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Article Assam Marathi

IFFI 2017: Flagbearers of regional cinema – Rajesh Mapuskar, Bidyut Kotoky, Manouj Kadaamh

Directors of Ventilator, Xhoixobote Dhemalite, and Kshitij – A Horizon in an open discussion with the media.

Rajesh Mapuskar (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Mayur Lookhar

Regional cinema has grown gradually aided by strong content and fine performances. The 48th International Film Festival of India has hosted some impressive regional films. Leading the pack is Rajesh Mapuskar’s Marathi film Ventilator (2016), produced by Priyanka Chopra’s Purple Pebble Pictures, followed by Bidyut Kotoky’s Assamese  Xhoixobote Dhemalite, first time director Miransha Naik’s Konkani film Juze, and Manouj Kadaamh's Marathi film, Kshitij – A Horizon. All the film have been received well at the festival.

The four directors came together for a joint press conference and each of them had an interesting story to share.

Addressing social issues

The drama, Xhoixobote Dhemalite, is a creation of the director’s own experiences of growing up as child during the violent period in Assam. It is only years later though that Kotoky conceived the idea for a film. 

“It was important to make this film, for this subject stayed with me for while during the birth of my daughter [sic]. I’m not one saying that the films will change the world, but if we say children are our future, then we need to ask what world are we going to leave behind for them?,” Kotoky said.

Bidyut Kotoky (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Manouj Kadaamh’s Kshitij is a story on right to education narrated through a poor girl, who fights the odds just to pursue her studies. The film also subtly touches upon the issue of farmer suicide. “We say cinema reflects our society, I wanted to show this mirror through my vision. We say ‘beti bachao’ (save the daughter), girls are surviving but are they studying? Those who want to study are not allowed to step into the world. I wanted to usher in a change through this film."

Naik’s Juze and Mapuskar’s Ventilator have been theatrically released and Xhoixobote Dhemalite and Kshitij are due to be released next year. Kotoky announced that his film will hit the screens on 16 January, while Kadaamh is targeting an April 2018 release.

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Kotoky shared an intriguing tale of his first meeting with acclaimed Bengali actor Victor Bannerjee: “I was in Goa, 2011-2012, I was told that Victor is here. A journalist friend asked Victor that he’s much admired in Assam, too, but he’s never done an Assamese film. Victor said that’s because he’s never been offered one. I was asked to meet Victor. When I met him and presented  my story. He read the one-page synopsis for almost 10 minutes. He said I’m doing the film and asked 'what took you so long to come to me?'".

Kotoky in his reply confessed the hindrances he faced before meeting the veteran actor, saying, “I said 'sir your reputation precedes you. You are a very difficult person, but very costly actor [sic]. Everyone told me that you are wonderful human being, actor but you need 5-star hotels, royal treatment. I have neither.' He  said what you heard is true, but what is also true is that I have two faces. I need the royal treatment from the people who can afford it.”

Kotoky was left stunned when Bannerji talked about his fees. “I asked him, sir what is your payment? He said what is left after you pay all other, give that to me. He’s stood my me throughout the film. I realized he is not only a great actor but a far better human being.”

The key ingredient for a film

The moderator asked the directors about the one thing that is most essential for making a film. For Mapuskar it is humour.

Kotoky said he doesn’t select the film, but the film selects him. “I have to be moved by a story, I need to be disturbed (not in negative sense). Unless that doesn’t happen, then I don’t make a film."

Kadaamh is more bent towards emotional appeal:  "Film is for humans and human beings have emotions."

Kshitij subtly touches upon the issue of farmer suicide, right to education, gender bias, was there a thought of addressing these issues in a subtle, humorous way?  We asked Kadaamh.

“I was waiting for this questions since yesterday. I’m an sentimental person. I was emotional at the screening. It took me eight years to make the film. There have been some 16 screenplays drafts. I didn’t want to highlight farmer suicide, what I wanted to highlight was how will the farmers get out of that difficult situation. I have addressed the issues in a subtle and sarcastic manner. Also, a film on social issues can also court controversy. I wanted to stay clear from that." Kadaamh said.

Regional cinema v/s mainstream cinema

One of the journalists commented that regional cinema is telling stories, whereas as Hindi cinema, popularly known as Bollywood, was making films that are not worth the while.

However, Mapuskar, who has been a part of regional and mainstream cinema, disagreed, “The economics differ of the two industries. Bollywood has a higher risk factor, that’s not the case with regional cinema, because the budgets differ vastly. Roughly, a Marathi film may cost you Rs2-3 crore that would include the P&A (prints and advertisement), the film would recover all cost if it bagged Rs6 crore. A Bollywood film made at Rs10 crore would see you invest a further Rs10 crore for P&A. The total budget would swell to Rs22 crore, now to recover that money you need to earn three times more. If you release a Bollywood film on Diwali, the audience would want to watch humour, fun-filled film. Regional films take calculated risks, so you can make a hearty story."

While adding that it is unfair to compare the different cinemas, Kadaamh, said that regional cinema is content drive and doesn’t need a face value.

Speaking of the insurgency affected Assam, Kotoky underlined how difficult it is for cinema to thrive there. “I come from a slightly different industry. In the late 80s, Assam had around 89-90 cinema halls. The ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam), insurgent group, had warned the theater owners to stop screening Hindi films. One by one a whole lot of them started to resemble godowns, because it was difficult to start regional cinema. Economically, it’s a no-brainer. An average Assamese film would cost Rs50-70 lakhs. It’s impossible to recover that money from the limited the screens in Assam. It’ s not only a challenge in Assam, but overall in India. It’s a high risk game. A Shah Rukh Khan film would cost the same as my regional film.” 

Story-telling in regional cinema

Are all the regional films rich in content and story?  We asked Mapuskar, whether there is a need for regional cinema to introspect on its story-telling.

Mapuskar attempted to answer the question with an anecdote, “I grew up in the coastal village of Shrivardhan in Maharashtra. The area saw lot of smuggling. Sometimes, the police got a whiff of it, the smugglers would get caught or they’d abandon their trucks. The villager would then loot the truck,” remembered Mapuskar.

“Now suddenly all of them would have electronic watches or branded clothes. They would even send it as gifts on festivals. Marathi cinema is going through that phase. So, one now feels that this is good time to enter Marathi cinema. A Sairat, made at Rs4 crore, ended up fetching Rs100 crore. There’s a mad rish going on, with producers, distributors willing to spend more money into films. Unfortunately, some people who don’t have strong content, have entered into the industry, too. Sadly, such films also affect the few good content drive films. Also we have few distribution channels. How many films will they own. There ought to be new distributors,” Mapuskar concluded.

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