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Thanks to a good friend, I finally watched Harishchandrachi Factory. It is the debut film of theatre veteran Paresh Mokashi and traces the life of Dadasaheb Phalke — the father of Indian cinema. It was India’s official entry to the Oscars this year, but I hear it is out of the race.
Before that, a word about Marathi cinema. In the late 90s, Marathi cinema was not producing any good content. The more famous movies were comedies with an ensemble cast — invariably starring a combination of Sachin, Lakshmikant Berde and Ashok Saraf or movies of Mahesh Kothare where he always played a police inspector and clamped his fist saying ‘Dammits’ whenever something went wrong.
There was no National Award given to a Marathi movie between 1996 and 2000 — that is an indication of how bad the situation was. The reasons for the debacle were many : the prominent one being Marathi cinema was always in the shadow of the larger and more popular Bollywood. Production values were low, audience interest was waning and the quality of films did not help. Mind you, Marathi theatre was superb all the time, but the transition of talent from theatre to film never happened, further contributing to the fall.
Things slowly improved in the 2000s. A big boost came in 2004 when Shwaas was chosen as India’s official entry to the Oscars. The long awaited attention to Marathi cinema came. By now things were in place and with the help of filmmakers like Sandeep Sawant, Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthantar, Marathi cinema was all set and ready for the attention. Traditional ‘Bollywood’ production houses like UTV came forth with the money, the talent was always there and the audiences finally got products they were proud of. Incidentally, this was way before the M.N.S. came along to awaken ‘the dormant pride of Marathi people’.
Writers are advised to write about stuff they know; likewise for cinema. Marathi cinema has thrived on locally relevant issues and that it remains its USP. Themes are always universal, but the setting remains firmly in known territory. The line between good Marathi cinema and popular cinema is almost non-existent now — proving good cinema can be entertaining too.
I, for one, am extremely proud at the resurgence of Marathi cinema. Bengali and Malayalam cinema are considered to be the torch-bearers of good cinema in India, but Marathi cinema is catching up fast. It is sad that Maharashtra is seen through the prism of regional fundamentalism by many now, but I believe Marathi theatre and cinema can be fabulous ambassadors of Marathi culture. Marathi cuisine and music never found their way to the rest of India — but cinema might be Maharashtra’s first cultural export.
When I saw the film about Dadasaheb Phalke today, in a sense it felt like the whole circle was complete. Therefore, this longer post. I have tons of recommendations for those interested in Marathi cinema, and I’ll probably have a post in the near future. As for Harishchandrachi Factory, it has released in India with English subtitles. Please don’t miss this one. I realize I haven’t said much about the movie, but trust me on this one.