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Rewind 2019: The 10 best Marathi films of the year


From period dramas like Anandi Gopal and Fatteshikast to modern, urban sagas like Girlfriend and Girlz, the year 2019 saw Marathi cinema take up a good variety of subjects.

Keyur Seta

Marathi cinema, which had begun to lose its mojo in the 1990s, found a new lease of life with the release of Shwaas (2004). From then on, a new and contemporary Marathi cinema has emerged, giving us meaningful, content-orientated films.

Of course, there have been years in which we have seen a bunch of quality Marathi films and others when there were not too many. The year that is about to end belongs, unfortunately, to the latter category. Yet, there was enough for us to be able to bring out our annual top 10 list. It’s just that compiling the list did not feel so challenging.

From period dramas like Anandi Gopal and Fatteshikast to modern, urban sagas like Girlfriend and Girlz, the year did offer a good variety of subjects. So, here are our top 10 Marathi films of 2019.

10. Laal Batti

The trailer for this film did not give us much hope. But Laal Batti proved to be a rare case of the film turning out to be way better than its trailer.

Directed by Girish Mohite and starring Mangesh Desai, Laal Batti narrates the sorry plight of Mumbai’s police force which has to work in trying conditions with meagre salaries, no holidays, harassment by seniors, etc.

But Laal Batti is also a thriller and works well on this level too. The film has a number of long takes (shots filmed in continuous single take), a rarity for Marathi cinema. And though Mangesh Desai does not look like an officer heading a special task force, his powerful performance leaves no one in any doubt who is in charge.

Laal Batti review: This Girish Mohite film gives you ample thrills

9. Girlz

After directing films titled Boyz (2017) and Boyz 2 (2018), filmmaker Vishal Devrukhkar brought us, quite naturally, Girlz. The trailer suggested this film would be an adult saga about three young women (played by Ankita Lande, Ketki Narayan and Anvita Phaltankar) having a wild time in Goa.

Yet again, the trailer was misleading. While the three women certainly have a gala time in Goa on various occasions, the film's content is not such as to embarrass you if you were to watch it with your kids (or your parents). Indeed, the film succeeds in bridging the generation gap between traditional or semi-traditional parents and their modern daughters who belong to the 21st century.

The positive chemistry and coordination among Lande, Narayan and Phaltankar also plays its part in making the audience root for them.

Girlz review: Coming-of-age saga about girls and their parents

8. Fatteshikast

Historical films in India have historically tended to be inaccurate. They are more of emotional tales embellished for dramatic effect.

What sets Fatteshikast apart is the authenticity the film lends to its story. The film is crafted with believable performances and a certain focus on strategy rather than on bombastic action. The cat-and-mouse game, the hatching of plans, the many-hued characters (Bahirji Naik, Tanaji Malusare, Shivaji himself), and a focus on effective storytelling make this a worthy follow-up to director Digpal Lanjekar's Farzand (2018).

With more films to come from the ‘Maratha universe’ in 2020, including from Lanjekar, it will be interesting to see if the focus remains on the strategies that helped build the empire and brought it fame or filmmakers return to the bombastic narrative.

Fatteshikast review: Entertainingly crafted, adventurous film that spurs interest in Maratha history

7. Girlfriend

This Upendra Sidhaye film fulfilled the crying need for a modern romantic drama in Marathi. Girlfriend starts off as the saga of lonely youngster Nachiket (Amey Wagh) who feels frustrated by societal pressure because he has never had a girlfriend. But the film jumps to a different plane once Sai Tamhankar’s character enters the scene.

From here on, while the storyline might not appear novel, the subject of a normal romantic comedy was certainly new for Marathi cinema. After Faster Fene (2017), Wagh lives up once again to the demands of playing the male lead while Tamhankar is excellent in an interesting role. 

Girlfriend review: Standard plot elevated by superb performances from the lead cast

6. Smile Please

Fashion designer and filmmaker Vikram Phadnis’s directorial debut Hrudayantar (2017) revolved around a child suffering from cancer. His second film, Smile Please sees the protagonist (Mukta Barve) suffering from a mental condition. But that's where the similiarity between the films ends. The storyline and the treatment of Smile Please are very different.

It will be safe to say that Phadnis’s career graph has gone up a few notches with Smile Please. The film isn’t heavy despite the subject. In fact, it gives a positive message to the families of those battling psychological disorders through the character played by Lalit Prabhakar, who is likeable.

But Smile Please belongs to Mukta Barve, who puts in a memorable performance, easily among her best in a career spanning more than a decade.

