Making films on a shoestring budget yet bringing out a vibrant India through their lens, Viraj Sawant turns the focus on regional cinema which is making huge strides, as it combines compelling content with engaging entertainment.
“Punjab-Sindh-Gujarata-Maratha-Dravida-Utkala-Banga…” says our national anthem, extolling the wonderful pluralism of our country. From North to South and East to West, though it is divided by many factors, India is united by even more forces, one among which is cinema. Irrespective of the language, we Indians love watching films. Every major language has a film industry of its own. No, we don’t fight over our superstars; instead we watch all of them at the theatre!
It goes without saying that Bollywood eats up most of the theatre space but our regional films aren’t left behind. The numbers at the box office are a living proof of the fact that we love our regional cinema as well. And not just us – international festivals and even the Oscars love our regional films. In the last five years, three of the submissions to the Academy have been non-Hindi films, 2011’s Abu, Son of Adam (Malayalam), 2013’s The Good Road (Gujarati) and last year’s Court (Marathi).
Let’s take a look at these film industries that unite us with our favourite medium that’s cinema…
Among the forerunners is Satyajit Ray, who put Indian cinema on the global map. Even today when cinema is studied in international film schools, Satyajit Ray’s APU trilogy is discussed religiously. The Bengali film industry is centred around a place called Tollygunge and hence the industry too is dubbed Tollywood, a portmanteau of Tollygunge and Hollywood.
Giving India the terrific triad of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen, the Bengali film industry introduced India to parallel cinema. Known for its intelligent cinema, actors and audience, the Bengali film industry is known for its meticulous depiction of social reality.
Not just these legends but the subsequent batches of directors too have risen to the challenge. The late Rituparno Ghosh, Aparna Sen, Srijit Mukherjee, Kaushik Ganguly, Anik Mukherjee and many others have provoked even as they entertained with their diverse strains of filmmaking.
Undoubtedly the period between the ‘50s and ‘70s was the Golden era of Bengali cinema. The industry nosedived during the ‘80s but has risen like a phoenix again. Churning out more than a hundred films, the industry has been successfully delivering five to six hits every year. In 2013, the Bengali industry saw its biggest hit in the form of CHANDER PAHAR by Kamleshwar Mukherjee. The budget of this film, which stood at nearly 150 million, marked it as the highest in Bengali cinema at the time of its release in 2013. The film, which was shot at locations in Africa, garnered Rs.90 lakh on its very first day of release in West Bengal. It had a collection of Rs.4.83 crore in the first week.
With films like CHANDER PAHAR and other recent releases which have done excellent business at the box office like AWARA (2012), PAGLU (2011) and Mishawr Rawhoshyo (2013), it certainly is boom time for Tollywood.
Loud, loving and full of life, just like its denizens, the Punjabi film industry has been churning out entertainer after entertainer. It is hard to deny the fact that much of the Hindi film culture has been adopted from the Punjabi ethos. The bhangra, the Punjabi language and the celebration of any occasion has moreover been influenced by the Punjabi tradition.
Made on small budgets, Punjabi films have shown a sharp rise in numbers at the box office lately. The biggest hit in Punjabi cinema has been an animated film called CHAAR SAHIBZAADE by Harry Baweja. According to some analysts, this film and Harry Baweja restored faith back into Punjabi cinema as it was turning towards absolute commercialisation. Other than this, Diljit Dosanj’s family entertainer, SARDAARJI, directed by Rohit Jugal Chauhan is the second highest grosser of all times. It earned around Rs.50 crore, which is a huge figure for a regional film industry. Slow but steadily, the Punjabi film industry is also experiencing an upswing with its revived content and clutch of good directors like Navainat Singh, Simerjit Singh and Anurag Singh.
Apart from the family entertainers, the Punjabi industry saw a belated rise in independent cinema. Just last year, a film called KUDESAAN won several accolades at the London Asian Film Festival, while another film, GHAR AJAA JEETU, an independent project on substance abuse is already making rounds of the film festivals. CHAUTHI KOOT, a film by Gurvinder Singh is one of the two Indian official entries for the Cannes Film Festival.
During the silent era of Indian cinema, majority of the film companies and studios in Bombay were owned by Gujuratis and Parsis. Hence the emergence of a huge number of Gujarati and Parsi directors and producers was seen in the industry from the very beginning.
The scripts and stories explored within Gujarati films are intrinsically humane. Initially the films made by the Gujarati industry were more about mythological characters and folklore. Then came a time when films were made on family affairs and marriage such as Gunsundari and Kariyavar. Gujarati films take inspiration from Gujarati novels and literature. Again there was a spurt in 1970s for saint-sati films. In 2000, films were largely targeted at the rural audience of Gujarat and it was only after 2005 that younger films were being made. New filmmakers focused on bridging the rural-urban divide. Films talking about friendship and blossoming love are the new focus for Gujarati films.
In 2015, Gujarati cinema saw its biggest hit in the form of CHHELLO DIVAS – A NEW BEGINNING, which translates to THE LAST DAY- A NEW BEGINNING. A film directed by Krishnadev Yagnik, it centred around eight college friends and their last year of college. The film was made on a budget of Rs.1.8 crore and earned around Rs.17 crore at the box office. In 2013, a Gujarati film THE GOOD ROAD was India’s official entry to the Oscars.