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The year 2016 was not only a winner for the Marathi film industry, it was also a game-changer. What bought about the turning point?

 

The Marathi film industry – one of the oldest film industries in India – is coming of age. Corporate studios and satellite television have been taking an increasingly keen interest in this regional industry in the last few years, and this has inevitably fuelled growth both in terms of content and box-office returns.

The year 2016 has been a game-changer for Marathi cinema in many ways. The year started on a fabulous note, with Mahesh Manjrekar’s Natsamrat featuring Nana Patekar, and the film emerged as a clear winner as far as the trade and critics go. The film set the ball rolling for Marathi cinema for the rest of the year.

The Indian film industry churns out around 200 films a year, of which Hindi films unarguably enjoy the biggest market share. As far as regional films are concerned, the South Indian film industry comes a close second, so much so that it is sometimes considered almost parallel to the Hindi film industry. Now we are witnessing a surge in the growth of Marathi films too. This is evident in the box-office performance of many content-rich Marathi films this year and this signals a possible turning point in this regional film industry.

Although the regional space is classically low profile, it is safe to say that Marathi cinema is on an upward trajectory, thanks to the perfect combination of rich content, technical brilliance and controlled budgets. So, whether it is the film festival circuit, domestic market, satellite rights or international film festivals, Marathi cinema is picking up pace rapidly. The industry did robust business in 2016, racking up several box-office hits and rewarding content-rich cinema. Good times are clearly here.

Contributing to the buoyant mood are burgeoning production budgets, which are giving production houses the leeway to enter the Marathi space. Naturally, marketing and promotional budgets too have a special place in Marathi film budgets.

This may also have to do with the fact that several corporate production houses as well as top Hindi film actors are emerging as big players in this fast-growing regional industry. Just like the Hindi industry, Marathi films are now being tagged with two distinct labels – commercial films that fetch revenues from single screens vis-à-vis content-rich, multiplex films.

Genres in this regional space too have evolved. While traditional drama and tamasha dominated the ‘70s, the ‘80s ushered in comedy, which is credited to actors and filmmakers like Dada Kondke, Ashok Saraf, Laxmikant Berde, Mahesh Kothare and Sachin Pilgaonkar. The industry slid into a dull phase after the ‘90s due to poor funding, poor distribution and the emergence of television as the preferred medium of entertainment, and it was the film Shwaas that reignited the spark in 2004. After that, everything began to change and a handful of films achieved commercial success, including Harishchandrachi Factory, Natrang, Vihir, Zenda, Jhing Chik Jhing and Mee Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy.

Now Marathi filmmakers are open to experimenting with genres and subjects, and internationally, too, Marathi films are marking a mark. The story has always been the real hero of Marathi cinema and from budgets that revolved around Rs 2-3 crore, to films like Lai Bhaari garnering box-office returns of Rs 35 crore, Marathi cinema is definitely riding a crest this year. The biggest and best example is Sairat, which snatched the crown when it became the first Marathi film to gross Rs 100-crore at the box office, along with being screened at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival and earning its lead actress, Rinku Rajguru, a National Award in 2015. The remake rights have also been sold in the four Southern languages as well. Clearly, the success of Sairat has been an eye-opener for those planning to invest in Marathi cinema.

A film like Nishikant Kamat’s Lai Bhaari had the novelty factor and it saw Riteish Deshmukh not only producing the film but also marking his acting debut in Marathi cinema. The film also boasts of being penned by Sajid Nadiadwala and also featured Salman Khan in a special appearance.

We also saw Vidya Balan making her Marathi debut with Ek Albela. Recently released Ventilator was Priyanka Chopra’s maiden Marathi venture under her production house and it featured Ashutosh Gowariker. Now Marathi films do not only impress the Maharashtrian audience but attract attention across India.

The question we are asking this week is: with the Marathi film industry on a winning spree this year, with the box office, critics and the audience alike, do you think 2016 was a catalyst for the industry? How do you map this year with regard to Marathi cinema? We spoke to some prominent Marathi filmmakers, producers and distributors.

