Hold the applause: Funding still a huge struggle for Marathi cinema

, TNN |

It was the little film that could.

When Shwaas opened in 2004, it was dubbed a “breath of fresh air” for Marathi cinema. Shot over a single month on a budget of Rs 65 lakh, by first-time director Sandeep Sawant, it notched up glowing reviews and several awards. The story of a little boy about to lose his sight to cancer and a grandfather determined to show him as much of the world as possible before the operation, stood apart from the bloated potboilers that had become the norm.

“It drew people’s attention to the Marathi film industry, and many offbeat films were made in the following years. Funding became a little easier, producers started thinking, ‘Okay, so something like this can also work!'” says film critic Ganesh Matkari.

Despite the tremendous buzz Shwaas had generated around alternate Marathi cinema, it took Sawant 10 years to make his second film. The problem: funding. Sawant and his wife Neeraja Patwardhan, the upcoming Nadi Vahate’s costume designer, had to raise the budget of about Rs 4 crore themselves. They approached banks for loans, and dipped into their savings to add the rest.

Finances continue to remain a worry for independent filmmakers, despite the rah-rah for Marathi cinema every time a debut director manages to push his film to the theatres, an actor turns producer or a corporate house bankrolls a project. Not just Sawant, several other indie filmmakers maintain that the much-talked-about groundswell of support for Marathi films is actually very limited.

“There is definitely a greater interest in producing Marathi cinema today, especially the content-driven kind,” agrees Sawant. The problem, he explains, is with the numbers.

The Marathi film industry churns out close to 120 movies a year. These include the masala kind like Lai Bhaari and Timepass, and the offbeat, such as Fandry, Tingya and the just-released Court. Of these, not more than a dozen actually reach audiences, says Shivaji Patil, director of the acclaimed Dhag. “From this lot, maybe two or three will be offbeat, quality films. These are the ones that get talked about,” Patil says, adding that for every Court and Fandry, there are several that go unnoticed. Or they win awards, but can’t draw audiences due to meagre marketing budgets. “A Dhag, a Gandha — how many people saw them?” asks Matkari.

When his father, the writer Ratnakar Matkari’s novella was adapted for film in 2013, the team screened it for small groups from production houses like Essel Vision. “They all loved it,” says Matkari, associate director of the National Award-winning Investment. “But the matter didn’t go any further.”

Financial support is relatively easier to get for middle-of-the-road films like Coffee Ani Barach Kahi. “For the more serious, darker subjects, production houses are hesitant.” The budget tends to be a “safe” one of Rs 1.5-2 crore so that the returns are assured, Sawant says. His film Nadi Vahate, shot across villages in Goa and Sindhudurg, required a larger budget that producers were unwilling to provide.

Bhaurao Nanasaheb Karhade, 30, is well aware of the challenges. Earlier a farmer in Ahmednagar’s Gawadewadi and then a communications student in Pune, he sold his five-acre plot of land back home to finance his film. He had approached “close to 40” producers for Khwada, which is about a shepherd family that moves to the city. No one helped. But Karhade’s family stood firm behind him, and the film, made on a budget of Rs 2 crore, snapped up two National Awards. “The first thing the companies think is business. And I don’t blame them,” he says. “But if I hadn’t managed to find the money, the film would have never been made.”

Nikhil Sane, Business Head at Zee’s Essel Vision, a leading producer and distributor of Marathi films, feels it’s unfair to generalize. “How much support a production house gives its filmmakers and believes in the project— it depends on the company,” he says. “We have produced films across the board—from Elizabeth Ekadashi to Timepass 2. If we were solely concerned with the returns, we wouldn’t have taken on Fandry.”

The problem though, as producer Sanjay Chhabria from Everest Entertainment points out, is that there just aren’t enough production houses. There are about three main players. “I can only do about 2 or 3 films in a year. We don’t have the bandwidth to take on more,” he says.

Directors Sunil Sukhtankar and Sumitra Bhave, makers of critically acclaimed films like Dahavi Fa and Astu, had approached production houses for five projects. “It’s always been the same case,” says Sukhtankar. “The artistic committee watches the film and they love it, they are moved to tears. Once it reaches the marketing department, things come to a grinding halt.”


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