Smile Please review: Subject of serious mental condition treated in a positive manner

5. Dhappa

Director Nipun Dharmadhikari’s first film Baapjanma (2017) saw a couple of people (Sachin Khedekar and Pushkaraj Chirputkar) carry out a secret activity. His next film Dhappa (which was actually made before Baapjanma) saw a group of kids rehearse a play in secret as they do not want goons from a political party to know about it.

Despite the 'secret' similarity, both films are very different. While Baapjanma was a personal story, Dhappa is a socially relevant film, more so in today's times when religion is being used in an attempt to polarize the public, with its strong anti-communal message. Yet again, Dharmadhikari delivered a winner, making this film about kids as much relevant to grown-ups.

Dhappa review: Sweet film that promotes communal harmony through child protagonists

4. Mogra Phulaalaa

While we see a fair number of urban stories about modern people in mainstream Marathi cinema today — Girlfriend and Girlz are just two examples in this list — Shrabani Deodhar’s Mogra Phulaalaa reminds us that there are still many families where traditionalism remains intact. This film starring Swapnil Joshi, Neena Kulkarni and Sai Deodhar has an old-world charm about it, which is visible not just in its production design but also in the content. The film is ideal for those who have been missing such a tale on screen for a while.

At the same time, Mogra Phulaalaa gives a bold message about the remarriage of a divorced woman, who is still looked down upon in sections of society. Along with the lead couple (Joshi and Deodhar), the complex mother-son relationship explored sensitively in the film stays with you. Joshi and Kulkarni seem like real-life son and mother, which speaks volumes for their convincing portrayals.

Mogra Phulaalaa review: This Swapnil Joshi-starrer is an enjoyable watch

Honourable mention: Most years there are at least a few good films that don't quite make it to our final top 10 list. This year there was just one: Saleel Kulkarni's Wedding Cha Shinema. The film, revolving around a pre-wedding shoot and starring Mukta Barve, Rucha Inamdar, Shivraj Waichal and Bhau Kadam, is likeable with relatable characters who play off one another. Kulkarni keeps the mood lighthearted. Even the conflicts are handled with a light touch, which is quite a welcome change. Barve shines with yet another impressive performance this year.

3. Bhaai Vyakti Kee Valli – Purvardha

 

This Mahesh Manjrekar magnum opus was the first biopic on legendary humorist and man-of-many-talents Purushottam Laxman Deshpande, fondly known to Maharashtrians as Pu La Deshpande. Sagar Deshmukh played the titular character in the film which aimed to take us through the life story of the great literary, stage and film personality.

The film has a lot working for it, mainly because of the writing by father-son duo Ratnakar and Ganesh Matkari. Bhaai does not follow a conventional storyline structure because that is how Deshpande was: unconventional. Yet, the narrative neatly joins different incidents and various facets of his life in a believable manner.

Deshmukh and Iravati Harshe excel in the roles of Deshpande and his wife Sunita, making this one of the best films made by Manjrekar, even if the second part, Uttarardha, didn’t do quite as well, critically or at the box office. 

Bhaai – Vyakti Kee Valli review: An enjoyable, candid portrait of PL Deshpande

2. Welcome Home

The protagonist Saudamini (Mrinal Kulkarni) of directors Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar’s Welcome Home is a successful working woman who lives a rich lifestyle with her financially successful husband. This might sound like the kind of life many women would want to lead, but there is a darker side. Saudamini is the target of atrocities by her husband. Indeed, other successful women in the movie are also shown as victims of patriarchy in some way or the other. 

Welcome Home succeeds in its aim of showing how even working women from well-off, seemingly modern families face abuse from their husbands. Bhave and Sukthankar put the point across effectively without anybody making speeches on these issues, leaving a strong impact. Kulkarni and Sumeet Raghvan shine in the film with remarkable performances.

Welcome Home review: Wealth and success alone cannot combat patriarchy

1. Anandi Gopal

Barring YZ (2016), director Sameer Vidwans has always explored the lives of married couples in his films like Time Please (2013), Double Seat (2015) and Mala Kahich Problem Nahi (2017). His latest, Anandi Gopal, was also about a couple. However, this is more than just a personal story since what Anandi Joshi (Bhagyashree Milind) and Gopalrao Joshi (Lalit Prabhakar) achieved holds national significance even today. 

The film tells the tale of the real-life struggle of Anandi to become India’s first female physician, with immense help and support from husband Gopalrao. The film is full of moments that are either revolutionary or heartwarming and are dealt with in a mature manner. At the same time, you can’t miss the undying love between the couple without any display of romance through words or actions. Bhagyashree and Prabhakar deserve plenty of credit for their earnest performances.

Anandi Gopal review: Revolutionary couple worthy of celebrating on Valentine’s weekend

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Year in review