 

vijay-moryaVijay Morya, Director

Regional cinema is synonymous with a limited audience. But some of the magical Marathi films like Shwaas, Harishchandrachi Factory, Sairat and Deool and many more path-breaking films have broken all the barriers of peoples vision… and it’s still going strong. I wish awareness, a proper release to hold a film in cinemas, and effective marketing were stronger. It really hurts when a film does not reach the audience. This year, Sairat did business worth `100 crore, which is unbelievable for the regional space, but it was just not the Marathi audience that watched the film but the non-Marathi speaking audience as well. So, yes, it has been a spectacular year so far.

 

avadhoot-gupteAvadhoot Gupte, Director

With every passing year, I believe Marathi cinema is marching forward, thanks to our audience who has been appreciating good work. The audience is not restricted to one genre, they are appreciating good films. Whether Sairat or Ventilator, if you can offer them good content, they will come.

 

sanjay-jadhavSanjay Jadhav, Director

In the last few years, the Marathi industry has been growing and this year has been spectacular. The year began with Natsamrat, which enjoyed a long run in cinemas; then came Sairat, which became a cult film; and now Ventilator, whose business is growing every passing day. Yes, the audience accepts good films and, over the last two to three years, our directors are making a concerted effort to offer good content.  Sairat crossing the `100-crore mark was a huge milestone for Marathi industry. In fact, after Sairat, many directors were wondering whether the audience would like films of other genres but, thankfully, Ventilator proved that the audience has varied tastes and now we all can all go back to making our own films. Sairat has become a kind of cult film.

 

girish-kulkarniGirish Kulkarni, Actor-Director

I will say from past few years our movies are doing well and every passing film sets a benchmark for the upcoming films. In the last few years we have seen films like Killa, Fandry, Lai Bhari, Natsamrat, Deool, Time Pass, Balak-Palak, Sairat and now Ventilator to name few films which have become path breaking. And has set a new sky for the upcoming filmmakers. You won’t see similar content in Marathi cinema because audience doesn’t accept repeat content.  I believe this year has been very outstanding with a lot of films doing great business at the ticket counter, especially with Sairat breaking many records and we also realised that if we make a good film, audience will come to the theatre to watch the film, be it the Marathi audience or non-Marathi audience.

 

umesh-kumkarniUmesh Kulkarni, Director

It is content that’s working in the Marathi industry and the audience has made it abundantly clear that they will accept only good content. That’s why post-Sairat, nothing else has worked. Everyone was expecting a film as good as Sairat was and now Ventilator is drawing everyone to cinemas. In the past too, Kaksparsh, Killa, Fandry and many other films that were on good subjects and also films like Time Pass, Duniyadari and Class Mate, which were more commercial, subject-wise, did well. I hope next year is even better and we have at least one good film.

 

joe-rajanJoe Rajan, Producer

This has been by far the best phase for the Marathi film industry. Undoubtedly, 2016 was a game-changer for us. We have had many big studios stepping in to make Marathi films. Let’s say a Hindi film costs `10 crore and the P&A goes up to `6 crore, the same amount can fund four good Marathi films. Profits are good, low production costs coupled with technical finesse and rich content are some of the many reasons our industry is growing.

With government support, our industry is finally on a path to establishing itself as one of the leading regional industries of Indian cinema. After making my maiden Marathi film Kanha, I am now making three more Marathi films, one of which is with Viacom18 Motion Pictures. Studios like Zee and Viacom18 have been instrumental in stimulating the growth in our industry. Ours is also the strongest content-driven cinema in India, and with the growth in box-office numbers and the growth in cinema reach, we are on a great path.

