Marathi Cinema first spoke in form of a movie ‘संततुकाराम‘(SantTukaram) in 1932. The industry has ever since grown from mythological set ups until 1970’s to Dada Kondke’s monopoly with rural comedy in 1970’s. The Marathi film industry thus has the oldest history of all regional language film industries in India. Ever since 1940, the industry has been losing talent to its brethren Bollywood industry which was and still is more lucrative due to its naturally broader population base in the country and beyond. I am not too sure if Marathi film industry couldhave retained this fleeting talent had Bollywood industry been established somewhere other than Maharashtra.
While the Marathi industry was enjoying success in non-urban Maharashtra its audience in urban parts started depleting. It was not because they loved Marathi movies any lesser than before but because they could not relate to the content.Thus playing Marathi movies in urban Maharashtra also became less and less profitable. Marathi movies were no more the crowd pullers. Immigration of non-Marathi speaking population to urban parts of Maharashtra for business and livelihood, general apathy of the government in early times to sustain the cultural threads of the society by the means of public libraries, policy making in education etc. added to the woes. The number of children moving from vernacular medium to English medium schools increased through 1980 and onwards. English and Hindi became the natural language of choice in public and Marathi as a language of business, communication and education medium took a back seat. Thus Marathi movie not only lost its crowd because of its content but also due to lack of societal measures to sustain its language in mainstream.
The cycle in a case like this is vicious. Lack of exposure to good literature and local art thwarts creativity, that shows in the outcome and the outcome determines exposure. Had Marathi remained the language of choice in urban Maharashtra, Marathi movies would have done better than they did or still do. How do you expect people who do not speak the language, do not enjoy its literature, are unaware of the local art to come and sit through a movie in that language? The other reasons that are evident are lack of innovativeness to adopt and market in a changing environment. That will come with talent but where will the flow of talent come from?
The initiative of Maharashtra government to have the theater owners play Marathi movies from 12:00 – 9:00 PM time slots has found supporters and has outraged some. I want to share a set of words with the outraged few but first I would like to address the supporters of this decision. Yes, it is good news for some who want to see the industry revived and stand on its own two feet. However, it is a sad state of affair that a regional movie industry like Marathi film industry in Maharashtra, second most populous state in India needs incentive for revival. I think it’s a shame for both the rejoicing audience and policy makers. The fact is that no one can keep the industry on arm shots and ventilator for too long. Either the government will run out of gas or the industry will give up.
Every art needs believers. Believers are formed from the audience. To believe they need to understand. To understand they need to know. To know they need to be exposed to that source of knowledge. That source of knowledge as I understand is the medium which in this case in part is Marathi language. If more and more of Maharashtra’s population understands Marathi, speaks in Marathi, reads Marathi then I am more than sure that they would be willing to add to the existing participation both as quality audience and quality movie makers. To bring about this change is a transformation. However, small steps of speaking Marathi at home, making Marathi literature available in home and school libraries, making quality Marathi education available in Maharashtra can set the ball rolling.
A few words for those who are outraged; if someone comes in as a guest in your house, you make him/her feel at home, the person becomes a part of your family literally and the person tries to take control of your only TV in the house. Will that cause you rage? An active Marathi film loving man is having a similar feeling currently. He is probably more outraged but for a different reason. Not because the theaters are not playing Marathi movies in the prime time slot but because the place no more feels like home. He is equally responsible for the situation and is trying to deal with it. The Maharashtra government is just making him another TV available. Your TV with its remote will stay with you. I leave you with that thought.
[About the Author – Shweta Aroskar is a Senior Business Analytics professional working in Houston, Texas. She is an avid writer and regularly blogs at http://shwetaaroskar.blogspot.com/]