It was the maverick director – writer Dhundiraj Govind Phalke aka Dadasaheb Phalke – who laid the foundation of Indian cinema, with his silent Marathi film Raja Harishchandra in 1913. However, despite being the pioneer of Indian cinema, the Marathi film industry was left far behind with the advent of the glamourous Hindi film industry.
But Marathi cinema, with the quality of its content and the dedication of the people involved, has always managed to survive despite several setbacks, and today it is even creating waves internationally with films like Shwaas, Harishchandrachi Factory, Court and Sairat, among others.
Veteran actor-director-singer-producer Sachin Pilgaonkar, one of the pioneers of Marathi cinema; takes us through the highs and low points of the Marathi film industry and tells us that the industry is on the rise and is going to become bigger and better…
Marathi cinema actually marked the beginning of Indian cinema when Dadashaheb Phalke made Raja Harishchandra in 1913. It was the first film to be made in India. It was a silent film but I still call it a ‘Marathi film’ because, apart from the director and crew, who were Maharashtrian, the script was in Marathi and the instructions given to the technicians and everyone else were in Marathi.
Although the first talkie, Alam Ara (1931), was in Hindi, the first Marathi talkie, Ayodhyecha Raja, released a year later. And things have been evolving ever since. Prabhat Studios (Prabhat Film Company, set up in 1929 by V Shantaram and others) was dedicated to Marathi films. And filmmakers like Shantaramji made films in Hindi as well as a combination of Hindi and Marathi. In those days, bilingual films did well.
At the same time, Shantaramji also made films which were only in Hindi; these were not bilinguals. Those films also did very well and Maharashtra became the main market for Hindi films. The industry calls it Mandi, ki mandi mein film chalni chaiye. It is the basic statement of many filmmakers. Because agar mandi mein film chale it will be beneficial to all the people involved, whether it is the filmmaker, an actor or anyone else associated with the film. I am not really sure but perhaps that was why Anna saheb (Shantaramji) started making some films only in Hindi and some films only in Marathi.
HINDI CINEMA OUTSTRIPS MARATHI
Although it was Marathi cinema that marked the beginning of Indian cinema, it gradually came to be labelled as ‘rural filmmaking’. This was because most stories were from the villages and pertained to Patils, the folk culture of Maharashtra, and folk dances
of Maharashtra, Lavani, Tamasha. Almost all films were being made against these backdrops and their premises revolved around all this.
On the other hand, Hindi films moved forward and started getting urban. That doesn’t mean there were no rural films; there were films like Mother India and Ganga Jamuna, and many others, but it also offered films in an urban milieu.
Also, the technology used in Hindi cinema evolved vastly. Guru Dutt introduced cinemascope; he was the first to use it in India. And he could do that because his films were being shown at several international festivals. Studios like 20th Century Fox were reaching out to him and asked him to make a film for them. And he had said that he would make a film for them only if his company was involved and if his logo appeared before theirs, only then would he make a film for them. They agreed to all his terms and conditions and sent all the cinemascope equipment to India. And it was through them that he brought the cinemascope to India. He then made Kaagaz Ke Phool, which didn’t do all that well when it first released, but launched the era of cinemascope.
Sashadhar Mukherjee’s Leader was made in cinemascope too, and when that also did not do well, the industry began to say that cinemascope was jinxed. Marathi films, meanwhile, were stuck in the old format, which was not a spherical lens shoot. Hindi cinema switched back to this too. It was only many years later that Rajshri Productions broke the jinx and bought a few lenses to make cinemascope films.
Prabhat Studios then shut down. I entered the industry in 1962, when Prabhat was still operational in Pune. Soon after, the land was given to the government and FTII was set up there.
I feel very lucky to have worked as an actor in Prabhat studios. That was for my first Marathi film – Ha Majha Marg Ekla, which was released in 1963.
In the early ’60s, there were far fewer Marathi films made vis-à-vis Hindi films and the Hindi film industry was by now streets ahead of the former. Filmmakers like Mehboob Khan, Asif Saab, Rajji and several others; studios like Kamdaar Studios, Filmistan and Mehboob Studios; and big banners were making huge films which were becoming big hits. It was due to these big hits that Marathi films were looked down upon.
Besides, the business zone was also smaller as Marathi films were restricted to Maharashtra. Often, their reach was restricted even within the state for want of cinema halls, which were present in only some places like Kolhapur, Pune, Nashik etc. In addition, while Hindi cinema moved to colour, Marathi films were still being made in black and white.
MARATHI CINEMA STILL SURVIVES
Despite many setbacks, Marathi films like Ek Gaon Bara Bhangadi and Sangte Aika, did well and Shyamchi Aai even went on to become a the first Marathi National Award winner even if it wasn’t a super-duper, commercial success.
