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“The Marathi audience prefers realistic cinema”

It’s not often that a civil engineer calls it quits to make a mark in the film industry. No, not Bollywood but the Marathi film industry. Rushikesh More took that leap of faith. He started by writing and producing his first film, Picnic, which released in 2008. Even though the film bombed, More didn’t throw in the towel. Now this gutsy filmmaker is ready to release his first directorial film Tujhi Majhi Love Story… More does some soul-searching in an interview with Soumita Sengupta

Tell us about your upcoming film Tujhi Majhi Love Story.

I love writing. I was doing a survey on Marathi films to find out which genre works, and before I produced my first film Picnic, I realised no one had made a thriller in Marathi cinema. So I set out to make one. But thrillers have a limited audience and Picnic does not work at the box office.

Next, I thought I should make a horror film but no one was ready to experiment with a new concept. So I set out to learn all about direction, the way the industry works and everything there is to know about filmmaking. For my first directorial venture, I needed a script I was good at working with, which is why I chose a love story. That’s how Tujhi Majhi Love Story happened. It’s the story of a boy who falls in love with a girl who is older than he is. I wouldn’t call this a first for a story but the way I have projected the film will connect with the audience.

Did you plan a career in the film industry?

I didn’t know anyone in the film industry but I love films and wanted to work in the industry. I am a civil engineer but I quit my job in 2008, to make films and produced Picnic.

After delivering a flop in Picnic, what made you persist with filmmaking?

After Picnic bombed, I went into a phase of depression for six months because I had lost all the money I had. But, in the meantime, Picnic had won many awards and received critical acclaim. That was encouraging and I felt I should not flee the industry. Instead, I signed up for a course in film direction and made a few short films. Among them was Reflection, which was highly acclaimed. I was even invited to show my short film at Cannes. I was also approached by a foreign production house which asked me if I could make a feature film out of Reflection. I knew I couldn’t and turned down the offer. Since I had received so many positive signs, I felt I should give the industry another go.

Have you recovered your losses after Picnic?

It takes years to save up and then to lose it all on one fine Friday can be very crushing. Slowly and steadily, when we started receiving awards, I was able to sell the satellite rights to the film and I earned something from DVD sales. I was thus able to recover half my investment.

Coming from nowhere, how easy or difficult was it to adjust to the Marathi film industry?

Since I am a Maharashtrian, I thought it would be easy to understand this market rather than go to Bollywood. As I was producing my own films, I didn’t face too much trouble. Jahan paisa pheko sab aa jaate hain, regardless of the industry.

About how I survive… Well, I chose a simple path. When you have to construct a building, whom do you call first? An architect, right? In much the same way, I met a good director for my first film, Girish Mohite. It was there that my learning process started and now the industry is aware of me.

What changes have you experienced since you made your debut to the industry?

In 2005, the Marathi film industry was going through its worst phase ever. At the time, films were made on a meager budget of ` 2 lakh. But, since then, things have evolved a lot. In 2008, more than 100 films released. And then corporates stepped in and changed the structure totally. We are being allotted more screens as exhibitors are showing interest in Marathi films. Films like Zapatlela 2 did tremendous business. The film was backed by Viacom 18, which released it in Maharashtra and some other parts of India. This is in stark contrast to earlier, when we used to be allotted shows through bookies. The most important thing is the capital structure has evolved, budgets have increased and corporates are concentrating on content.

You mentioned that you were researching the Marathi film industry. What did you find?

The Marathi audience is very literate and you can’t make a commercial film in Marathi. Like, Tamil films are being remade in Bengali and Hindi and doing outstanding business. But you can’t remake these films in Marathi. It just doesn’t work. The Marathi audience prefers realistic cinema, real stories, something they can connect to. Currently, the kind of films that are working are Kaksparsh, Balak-Palak, Mee Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy, Harishchandrachi Factory and Zapatlela 2. All these films are very earthy.

I also found that on other regional fronts like Punjabi films… if a Punjabi film is releasing along with a big Hindi release, the audience prefers to watch the Punjabi film. But not so for Marathi films. They start picking up from their first week, not first weekend. It then runs for two to three weeks and the audience makes sure they watch it in the cinema hall.

Marathi cinema is lacking in the reach of its audience. We have a very limited audience in Maharashtra, whereas Punjabi cinema has an audience worldwide, as does Bengali and the South industry. The Marathi industry has not yet gone internationally in a big way. Hopefully, the entry of corporates will change that as well.

Marathi films are also making a noise at international film festivals and even at Indian film festivals. Do these festivals help the industry?

If a Bollywood film goes to Cannes, it makes bigger news than a short film getting nominated at Cannes. Sure, there are many Marathi films that win National Awards and international awards every year but does that help a film commercially? I don’t think so. It helped Shwaas and Valu, which were the first Marathi films that made it to the international circuit. But these awards didn’t help Harishchandrachi Factory, which was nominated to go to the Oscars.

Where do you see the Marathi film industry five years down the line?

I see a lot of changes. Despite the fact that the Marathi industry has evolved, we are still lagging behind other regional markets. We also face huge losses in terms of distribution. We don’t have distributors who buy films and sells them to exhibitors; we have bookies. This is where we face maximum losses. Secondly, we need to make the audience come to the cinemas and watch films. So we need to churn out more films. The good thing is that the Marathi industry is not dominated by actors; it’s the character artistes who rule. But we do need a few heroes.

We also need to up our promotions and bring the audience to cinemas on the first day of a film’s release. If the weekend is good, collections will double during the first week. That’s how I see it.

Lastly, how easy it is for outsiders to enter this industry?

It is very easy to enter but tough to survive in this industry.

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