Ten days after the recent release of Natrang, a film on tamasha artistes, its lead actor, Atul Kulkarni, met an elderly man at a cinema hall in Satara.
Kulkarni, touring to promote the film, found his face familiar. Yes, they had indeed met, the man told him — this was the 13th time he was watching the film.
A few kilometres away, a lengthy queue waited outside a multiplex for a special screening of Vihir (The Well), which portrays a child’s bond with his cousin, and has been feted at international festivals.
In 2004, Sandeep Sawant’s Shwaas (Breath) became India’s official entry to the Oscars — Marathi filmmakers have not looked back since.
In the 1980s and ’90s, most Marathi films merely played catch with Hindi cinema, and moved away from local issues and themes. In the last five years, a new crop of filmmakers has been building on the foundation laid by stalwarts like Dadasaheb Phalke, V Shantaram and Bhalji Pendharkar — and, using refreshing storylines about local issues and aspirations, brought to Marathi cinema a certain technical finesse.
Umesh Kulkarni, a Film and Television Institute of India graduate, has made three films that audiences have favoured: Valu, the story of a village living in fear of a destructive bull, Girni, about the crisis in a working-class family after it starts a small enterprise using its grinding machine, and Vihir.
Harischandrachi Factory, Paresh Mokashi’s directorial debut tells the story of the making of India’s first silent film — Raja Harishchandra, by Dadasa-heb Phalke — and is India’s entry to the Oscars this year. Ravi Jadhav’s Natrang, set in rural Maharashtra in the 1970s, is still pulling in the crowds, after the success of last year’s Mee Shivaji-raje Bhosale Boltoy and Rita.
Across the state, the young and old alike have lapped up this fare. “The more local we go with themes, the more global we become,” said Kulkarni.
“There is now recognition from across the world because we have better ideas and more sophisticated presentation,” said Ajay Sarpotdar, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Chitrapat Mahamandal, an association of Marathi filmmakers.
Dr Jabbar Patel, who directed Saamna and Sinhasan, two of the biggest films in the history of Marathi cinema, says: “The recent Pune International Film Festival pulled people in large numbers, and the average age of the viewer was 21.”