By Atharva Pandit:
On May 3rd, 1913, more than a century ago, the first ever motion picture to have been made by an Indian was shown publicly at the Coronation cinema in Mumbai. Before making ‘Raja Harishchandra’, Dadasaheb Phalke, the Indian who pioneered the cinema movement in India, had made a short clip showing a plant blossoming from a bud – little did he know that this would, in fact, be the exact metaphor for cinema in India- a bud when Phalke started, a massive tree with many branches today.
Phalke’s story was immortalized in the 2009 Marathi comedy-drama, Harishchandrachi Factory, and it in turn engineered a change in the perception of Marathi cinema in India, if not the world. Before the beautifully recreated historical sets of the Paresh Mokashi directed venture, the Marathi film was, arguably, dwindling.
From the beginning of the 21st Century to the next ten or so years, Marathi cinema saw itself fractured by hastily written scripts and almost as hastily directed final prints. Adding to its misery was the poor state of finances, and an advent of cheap, almost vulgar kind of rural comedy that made a head-way into mainstream Marathi film.
Not far behind was the politics of it all, with Raj Thackeray’s Marathi manoos dictum trying to fit awkwardly into the cinematic expression. It was a holy mess, and one would have really preferred an English action drama to some film horribly messing up rural humour.
But things weren’t always that bad- in fact, Marathi cinema produced some of the classics of world cinema when it got going. It’s not an hyperbole. The following is a list of 15 Marathi movies you should watch, watch again and then watch one more time and it will seek to prove just that:
No list of classic Marathi movies would be complete without the mention of this film. Directed by the very talented and colourful Acharya Atre and based on a book of the same name by Sane Guruji, Shyamchi Aai is a warm portrayal of a mother-son relationship. The film explores, rather poignantly, the role of a mother in the upbringing of a child; Atre keeps it simple, which really forms the crux of the experience of watching this heartfelt tale.
I am taking a leap in the years here, but Jait re Jait has been a personal favourite of mine for a long time. The story is a tale of revenge, though the revenge is being extracted by a Thakar – one of the tribes in Maharashtra, on a beehive, for damaging his eye. In his quest for revenge, however, Nagya, the protagonist, loses his wife, played by the stunning Smita Patil. Directed by Jabbar Patel, Jait re Jait, which means win-win, is a multi-layered film, while also being a musical treat.
This comedy of errors, terrors and duping is an all-time classic. Directed by Mahesh Kothare and also starring him, along with the incomparable duo, Laxmikant Berde and Ashok Saraf, the film was a box-office hit- and it had to be. Who can forget the hilarious scene where Lakshya narrates the story of his horror movie-in-the-making to his scared-out-of-his-wits father? Or the penultimate car chase? I can still watch the reruns of this movie and laugh on all those jokes with the same amount of intensity!
Based on the then largely tabooed issue of extra-marital affairs, Kalat Nakalat is about a happy family breaking up after the husband’s affair with a widow. Of course, they reconcile at the end of the movie in a typical cinematic manner, but by then it has made several important comments on the breakdown of relationships, and the overall concept of family as an institution.
Directed by Jabbar Patel, starring Laxmikant Berde and the great Dilip Prabhavalkar among several other veterans and its dialogues penned by P.L. Deshpande, this one was already a classic before it was even released! The film is a heartfelt story of relationships being trampled by the glamour of the film world, and it also looks into the often-overlooked world of tamasha dancers in rural Maharashtra.
Based on a 1955 novel by the popular Marathi writer Vyankatesh Madgulkar, Bangarwadi is similar to what I think is the newer wave of Marathi cinema, in that it touched upon the social and political issues of the time in a subtle, almost silently haunting manner. The Nation Award winning film is a tale of a teacher’s struggle to impart education in rural Maharashtra. Tragedy arrives in the form of a drought, and the last few scenes where the students leave one by one are as touching as they are tragic for the reality that they convey.
I remember how popular this movie became when it was released. Kids were warned that the movie is “not for us”,and I realized the reason when I watched it a few years later: it has a rape scene, which forms the crux of the entire movie. It comments on the emerging youth culture, and the perception of the society towards women in general and a rape victim in particular in a globalized India.
This one is the closest to my heart: the story, the acting, the direction- every little detail of this film hurts. The film narrates the tale of a grandfather whose agony knows no bounds when he is informed that his grandson would need to have a life-saving operation which would turn him blind. The grandfather-grandson duo then undertake a tour of the city once before the operation is done, and before the grandson loses his eyesight forever.
A common, middle-class citizen of Mumbai, tired of the corruption within the system, goes on a rampage to bring about a change. Especially significant is the scene where Madhav Apte, the protagonist, resigned to his fate, sits on a footpath and narrates his anguish to a beggar. Fury forms the crux of this angry drama.
Based on the split between the Shiv Sena loyalists and the Raj Thackeray loyalists within the Sena, Zenda narrates not just the story of the split, but also the effect it has on the foot-soldiers and those who work at the grassroots of a political organization. This a crisp political drama, and it has its usual set of cliches, but the point it eventually seeks to make is significant: politics is dirty, and if you want anything to do with it, prepare to roll in mud and then some more.
This is a haunting take on those who “serve God” – in this case Goddess Yellamma, by giving up everything and being treated as slaves of the deity. ‘Jogwa’ the word essentially means the alms given to a ‘Jogta’ (a male slave) or a ‘Jogtin’ (a female slave.) And the love story between a Jogta and a Jogtin forms the very basis of this important movie. Its director, Rajiv Patil, who died tragically early in 2013, won a National Award for Jogwa.
Simply put, this is a tale of teenage love in the time of Emergency. The novel on which this film is based, of the same name, and penned by Milind Bokil, is one of the best in modern Marathi literature, which is saying something. And almost every detail of that beautiful novel is captured in this equally beautiful adaption.
Another story of teenage love, but it would be a sin- yes, a sin- if I were to dismiss this one as just another adolescent love story, because this a dark tale that runs deep into the socio-political setup of rural Maharashtra, where caste still divides communities. A lower-caste boy falls into love with an upper-caste girl, and all this is wrapped within breathtaking scenes; of the village, its outskirts and the couple itself. The raw dialect of rural Maharashtra and Kishore Kadam’s scathing poetry is the crowning glory of this masterpiece.
Arguably the best crime thriller to have been made in Marathi in the last ten years. Rege does not have a linear structure, but it has a very clear plot-line, and incidents and scenes fall back and run forward to eventually turn into a meaningful whole. The whole journey of this film is a terrific experience – a bright, promising teenager with a lust for gangsters and the world of crime falls in with a gang, and then begins to entangle himself a criminal web from where it is impossible to turn back. Several twists and revelations later, this masterpiece comes to another shocking conclusion. A must watch!
A treat for viewing, Killa brings to life the lush spread of Ratnagiri’s green fields marked by the adjoining line of a clam, deep blue sea. The movie doesn’t have much of a story, but it has everything else- and its truly an experience. From the very first scene, where darkness erupts through the screen, to the scene where slashing rains and the fury of the sea depict terror, Killa owes a whole lot to its cinematography, its location and its touching music.