recent successes in Marathi films, the Government of Maharashtra has started film grants to initiate seed projects. The new wave Marathi films have explored bold subjects with very innovative scripts and original screenplay.

The influx of funds has boosted the production values and films like Natrang and Balgandharva very aptly demonstrate the resurgence in high quality new wave Marathi cinema. In June 2012, set on one of the highest budgets in Marathi cinema, remake of the original Marathi film – SantTukaram – released.

So, where does Marathi Cinema go from here? Marathi Actor Vikram Gokhale, who has won the National Award for the Best Actorin 2013 for film ‘Anumati’ (Permission) said aptly, “It is nice that Marathi films are recognisedat a national level. However, I differ with those who say that good times have come. The new generation of filmmakers, actors and technicians are doing a good job but the new generation of audience is still missing and that is definitely affecting the Marathi cinema even today.” For Marathi cinema, which began its journey 100 years back with silent movie, this is a mute question! (The author, who heads TERRE Policy Centre and formerly Director with United Nations Environment Programme, is keen observer of transformation of Marathi Cinema)



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