According to Murli Chhatwani, who distributed Chhello Divas. Earlier, he had distributed Bey Yaar and Kevi Rite Jaish, which he says set benchmarks in Gujarati cinema. “Earlier, substandard films were being made which were low on budget and quality. But these films have ushered in the trend of urban-centric films.”
The distributor adds, “Then came Gujjubhai The Great, which screened at a large number of cinemas and whose growth was phenomenal. This set the ball rolling, after which came Chhello Divas, which broke records. It started with 83 cinemas and around 175 shows each day. The film grew so much that it went to 275 shows and, in the fourth week, 400 cinemas and 1,000 shows.
“We created a record by earning a net of over `17 crore, of which more than 96 per cent came from Gujarat and Mumbai. These four films are practically responsible for the 70 films that are under production. In the next four months, at least 15 films will release,” he says.
It seems professionalism, producers with a nose for business and a structured release slate is what will determine the fate of the Gujarati industry. This year, Gujarati producers have not only come up with a comprehensive line-up of releases, but much like the Hindi film industry, they have also made sure they are spacing out their releases so that one film doesn’t eat into the other’s business.
With Phantom Films producing Gujarati film Wrong Side Raju and Hindi producers like Rashmi Sharma and Anand Pandit plunging into this fast-growing industry, Gujarati cinema seems set for a great run. Producer Anand Pandit remarks, “Change is coming in but it will take some time for the Gujarati industry to make a mark. Despite super successful films like Chhelo Divas, Bey Yaar and Gujjubhai The Great doing great business, we need at least 10 films that are high on content every year. This means we need a lot of creative writers and good directors who will commit themselves to this task. If that happens, we will see a dramatic and lasting change in the next 10 years. Gujarati theatre is thriving and slowly they will move to films.”
Mikhil Musale, director of the upcoming film Wrong Side Raju divulges, “Abhishek Jain and I started our production company in 2010, doing ads and trying to make our presence in Gujarat. The idea was to make a decent Gujarati film and our first film was Kevi Rite Jaish, which released in 2012 and did decent business. It was a good turning point as no one else was making Gujarati films then and it was largely the only release of the year.”
Two years later, Be Yaar released alongside a handful of other releases, and 2015 saw the release of Chhelo Divas, Gujjubhai The Great and a few more. When Chhelo Divas did tremendous business, people sat up and took notice and decided to invest in the Gujarati industry. This was followed by the Gujarat government announcing subsidies for the industry earlier this year.
Musale says, “We need to make quality films rather than focus on quantity. Movie-goers in Gujarat are willing to watch Gujarati cinema. But the industry has so far served up comedy, light-hearted romance and youth-centric films. I hope our film Wrong Side Raju, which is a serious thriller, brings a change in genre and we get to watch various genres in Gujarati cinema. It’s a great phase to be in, especially for a filmmaker like me who is attempting to make his first film. You can almost feel a strong wave from both sides – the audience and filmmakers.”
The renewed interest in Gujarati cinema is bringing in greater investments and the budgets are growing. “Budgets are increasing in size, from just a crore to more than `2.5-3 crore. Some films are even shooting overseas. Producers and distributors are definitely seeing potential in this industry. As a result, there are films being remade from Marathi to Gujarati and Kannada to Gujarati. The best example is Chhello Divas being remade in Hindi just 10 months after its release,” says distributor Murli Chhatwani.
“In the next two to three years, we will see a good 50 films releasing each year, with good production values, high content, good directors and actors. Now satellite rights, overseas release and digital rights are still evolving. Once these aspects firm up, they will also start contributing to revenues,” he points out.