It was in 2010, when Gashmeer Mahajani, son of veteran Marathi actor and director Ravindra Mahajani, stepped into the world of showbiz with the Hindi movie, Muskurake Dekh Zara. But, it was the 2015 critically-acclaimed Marathi film Deool Band that catapulted him on the road to stardom. He followed this up with yet another popular film Kanha, and has since then become a popular face in the Marathi film and television industry.
Currently, the actor, who is basking in the praise coming his way for the Hindi TV show Imlie, is gearing up to play Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the Marathi historical, Sarsenapati Hambirrao. The actor, who has also explored the OTT space with the Hindi web series, Shrikant Bashir, says he wants to see more Marathi films breaking language barriers and gaining recognition that it deserves.
The OTT boom has given a new lease of life to regional content, with several movies and shows becoming available for pan India viewing. Apart from the content from the South film industry, Marathi content too found a new fanbase on these platforms. So much that many platforms also came up with web series in the language, which wasn’t the case earlier — Samantar, Kaale Dhande, Gondya Ala Re, Pandu, Ani Kay Hava, among others are a proof of that.
But, Marathi films have still not managed to break the regional barrier the way South films have. Ask him what ails the industry, and the actor says, “I feel there are two things: We have the content, but you have to marry it to entertainment. People watch cinema for entertainment and they want social messages or lessons to be weaved in the story without being too preachy. The message automatically gets registered in the subconscious when the viewer is entertained with what he/she is watching. Why would a cinema goer pay ten times more if he/she isn’t getting entertained?”
Over the years, there have been several Marathi films, which managed to create waves, scooping National Awards on the way — Dombivali Fast, Harishchandrachi Factory, Jait Re Jait, Mala Aai Vhhaychy!, Pinjara, Ringan, Shala, to name a few. Some popular Marathi movies have also been remade in Bollywood, like Sairat and Mulshi Pattern. But times have changed, and so has the theatre-going audience.
“Unless it’s a massy entertainer, people won’t go to the theatres if they aren’t getting good content wrapped in an equally good dose of entertainment. Or else people will just wait for the particular movie to be aired on TV rather than wasting money on going to a theatre,” he adds.
Over the past several years, be it Bollywood or Sandalwood, almost every film industry in the country has created a ‘hero’ of sorts — like a Baahubali from the South or a Singham from the Hindi film industry. Gashmeer says for the Marathi film industry to flourish and lure the audience to the theatres, it needs to create a ‘hero’ too. “You see, in the regional cinema they have created heroes. Telugu and Tamil cinema have heroes, along with good content of course. A ‘hero’ is someone who is created by an intelligent director, scriptwriter or producer, and has a certain following on the basis of which people will go and watch the film in the theatres. And by this I don’t only mean the male leads, because it is no longer gender-specific.”
Irrespective of male or female lead, content needs to lure the audience is a general perspective. “Definitely. Nowadays, people watch movies in theatres because of a particular heroine too, or if the film is female-centric. But, what I am talking about is creating faces. Just the way the Tamil and Telugu cinema have created. They have created heroes based on which people will spend Rs 400-500 to watch a film, but it has to be entertaining. But in Marathi cinema, because makers want to sell content they are not focusing on the other factors. As a result, they are unable to make money. If that thing is fixed then I think Marathi cinema will go a long way.”
In 2019, Gashmeer starred in filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker’s historical drama, Panipat. The movie, which was fronted by Arjun Kapoor and Kriti Sanon, failed to rake in the moolah at the box office. So, does he regret saying yes to the movie? “Professionally, yes. Personally, no. I did the film because of Ashu sir [Ashutosh Gowariker]. He is such is a lovely person. Even today, if I call him, he will definitely spare some time for me. Otherwise, I don’t like talking about the film because it did not turn out the way I wanted it to. I felt my character was side-lined and had no arc. Neither did I take away anything from the film, nor the film take anything from me,” he signs off.