Mumbai: A few days before the release of his second Marathi movie, the dance-themed Aayna Ka Bayna, director Samit Kakkad herded his actors into a banquet hall in Mumbai and got them to perform for the television cameras in attendance. He had already pasted banners on a hundred buses each in Mumbai and Pune, plastered these cities with posters, and created Twitter and Facebook accounts for the movie. Aayna Ka Bayna, which opens on 30 November, has a captive market in Maharashtra, but the director, like many others in the Marathi film industry, isn’t leaving anything to chance. The Rs.2 crore film has a marketing budget of Rs.75 lakh. “For a Marathi film, it’s an A-plus amount,” Kakkad said. “We can’t go overboard like Hindi films, but publicity is a must. There’s no point in not spending money on a film and then complaining that it hasn’t reached audiences.”
Marathi film-makers are not quite as profligate as their Hindi counterparts when it comes to publicity and advertising, but they are not taking audiences for granted. “Earlier, films would come and go and nobody would notice,” said veteran distributor Sadik Chitalikar. “Now, films are being better promoted on channels, in buses, on television sets inside buses, and on the streets. Everything is about publicity these days.”
Umesh Kulkarni, director of 2011’s Deool, added, “The attitude of not publicizing your film, of not being like Bollywood, has gone. Word of mouth was the big thing in the past, but you don’t have the space for it any more—if your film doesn’t work in the first week, you won’t get shows.”
Kulkarni and his production company, Arbhaat Films, have been savvy about marketing right from the time of his debut, Valu, in 2008. “We invited journalists to the village where we were shooting, and sustained the activity all the way till the release a year later,” he said. Deool’s producers took the actors on a tour of small-town Maharashtra, to places such as Aurangabad, Satara and Solapur.
There was a time in the 1990s when barely 15 Marathi films would squeak out of the cans and into cinemas in a year, Chitalikar said. “In 1996, I was a production assistant on Mahesh Manjrekar’s first film Aai,” he said. “We couldn’t get a distributor, so we booked the theatres ourselves. That year, barely seven films were released.”
Publicist Ram Kondilkar, who has handled films like Aga Bai Arrecha!, Deool and the forthcoming neo-noir Pune 52, also remembers a time before the trade updated its status from comatose to alive and kicking. “When I started, the industry was nearly dead—there were mostly comedies that would run in single screens or at district-level cinemas,” he said.
From very little to a great deal, from a handful of films to nearly a hundred a year—the scene has become lively over the last seven-eight years, buoyed by a new generation of talent, more producers, the proliferation of multiplexes, and the presence of satellite television channels, notably Zee Marathi and Star Mazha, which pay between Rs.50 lakh and Rs.1 crore for telecast rights. So lively, in fact, that the good old days of pasting posters on available wall space in Mumbai’s Marathi-dominated neighbourhoods are long gone. “Marathi films are now coming to the multiplex, and there is a new generation of film-makers whose language and style are different,” Kondilkar said. “Earlier, it was pure passion, now there is a combination of passion and a business sense.”
For Aga Bai Arrecha! in 2004, Kondilkar organized promotional events in colleges across Mumbai. For Mukkam Post London, shot in the British capital and released before the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2007, the producers paid for cricket-themed calendars featuring the movie’s lead actor, Bharat Jadhav. “Because of satellite television, revenues have now increased, whereas earlier, the films would mostly get shown on Doordarshan,” Kondilkar said. Marathi movies are now routinely promoted on television shows in the language, he said.
Marathi film distributors have it easier than Bollywood and Hollywood: They are exempted by the Maharashtra government from paying entertainment tax (30-35% of gross ticket sales) in single-screen theatres. The state government also provides grants to deserving films. Yet a Marathi movie competes with the latest from Bollywood or Hollywood, and typically gets pushed to third place when it comes to getting shows at the cinemas.
But the problems of the industry are as much a result of internal forces as external factors. There is a huge pool of talent, but it is not as organized as Bollywood, pointed out Girish Wankhede, national marketing head at Cinemax India. “Most Marathi film-makers don’t have an organized sector to distribute films properly, because of which they get bad shows at cinemas,” Wankhede said. “The Hindi guy will fix his release date a year in advance, while many Marathi films will be released in the same week as a big-budget Hindi film.” It’s only in the past few years that film-makers have started prepping audiences by, for instance, releasing a “first look” of the movie, converting the soundtrack release into a media event, and holding red-carpet premieres, he said.
Wankhede has found a platform to advise the industry on best business practices: He writes a column in the monthly trade magazine Mazha Cinema (My Cinema). Set up on Valentine’s Day in 2008 by businessman Krishan Khadaria and edited by Sheetal Nikam, Mazha Cinema provides information that is vital to understanding the dynamics of the industry, such as release dates, box office data, and snippets on under-production projects. “I felt that this magazine was necessary for the industry,” said Nikam, who is also a distributor of films, such as Hello Jai Hind !, Aamhi Ka Tisre and the forthcoming Ranbhumi. The trickle of information about forthcoming titles is now a flood. “When I started, I knew about only 12 films and I thought, how is that possible?” Nikam said. “Then I realized that there were 36 films, then 70.” She knows of over 150 films on the floor at the moment. Numerous producers have flocked to the scene, attracted by the low costs of making a Marathi movie (Rs.60 lakh-Rs.2 crore), but many films don’t even see the light of a projector, Nikam said. “Theatre selection is important, show selection is important,” she said. She advises film-makers to keep a movie in cinemas for three-four weeks, and to avoid bombarding screens with hundreds of prints.
The scene has enough variety to encourage a public relations professional such as Amruta Mane to exclusively promote Marathi cinema. Avadumber Entertainment’s films include Balgandharva, Ajintha and a forthcoming biopic on Lokmanya Tilak. “Things have changed with the kind of movies being made,” Mane said. “Every movie works differently, and every movie needs special attention.” For Balgandharva (2011), a biopic of the celebrated stage performer who often played women’s parts, the producers dressed up lead actor Subodh Bhave in a sari and took him to different cities. “The big hiccup in promoting Marathi films is budget constraints,” Mane said. And the Bollywood leviathan looms on the shoreline ever so often. “If you offer Marathi publications a Subodh Bhave interview, they won’t be as interested in it as, say, a Shah Rukh Khan interview,” she said.
Yet the scene is changing, and fast. “I have enough work on Marathi films to stay away from Hindi films,” Mane said.