Even though Marathi films were still being made in black-and-white as budget constraints did not allow them to be made in colour, we still survived and many films even did fantastically well, even crossing the 100-week mark.
In 1972, the first Marathi film in colour was made by Shantaramji, called Pinjra. Set against a rural backdrop, it was a musical, it had a fantastic musical score by Ram Kadam, and it created history. It was a runaway hit. Although the Marathi industry had made its foray into colour films, it continued to make films in black-and-white. Dada Kondke was one of the biggest Marathi filmmakers and he made several black-and-white films too.
It took a few years, till 1975-76, for the Marathi film industry to properly transition from black-and-white to colour.
And the time, promotions didn’t really exist, at least not on television. There was only print publicity. This constituted one small ad in the newspapers for people to know that a particular film was releasing. There were also a few film hoardings.
Simultaneously, while Rajshri Films started using cinemascope, the Marathi industry still couldn’t afford the format and were stuck with the 35-mm format. Cinemascope films were shot on 35 mm but with spherical lens which used to squeeze the picture while shooting. While being projected, the format then spread the picture, which is why cinemascope had a horizontal, wider look.
Later, from 1981, a new technology was introduced into the Marathi film industry, which started shooting a film on 16 mm and then blowing it up to 35 mm. This seemed more economical. The same was adapted for Gujarati films and many Hindi films with low budgets too were made in the 16-mm format.
ADVENT OF COMEDY IN MARATHI FILMS
It is often misconstrued that Dada Kondke brought comedy to the Marathi film industry; comedy was actually introduced by Master Vinayak. He made a film called Brahmachari in 1938, which was a comedy. The film starred Meenaskshi Shirodkar and she was the first heroine on the Marathi screen to wear a swimming costume! In
the costume, she was trying to lure the brahmachari.
Then Acharya Attre, a reputed journalist and playwright, made a film called Brandichi Batli, which was another comedy. Raja Bhau Paranjape, who happened to be an assistant to Master Vinayak, too brought comedy to the Marathi film industry. He made a film called Lakhachi Gosht, which was a runaway hit.
He introduced me to the industry as well as an actor called Raja Ghosavi, who became the star comedian in the Marathi film industry. All his films were comic films. So it is incorrect to say that Dada Kondke introduced comedy. He definitely enhanced comedy in a very big way and we can’t deny his contribution. He made hit films like Songadya, Ekta Jeev Sadashiv, which were hits. Then he made a film called Pandu Hawaldar which was a super-duper hit. Again, it was a black-and-white film, which introduced Ashok Saraf.
CINEMASCOPE IN MARATHI
With more colour films being made and doing well, Marathi cinema gradually evolved. Marathi films were being made in cinemascope, which cannot shoot on 16 mm; you have to have 35 mm film as there is no camera that has a spherical lens in 16 mm. So 16 mm was completely forgotten.
The cost of production went up in a big way. I remember making Kunkoo for `20 lakh in 1993. I made another film, in 2004 and it released in 2005. I spent `1 crore on this film. Budgets kept going up in a big way.
Nowadays, there are multiple Marathi films releasing in the same week. I believe it is not the right thing to do because the audience for Marathi cinema is limited. We can’t assume that everyone who speaks Marathi will watch every Marathi films that releases.
Considering how expensive things have become, it is also a huge challenge to draw the audience to cinemas. Also, going to the cinema is not on everyone’s priority list. There are many other, much cheaper forms of entertainment like television and the digital medium.
As a result, people end up losing money and new producers who want to start their career as a production house shy away once they fail. And there are many such cases. So, although the number of films being made is humongous, I don’t think it is a very good sign for the Marathi film industry as the audience is limited. And it’s getting more and more limited because other options are available to them.
Your film is available on YouTube, online and all these things, maybe on the 3rd day of the release. I have seen people like the rickshaw drivers, the chauffeurs they come and tell me – ‘Arre I saw your film’, ‘Where did you see, which theatre?’, ‘No no I saw it on my mobile.’ It hurts. So, you have decreased the audience further, we cannot survive unless and until the person goes into theatre buys the ticket from the box office, we cannot be benefitted. Now if you have made a film for let’s say 2 crores and if you have put in 1.5 crore for promotions, so you are talking about 3.5 crore now. To get that back that 3.5 crore your film should do 10 crore or 9 crore then you get back your 3.5 crore. And that also you are just getting back, you are not making any profit.
LOVE FOR FILMMAKING
We really don’t make enough money compared to the other film industries. So why do people stick around in this industry? It is not money but madness that has brought them into this industry, knowing they are not going to mint money?
