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Saturday, May 25, 2019

A life force beyond Mumbai


ANIL ZANKAR, WRITER AND TEACHER, PUNE | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : marathi cinema |

It is well known that the foundation of Indian cinema was laid by Dadashaeb Phalke in Mumbai in 1913. But, soon thereafter, he moved his establishment to Nasik. His subsequent films like Kaliya Mardan were made in Nasik; utilising the scenic beauty around the river Godavari, whenever required. In fact, the 14 feet long serpent Kaliya that he had made had to be transported in a bullock cart to the location. He continued making bilingual films from Nasik setting up his Hindustan Film Company there. Phalke’s films were entirely mythological in content and, therefore, had little to do with the surroundings of his time.

In the meanwhile, the Indian film industry grew in Mumbai. Mumbai continued to be the major film production centre but, strange as it seems, not for Marathi films. The Painter brothers, Anandrao and Baburao, who were initially in film distribution, began production with Sairandhri in 1919.

Kolhapur came up as a major centre of Marathi cinema in the silent era. Baburao Painter was the mainstay of productions in Kolhapur. Like Phalke, he made films that were technically very good, but they were varied. Many illustrious names of Marathi and Indian film industry began as his understudies, notably V Shanrtaram, Dhaiber, Damle and Fattelal.

Later on, as differences between them and him grew, they decided to branch out and established Prabhat Film Company in Kolhapur itself. Baburao was essentially a painter and a director, who was most comfortable with the silent language of cinema. He did not particularly like the talkies. He brought contemporary content into films like Savkari Pash (The Clutches of the Moneylender), a film about the exploitation of farmers by moneylenders in rural India. This film, initially made in 1925, was remade by him as a talkie film in 1935.

Kolhapur was a princely state and the sister of the King (Chhatrapati Shahu) Akkasaheb Maharaj supported the efforts of artists like Baburao by forming the Kolhapur Cinetone Company and building Shalini Studio by the lake Rankala in Kolhapur. So there were four major studios functioning in Kolhapur at that time.

Prabhat moved from Mangalwarpeth in the city to a location at Tarabai Park, which was outside the city, when they decided to make Ayodhyecha Raja, their first talkie film. The remoteness of the location made sync shooting much easier as the disturbance from city noise was eliminated.

Ayodhyecha Raja, made by Shantaram, set the tone for the method and manner of Marathi talkies. In the same year (1932), eight Marathi talkie films were released. The very next year Prabhat decided to shift to Pune.
Throughout the 1930s, Prabhat dominated Marathi film production from Pune. Dadasaheb Torney, who had made Bhakta Pundalik in 1912, had set up his Saraswati Studio in Pune. Chaya, the first film made by Master Vinayak, was shot there.

Shantaram broke away from Prabhat in the 1940s and established Rajkamal Studio in Mumbai. He occasionally made Marathi films thereafter. Pinjra, Chani, Iye Marathichiye Nagari, Zunj were the prominent titles.
Kolhapur continued to be the major centre of Marathi film production over several decades. When Dadasaheb Phalke made his only film with sound, Gangavataran, he made it in Kolhapur due to the good sound recording facilities available there.

Bhalji Pendharkar, Baburao Pendharkar and Master Vinayak, although hailing from Kolhapur, worked in Pune and Mumbai. Bhalji went back after a stint in Pune and became the mainstay of the industry and in the course of time a father figure. He built Prabhakar Studio there. It was burnt down when riots erupted in parts of Maharashtra after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.

He was a staunch Hindutvawadi and a Bramhin. He built another studio called Jayaprabha subsequently in Kolhapur. The Marathi film industry had an unending supply of talent in the 1940s and 1950s.
Production was mostly studio-based and Kolhapur was the main centre of production. The studios in Pune and

Mumbai were occasionally used. Typically, the subjects of these films were centred mostly around rural life. If the city or the middle classes did figure, usually it was Pune if specified, otherwise an unspecified small town was the setting. There have been very few films actually set in Mumbai.

The pattern continued in the 1970s when Dada Kondke began making films. He brought into vogue a comedy that was not very sophisticated, but his films were phenomenally popular. The so-called new wave initiated by Jabbar Patel, Vijay  Tendulkar, Amol Palekar, Nachiket Patwardhan and others began in the late 1970s. Samna, Jabbar Patel’s first film, was also shot in a Kolhapur studio.

But after that Simhasan (Patel), 22 June, 1897 and Limited Manuski (Patwardhan), Akriet (Palekar), and Atyachar (Bhaskar Chandavarkar) were mostly shot on location and had a syntax different from traditional Marathi films. That has become pretty much a trend in the new Marathi cinema.

In the last few years, Marathi cinema has been attracting a lot of attention. A new life seems to have been injected into it. If we may ask as to what is essentially new about it, then the answer is the bunch of new directors, with fairly contemporary sensibilities.

Directors like Umesh Kulkarni, Sachin Kundalkar, Satish Manwar, Mangesh Hadawale, Nishikant Kamat, Deepak Sawant, Paresh Mokashi and others are mostly young and well aware of world cinema and the other art forms.
They are aware of the National Film Archives of India (located in Pune adjacent to the Film and Television Institute of India, which occupies the old Prabhat Studio campus), the international film festivals, the DVD market and so on.

Their individual approach to their chosen subject is the most refreshing thing about them. Most of them have chosen and developed subjects that are close to their lives and beliefs. Significantly, most of them write the screenplays of their films.

They have not done any adaptation so far. Their films do not depend upon the previous reputation of a known writer like Tendulkar.

As greater variety develops in their work, their films are likely to become more representative of life across the entire state of Maharashtra, bringing in more locations and reducing the use of studios to that extent. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017