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Marathi Cinema: Return of the Native

Shanta Gokhale

Once again, seventy years after it first happened, Marathi cinema appears to be nudging the 165-year-old mainstream theatre to the periphery of Marathi cultural life. The Hindi cinema did it in the 30s and now it is Marathi cinema. At any given moment in the last five years, dozens of films have been on the floor in various stages of production, dozens in the theatres and dozens in the queue awaiting release. Five years ago, the picture was very different. The annual tally did not amount to more than 20-25 films. Most of them were released only in the small and large towns of Maharashtra. Mumbai, its capital city, caught not a glimpse of them except at Bharat Mata in the working class district of Lalbaug, which has consistently shown only Marathi films.   A quick look backwards shows what was happening to Marathi cinema before this huge wave struck. The period from the 30s to the 60s had been pretty productive despite the shadow of the Hindi film looming large over it. The 70s when Hindi films like "Deewar" and "Sholay" swept audiences off their feet, was a lean period. The eighties saw a revival of sorts. Producer-director Mahesh Kothari tried to match Hindi cinema technologically by producing the first Marathi film in cinemascope with matching glitz and girl-meets-boy stories, still retaining touches that would appeal to rural audiences. He has continued to innovate, introducing digital dolby sound and, most recently, digital special effects into the industry. However, Hindi cinema has always been a few steps ahead, and though Kothare's films did well in the eighties, they were no competition for the Hindi product in glamour and reach. The eighties also saw the rise of Dada Kondke who made films with a rural background and risque dialogue. His films were hits with the working class and rural audiences; but once in a while a film like "Ekta Jeev Sadashiv" (Happy Loner) crossed the class line, appealing to the middle-class as well.   On this side of the line directors like Jabbar Patel and Amol Palekar were making serious films, some based on well-known fiction. Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar began working in tandem in the nineties, winning several awards for their low-budget, socially conscious films with no known stars but strong performances. There were mainstream major hits too during these years, Vijay Kondke's 1991 film, "Maherchi Sadi", being an outstanding example. But ...

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