Well, there is a lot of money in other industries. All in all, you may touch 1,000 crores. We make good movies but the highest the industry can reach is 1,000, unlike other industries, which reach 45,000-50,000 crores. You will not find someone like that in our industry, for sure. But the kind of peace you find in people in our industry will not be found in a 50,000-crore industry. That is because of the satisfaction and the artistic urge. That gives you immense happiness.
In the Marathi industry, we even appreciate other people’s victories. I have seen people whose records have been broken throwing a party for the people who broke their records! You don’t see this anywhere else.
Another beautiful thing about this industry is that there is no casteism. People don’t think on communal lines. For everybody, everyone is an artiste. And I don’t mean only actors; even a DoP or a spotboy is an artiste as they are masters of their own arts. So all the artistes present during a shoot are all one. That is our culture.
Culture will help the industry survive
You know, in the Middle East, it is oil that has made people rich. Similarly, in Maharashtra, we have valuable assets – art, culture and literature – that will help the industry grow further. However, unlike money, things like experience, knowledge and culture cannot be stolen. It does not diminish even
when you share these assets with other people.
In Maharashtra, films were initially made mainly in Kolhapur. And it was eminent people like Baburao Painter, Master Vinayak and Bhalaji Pendarkar, even Shantaramji, who set up Prabhat Studios in Kolhapur. And do you know why?
The original name of this place is not ‘Kolhapur’, which is the name given by the British because they couldn’t pronounce its correct name, which was Kalapur. Its real name is Kalapur, where ‘kala’ means ‘art’. So, you see, art is inherent in us.
CHALLENGES FACED BY THE INDUSTRY TODAY
Many young people don’t want to work in Marathi films. I am experiencing that. They probably feel that the Marathi language or Marathi films are downmarket. They prefer to work in Bollywood as there is more money to be made and the reach is wider. Many producers promise them films but there is no guarantee that they will fulfil their promises.
Hindi is much bigger, much wider, there’s more glamour. But filmmakers from the Hindi industry are not looking down on Marathi cinema and are venturing into the industry.
INVOLVEMENT OF CORPORATES
Filmmaking is not a factory and, time and again, quantity has harmed quality. So you have to be certain about how much work you want to do, in terms of the probability and possibility of doing a good job; don’t go overboard. Less is more.
I have worked in the industry for a very long time and I would like to tell my family, ‘Don’t corporatise the art. Let art remain art, support it with your business. We do need the corporate support. And then you do your job and let us do our job, and let us complement each other. Let’s use our strengths and blend them.’
If we do this, there will be no looking back. But if you start doing my job or I start doing yours, it’s not going to work.
TEN YEARS FROM NOW
I think the industry is going to be very big. People will be prouder of the Marathi film industry ten years from now. Look at the films we are making today.
AUDIENCE RECEPTIVE TOWARDS MARATHI FILMS
Marathi cinema had a wider reach earlier too but no one spoke about it much then. The exposure is more now. When Maherchi Saadi did well many years ago, it was accepted by the audience outside Maharashtra too. Even my film Ashi Hi Banwa Banwi, which I had directed in 1989, did very well. There were people who had watched it more than 28 times and I am not talking only about the Marathi audience.
It had happened earlier too. Like my other film, Katyar Kaljat Ghusali (2015), which was directed by Subodh Bhave… it ran for 8 weeks in Delhi. It released in the North belt and it did well. It released in Hyderabad and elsewhere too where it did good business. So this is not a recent trend and I believe that with the kind of films we are making, we are bound to grow even more.
BUT WE NEED SUPPORT
This does not mean the Marathi industry can do without support, especially in Maharashtra. We need a greater number of cinema halls dedicated to Marathi films. The timings we get are not prime time. We need one cinema hall in each prominent area in Maharashtra which only plays Marathi films. It could be the work of a private company that is supported by the government.
Also, there are several service providers as far as projection in cinema halls is concerned, digital ones. Scrabble is the only provider who has 2K projection; the others, whether UFO or K Sera Sera, are much lower. PVR is Scrabble-enabled. Cities other than Mumbai have different service providers who give them the best deals. They look at it as business and we distributors have to engage these people to provide the services to their cinemas, cinemas they are connected to or affiliated to.
And we have a chain of cinemas, many cinemas with Scrabble, how many with K Sera Sera, many with UFO, many with real image and so forth. And we have to pay for each transfer so that the film is with them always. We have to also pay some amount per show, for which Scrabble is the highest.
But there are times when there are only 10-12 people in the cinema hall to watch the film. So, if you are talking about ` 250 per head, with 10 people in the cinema hall to watch the film, then it is ` 2,500. That’s why shows are so often cancelled, so that at least the producers don’t have to pay that amount.
So I think these service providers should have subsidised rates for the Marathi film industry. We are not talking about Hindi films, they can afford it. Give us some discounts. But they don’t listen to us because they know we can’t survive without them.
– As told to Shweta Kulkarni