“Go to the villages!” was Mahatma Gandhi’s slogan for the Civil Disobedience movement. Followers flocked down in numbers to discover the rural scene. Our entire fight for swaraj or self-rule relied on our economic self-reliance and thus the villages had so much prominence in our independence struggle.
Eighty years apart, Marathi filmmakers have decided to imbibe the spirit into their art. It is quite typical for a Marathi screenwriter today to reach out into Maharashtra’s heart for new stories. This is emphatically the best thing that has happened to it since the last best thing that happened to it !
Umesh Kulkarni’s Valu in the year 2008 was probably just the beginning of this new turn(reference later). Its a story about a bull on the loose in the beautiful countryside of Maharashtra and the venture to trap it. The humour “performs” subtly through a handful of quirky village-men, putting forward a meaningful picture of the simple life they lead. From raging to an aging bull, another bull returns to play the crucial part in Mangesh Hadawale’s Tingya, about a little boy’s attachment to the bull on its way to the slaughterhouse. This affecting story garnered only praises at the various film festivals it was screened at.
In the year that had followed, the rural cinema had done only better! Gabricha paus andJogwa were two brilliant movies of 2009. Gabricha paus or The Dammed Rain is a tribute to India’s honest and hardworking farmer, a poster child for the green revolution somewhere in Punjab, but one to live by hope all his life in the bleak Vidarbha. Its partlyThe Shawshank Redemption till it enters its final act. Its a sad tale but fruitfully bearable because of the comic strokes.
Jogwa, on the other hand would be ideally described as brave before anything else. It deals with the complex issues of sexuality and social oppression within the religious manifolds informing us that such issues uncharted by our cinema till today are natural to the rural side for experiencing. Otherwise, its a brilliant movie, ably written and performed with flair. Upendra Limaye earned himself a National Award for Best Actor.
Natarang that released early this year is a natural successor to Jogwa in its theme. The movie prides itself in displaying the very skilled art form of “tamasha”. And it manages to rouse an interest in us because it tries the right way which is “not confronting the viewer.” Undoubtedly many still have followed.In contrast to the egotistical urban Marathi cinema, vulgarly obsessed with disdaining anyone else, the rural cinema of Maharashtra is proud, yes but rightly so of its rich culture.
The former type this year is represented by movies like Mi Shivaji Raje Bhosale Boltoy, a racist movie in an anti racist garb and the latter by Natarang which is better in every respect. The Zee Gaurav Award for the Best Movie was grabbed by the former because somethings never change in Maharashtra.
Where the urban cinema has looked to Hollywood for inspiration, the rural cinema has looked within and found fantastic literature. What the urban cinema has not been brave enough to venture into, the rural cinema has been able to justify perpetual connections to.But quite evidently the difference between the two is that of good and bad cinema. This little movement today takes us back to the hay-days of 70s and 80s where the likes of Jabbar Patel (with the intellectual capacity equaling that of contemporaries like Shyam Benegal) came out with the industry’s best Jait Re Jait, Samna et al, and further back to the 50s when a Marathi movie won the first national award.
Question is where the Marathi Industry lost out. Taking up of unimaginative urban themes?
The New Turn is but a rectification, a return to its glorious form. This rural cinema movement finally gives us something we should be proud of and therefore needs to be distinguished from the other kind. We have so much to learn from India’s freedom struggle. Self reliance frees this caged bird.
P.S. This week a Marathi film festival was held at NCPA, Mumbai where some of these movies were screened. The festival was titled Nave Valan or New Turn, BULLSEYE!