Over the past few years, avid cinema goers have borne witness to better and inspiring content from Marathi cinema. Films like De Dhakka
, Double Seat
, Lai Bhaari
and more recently Katyaar Kaljaat Ghusli
have not only been critically acclaimed but have set box office records for the industry.
It’s little wonder then that big studios and renowned names from Bollywood are now looking at Marathi cinema. Production bigwigs like Eros and Viacom 18 have also entered the Marathi industry. Recently the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Rohit Shetty, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Priyanka Chopra have expressed their interest in venturing towards Marathi cinema. When one reads about this, it becomes a matter of pride for every Marathi cinema aficionado.
Just a year back, a Marathi film Court was selected as India’s official entry for the Oscars. In 2004, Shwaas – another Marathi film made it to the Academy Awards.
What makes Marathi cinema so prolific and of high quality? A few reasons can be stated as below:
Low Star Power: Neither the actors nor the technicians on a Marathi film charge humongous fees. Moreover, the entire team (including the actors) goes all out to promote their films without any reservations or extra demands.
Cost-effective logistics: An important highlight of this industry and one of the reasons why more and more Marathi films are being made is how much it manages to save on its budget. A Marathi filmmaker has to pay half of what a Hindi film producer would have to pay to shoot in Film City, Mumbai. Additionally, most Marathi films are shot in one schedule.
Government grants: Marathi cinema also enjoys a state government grant, which allows the producer to recover a part of his investment upon the release of the film.
Typically the subsidy is as follows:
Category A film (films that are made with approximately a 1.5 Cr budget) is eligible for assistance of Rs. 40 Lakhs
Category B film (films that are made under a 1 Cr budget) is eligible for assistance of Rs. 30 Lakhs
Revenue model: So, even from a business point of view the revenue model of recovery for a Marathi film seems sound. Theatre release revenues combined with the satellite sales and the government subsidy means the producer negates losses to an extent if any.
So is this the golden period for Marathi cinema? The renaissance everyone’s been talking about?
The obvious answer would be, “Yes”.
However, on the ground, the situation is far from ideal. The Marathi film industry is still full of its fair share of problems. Let’s look at some of them:
Distributors The distribution or exhibition of Marathi films is controlled by about one or two independent distributors. These handfuls of distributors are neither bothered about the dynamics involved in the revenue recovery of the film nor are they too concerned about providing excellent content. Often a single distributor ends up exhibiting up to five films on the same release day. The end result is that one particular film may get about a hundred screens and another one gets just a few. The following week the same distributor releases more films, which further reduces the screen count. This haphazard management of inventory means many producers don’t get enough time in the cinema halls or get too few a screens. This in turn affects the revenue from the theatre release, which in turn means that the film won’t get a buyer for its satellite rights.
Satellite rights One of the biggest sources of revenue for a producer of a Marathi film is the satellite sale of film. Channels like Zee Marathi and Colors Marathi would earlier shell out a decent amount for satellite rights of the film. However, ever since Studios that also own channels have ventured into production of Marathi films, the ones made by independent producers have regularly been sidelined at alarming rates. This often leads to producers becoming wary of funding projects.
Monopoly of channels A closer look at the films that have tasted success in the Marathi industry will show that a particular company has backed almost all those films. The market is pretty much monopolised by these players with their sheer presence in the state. They own three of seven channels playing Marathi content. So if your movie doesn’t get the backing of this studio, chances of recovery are even lesser than one percent.
There are more than two hundred films being made each year, but less than ten of them actually make profits. To make matters worse, the channels have also started charging a premium amount for publicising the film on their respective networks.
Paid media Paid media is really hampering the independent scene as the makers are almost forced to spend on each of the Marathi newspapers. The bulk of all theatrical collections of any Marathi film come from Mumbai, Thane and Pune and so a producer is literally arm twisted into spending big on print media to ensure the film reaches its target audience.
With almost no revenue coming from any of the verticals, Marathi cinema is actually going through its toughest phase. An independent filmmaker is held at ransom at every point of his film (even after it’s made and ready, which is another rollercoaster ride unto itself). All he can do is wait and hope that the distribution of his film is on par with the films produced by studios. That success of his film will get him a decent satellite price.
BUT… there is a ray of light Every now and then there are films like Classmates, Balkadu, Sandook and Dagdi Chawl that stand out. These films have a ‘success story’ only because committed producers have stood firmly behind the product even without the backing of a ‘big studio’. And when things do appear bleak, along comes a film like ‘Court’, made on a shoestring budget by an independent producer, directed by a debutante; and puts Marathi cinema on the global map. Ironically back home, Court did not make money at the box office and still doesn’t have a satellite buyer.
The road is definitely full of thorns and bumps, but armed with great stories, we continue to rally on like we always have!
Note: This is a guest post by Ashish Raikar.
Ashish Raikar is an independent filmmaker, writer and producer. He has been working in the Marathi film industry since 2002, has written two Marathi films, been an Associate Director on two, and produced one.