 

rajesh-mapuskarRajesh Mapuskar, Director

I was directing Hindi films and after watching some beautiful Marathi films, I decided I must make one in Marathi. That’s how Ventilator happened. I am not very sure how to regard this year for the industry but, sure, Marathi cinema is growing. In 2016, Natsamrat ran for a very long time, Sairat created a base where the non-Marathi audience now waits for a Marathi film to release. The film broke into many new territories for us and now even people around the world are waiting for our films. I hope that in the coming years we see more quality films like this because one thing is very clear – the audience will not accept a bad product and in any case, Marathi cinema is not star-driven but content-driven.

 

avinash-arunAvinash Arun, Director

The Marathi industry has been in the throes of change since 2008 and the good phase we are seeing the result of that now. Now, at multiplexes, we are assigned shows equal to those of a Hindi film. And since we have been given a fair chance, films like Sairat and Ventilator are doing great business at the box office. The best part is that these films are not only restricted to the Marathi audience. I received so many messages after my first film Killa, from non-Marathi movie-goers. Cinema has no language, the emotional chord needs to connect with the audience. I hope we break more boundaries next year.

 

ravi-machcharRavi Machchar, Distributor

In the last few years, the business of Marathi cinema has definitely increased. One of the positive outcomes is that Marathi films are now considered at par with Hindi films in terms of assigning shows at cinemas. This year, has been especially good in terms of business also. Natsamrat ran for more than 60 days, Ventilator is currently doing very good business and, of course, this year’s path-breaking film Sairat went on to do massive business at the box office.

 

sanjay-daliaSanjay Dalia, President, Carnival Cinemas

The year 2016 is definitely a breakthrough year in the history of the Marathi film industry. A-lister actors are producing and acting in Marathi films, content is very strong, music is good, the scale of release is bigger than before, renowned film studios are making regional cinema in a big way, and much more. After Natsamrat, Sairat was another Marathi film of 2016 which surpassed the lifetime collections of many Marathi films altogether. These films have performed exceptionally well not only in Maharashtra but also in CP, CI circuits of India and overseas as well. Regional cinema in India is growing manifold, whether Marathi, Gujarati, or Punjabi, whereas Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam cinema have been entertaining the audience with quality cinema for a long time. There is a long list of Marathi films that have got great ROI for its producers and exhibitors.

 

thomas-dsouzaThomas D’Souza, Programming Head, PVR Cinemas

Good Marathi films have always cornered the limelight in the regional space. Marathi films have finally been able to strike a balance between entertainment and aesthetics. With slick production values, good scripts and great performances, Marathi cinema has redefined commercial success. Undoubtedly, Marathi films were always regarded as being high on content, and now with the kind of response the films have been garnering, the content is getting commercial acclaim as well.

Sairat is a true crossover success. The film not only did well in the conventional Marathi-speaking regions but also did great business in the non-conventional centers. Recent release Ventilator is the result of a big Bollywood name being attracted to Marathi cinema, and has benefitted from the growing popularity of the studio. Marathi films draw from rich literature and address the middle class audience. Hence the strong connect and crossover potential is present in most of their films.

 

girish-wankhedeGirish Wankhede, Founder, Entity One Entertainment

Indeed, this has been a great year for the Marathi film industry owing to the success of Sairat, which broke almost all box-office records and has also been applauded by the critics. The trend is encouraging. It all started with Shwaas and gained impetus with Court. This was truly the first Marathi film positioned as ‘world cinema’ and was released in select centres in Delhi, Hyderabad, Goa and Kolkata.

Similarly, Natasamrat, Katyaar Kaljaat Ghuslli and Sairat released in centres other than Maharashtra with subtitles targeting the non-Marathi population in these centres. Marathi films have always received genuine respect and are known to be content-driven. The recent success of Ventilator has again revived excitement.

Honest cinema never fails to connect with the audience and Marathi cinema does this very well. Filmmakers have experimented with various genres and have been successful in creating a niche for them. While there is massy content like Double Seat and Sairat, the industry is experimenting with films like Fandry and Court, and is managing to maintain a balance. Several Hindi filmmakers like Priyanka Chopra, John Abraham and Rohit Shetty have put their faith in this regional industry and the future looks bright.

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