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Amid Hindi Cinema And Web Series, Is Bhojpuri Regional Cinema Losing Its Identity?

Regional movies from Bihar — this phrase might seem a little confusing to non-Biharis who consider films from the state worthless and non-existent. But are these regional films facing a crisis and losing their status over time?

Millennials coming from the state of Bihar and working in other parts of the country are truly losing their identity, culture and tradition over time. Look around you. How many of us really take pride in calling ourselves a ‘Bihari’? Even caching away their essence is our heritage and mother tongues got left behind a generation ago. Now, traditions are just limited to special occasions in families, including festivals such as Chhatth, which calls us back home.

Such is the case even with Bihar’s regional movies, which are losing their status and becoming obscure amid numerous movies showcasing obscenity in them. Some filmmakers, when bringing popular stories from the state to the silver screen, prefer translated them into  matrubhasha Hindi.

Ask anybody around you. How many good Bhojpuri, Magahi or Maithili movies have they heard of? None, isn’t it? And even if someone around you knows a few of movies, they would probably be talking about the ₹2,000 crore film industry from the state that likes to portray regional movies from Bihar in a lewder fashion. But has this trend always been the same?

It has been more than 70 years since India became an independent nation. Since its independence in 1947, as the nation progressed, all film industries in India progressed too. Initially producing silent films such as Raja Harishchandra (1913), the Hindi film industry started producing talkies including Alam Ara in 1931, followed by many others. The period began around the 1950s with brilliant directors such as Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy, Chetan Anand and others. But when did this wave touch the regional cinema in Bihar? And how many regional movies from Bihar have been released on national scale so far?

A still from the first-ever Bhojpuri movie named Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo.

The History of Regional Movies from Bihar

Regional movies from Bihar have a long history. As early as the year 1902, Jamshedji Framji Madan, an Indian film and theatre industrialist, acquired Elphinstone Theatre Company of Mumbai (then Bombay) and converted it into the Elphinstone Bioscope Company. The Elphinstone Theatre of Patna was then established and later converted to Elphinstone cinema, which basically released silent films. The first silent film to be shown in this theatre was Punarjanam, released in 1931.

Another era of  films in Bihar began in the 1960s, with the first-ever Bhojpuri movie named Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo starring Kumkum, Nazir Hussain and Ashim Kumar. The film was released in the Veena Cinema of Patna in 1963 on request of the former President of India Shri Rajendra Prasad. Since the ’80s, the Bhojpuri film industry has been flourishing in Bihar with a smaller space for films in Maithili, Magahi and Angika dialects.

Today, the Bhojpuri film industry is a ₹2,000 crore industry, but one sees only a few films in Bihar that are really good. The stories on which these movies are based seem unrealistic. They showcase obscenity and attract masses to theatres with quirky titles and item numbers. What is more upsetting is that the industry from other states such as West Bengal and Kerala is reaching new heights, while regional movies from Bihar are losing their identity and remain limited to theatres in the state.

Yet, regional movies from Bihar find hope in some young talents, directors, efforts made via online platforms, and the support of people from the state who hate being stereotyped. And being stereotyped really hurts the morale of any individual who respects the culture and tradition of their homeland. Such is the case with the cinema industry too, which, if not nurtured, will face the ubiquitous challenge of making a strong comeback to the mainstream.

Neetu Chandra, a famous Bollywood actress, and her brother Nitin Chandra, are on a quest to give voice to regional languages from the state and produce fabulous films. These films, whether short or feature-length, have often proven their might, giving wings to strong stories and helping the youth from the state connect more to their own culture and take pride in calling themselves Biharis.

The brother-sister duo has released many regional films under their the production house ‘Champaran Talkies’, which include Deswa, Mithila Makhaan, and many other short films on YouTube. They are also much-adored for a promised Chhatth video every year since 2016. This video gains an online viewership of more than a million people every time. Nitin has even revealed in a few interviews that some people began Chhatth in their households since the release of his first song.

A still from Achal Mishra’s recent movie Gamak Ghar, which was well-appreciated and nominated at the 2019 Mumbai Film Festival for the Golden Gateway of India Best Film award.

But bringing these regional movies from Bihar to other film spaces isn’t an easy path to choose. This step comes with many challenges such as funding or support from online streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hotstar and Amazon Prime.

In his live session on the Facebook page of Bejod, The Ranchi Review tried to get in touch with Nitin Chandra and asked him when Mithila Makhaan is going to be released. Nitin addressed the question by saying that even Deswa couldn’t make it to theatres, and remained only limited to special screenings.

It was heartbreaking to know that the two obvious reasons for the films; limited viewership was that they weren’t showcasing ‘commercial’ obscenity or receiving a platform to be able to reach the masses. Yet, Champaran Talkies keeps winning against all odds and has scheduled the release of the National Award winning film Mithila Makhaan on its own online streaming service later this year.

Another young talent giving hope to the regional movies from Bihar is Achal Mishra, who loves producing Maithili movies with beautiful stills and a strong story to tell. Ranging from being an assistant director for the 2015 movie Talvar, to showing his creativity in making short films based in rural Bihar, Mishra has got his all. His recent movie Gamak Ghar was well-appreciated and nominated at the 2019 Mumbai Film Festival for the Golden Gateway of India Best Film award.

Mishra’s other short films include A Winter Afternoon, Bipin Chaudhry’s Lapse of Memory, and Kafan, all of which are worth watching while you stay at home during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown and explore the wide opportunities for regional movies from Bihar.

Such is the scope and hope for regional movies from Bihar that bring forward new talent, directors and some people from Bihar who have vowed to stop others from stereotyping the state. And, as Nitin revealed to the Ranchi Review, “To change the market, we need to create a brand new one”, these substantial and positive steps to bring forward regional movies from Bihar to mainstream theatres are truly worthy of applaud.

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