Marathi cinema, one of the fastest-growing regional film industries, has caught the fancy of corporate studios. How high can they raise the bar?
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 regional film space has traditionally been low profile but now there is at least one Marathi release every week, and most of these films are making it into the spotlight due to their rich content. So, whether it is the film festival circuit, domestic market, satellite rights or international film festivals, Marathi cinema is picking up pace quite rapidly.
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 ‘80s 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 films like Balak Palak, Fandry, Yellow, Court, Killa and others have proved that if the story is good, one does not need to cast big actors. And from budgets that revolved around `2-3 crore, to films like Lai Bhaari garnering box-office returns of `35 crore, Time Pass raking in `33 crore and Duniyadari collecting `28 crore, Marathi cinema is definitely riding a crest.
A film like 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. Directed by Nishikant Kamat, it became the highest-grossing Marathi film of all time and was a perfect marriage of content and box-office numbers.
All these changes laid the ground for potential commercial successes and that naturally grabbed the attention of corporate studios. The Marathi industry is one of the few regional markets that are growing exponentially. The question we are asking this week is: will the future of Marathi films soar to new heights? We spoke to some prominent Marathi filmmakers, actors and producers:
The Marathi industry has always survived and will always survive but promotion is very important. It is only filmmakers who embrace the importance of good content along with good promotions that will get recognition. Also, Marathi cinema was recognised overseas a long time ago. It is the media that discovered it recently. Films like Prabhat’s Sant Tukaram and Shyamchi Aai even won accolades. Amol Palekar’s films too were recognised on the international circuit. So, it is incorrect to say that they are getting international recognition only now. Also, the Marathi industry was never technically backward. Our industry has some of the greatest technicians.
It is the interest shown by corporate houses recently that has brought in the expectation of bigger budgets. They also help with promotions. I also see a brighter future for the Marathi industry with new talent. You can’t compare Marathi films to South films because the southern states are dominated by their own languages. On the other hand, people in Maharashtra prefer Hindi cinema over Marathi films but we have survived despite this.
When Zapatlela 2 released in June 2013, the film opened many doors. It was one of the very first films that was marketed brilliantly and hence had a fabulous run at the box office. Content has always been a winner for Marathi cinema but it was the marketing that became a game changer. After Zapatlela 2, Duniyadari released in July 2013 and it garnered massive ROI. That was due to the perfect marriage of content and marketing. Marathi films have three main circuits which have parts of Maharashtra: Mumbai circuit, CP Berar and Nizam. These are the main markets for our films.
The big story in Marathi cinema is that the generation of good content is bringing cine-goers, who had not stepped into a cinema hall in 25 years, to watch Marathi films. Moreover, the content in our films appeals not only to the Marathi audience; it is targeted at an all-India audience. Fandry, Killa and Court are recent examples where non-speaking Marathi movie-goers have watched these films.
Today, we have two to three Marathi films releasing every week and some of them even run for four straight weeks, which doesn’t happen even in Hindi cinema unless a film has big stars. The Marathi film industry has been witnessing definite growth in the last two to three years, and the audience has widened to include non-Marathi speaking cine-goers.
But what we require is support from exhibitors and an increase in the number of shows. Our films are still assigned odd show timings, which means working class people have to wait for the weekend to watch the film. Things are worse in rural Maharashtra, which is ruled by single-screen cinemas. Here, the owners run only Hindi films due to limited screens. So our films need to be assigned more shows.
On a positive note, all kinds of genres are now doing well vis-à-vis a few years ago, when only a limited number of genres were working. Killa must have been made on a budget of Rs 1.5-2 crore but it earned more than Rs 12 crore, so the return on investment is huge for a good film.
It’s a good era for the industry and trends are changing every year. Better still, the audience is accepting these changes and are hungry for different stories. Content has always been the backbone of the Marathi film industry and with corporates making an entry, we have grown a lot over the last few years. Today, there are many different revenue streams and the entry of corporates is a good thing. Sometimes, film rights are sold even before a film is released and that’s how you recover your production costs. With corporate houses like Viacom18, Essel Vision and Select Media investing in this regional space, filmmakers receive the right kind of support in terms of marketing and creating much-needed hype around a film.
The last few years have been great for the Marathi industry. There has been a great boom with regard to the number of films being made and content has returned to the forefront. So films have started getting a lot of exposure, which in turn boosts box-office returns. Not only have the returns increased but production costs and overall standards have also improved.