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Special – The best Marathi films of 2011-20

From the groundbreaking Sairat (2016) to the artistic Lathe Joshi (2018), these are Cinestaan's selection of the best of Marathi films of the second decade.

Keyur Seta

Suyog Zore

Few would disagree that Sandeep Sawant’s Shwaas (2004) marked a turning point for Marathi cinema in the first decade of the 21st century. But the new wave of Marathi cinema as we know it today had its true genesis in 2011. That was when sporadic attempts by young and still mostly unknown filmmakers like Sachin Kundalkar, Umesh Kulkarni and Ravi Jadhav to explore unfamiliar themes and untested techniques got consolidated into a revolution with the emergence of a new breed of visionaries whose dazzling corpus has been embraced by critics, award juries and, most importantly, the movie-going public.

There is no doubt that from the artistic and commercial standpoint, the second decade of the third millennium CE has been the most fruitful decade for the industry. From hard-hitting allegories that exposed casteism in all its ugliness to existential psychodramas to unabashed arthouse films to stirring biopics to heartfelt coming-of-age yarns, the decade boasts of some extraordinary works of art that render all attempts to put together a top 10 list a Herculean task.

Nonetheless, here is what we at Cinestaan.com believe to be a definitive selection that celebrates the works of art that have cemented themselves in cinematic history as well as popular consciousness. In ascending order.

10. Shala (2012)

The journey of Shala from the printed page to the big screen began in 2004 when Sujay Dahake, then a student at the International Academy of Film and Television in the Philippines, was enthralled by writer-sociologist Milind Bokil’s novel of the same name. The film, which was premiered at the New York Indian Film Festival in 2011, was released in India a few days shy of the director's 27th birthday. It went on to earn three times its Rs3 crore budget and bag two National awards.

Set in the tumultuous 1970s, Shala depicts the idle schooldays of 14-year-old Mukund Joshi (Anshuman Joshi) who whiles away the time with his three best friends. The film is about the journey, not the destination, as Dahake eschewed the conventional narrative structure where one scene flows from the last. Instead, the film is an assemblage of unforgettable vignettes that are destined to linger on in the memories of both the characters and the viewers.

Shot sumptuously by Spanish cinematographer Diego Romero, Shala also highlights the uncertainties and polarized perspectives of the youth around the time of the Emergency.

From the lead actor to Ketan Sunil Pawar and Ketaki Mategaonkar, who play his free-spirited friend Surya and love interest Shirodkar respectively, Dahake extracted incredible performances from the child artistes, many of whom were facing the camera for the first time.

Shala is available on Disney+ Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video.

9. Kaccha Limbu (2017)

The seeds of the provocative Kaccha Limbu, actor Prasad Oak’s directorial debut, were sown in 2014 when the filmmaker learnt of a novel titled Runanubandh by renowned man of letters Jaywant Dalvi. Oak then roped in writer Chinmay Mandlekar, who had scripted projects in which the actor had featured, to help him adapt the work for the big screen.

The film unflinchingly depicts taboo subjects, challenging the sensibilities of viewers who may be accustomed to lighter fare. Kaccha Limbu sees the harried couple Mohan and Shaila Katadare, brilliantly essayed by Ravi Jadhav and Sonali Kulkarni, respectively, struggle to eke out a living while also keeping an eye on their only son Bacchu (Manmeet Pem), an overweight adolescent with special needs.

Things take a dark turn when Bacchu, who is undergoing physical and hormonal changes, is sexually aroused by his mother one day, which incites his enraged father to violence.

Kaccha Limbu, whose title deceptively suggests the comedic, contains one of the frankest depictions of the difficulties encountered by parents of children with special needs, as we see the lead couple come to harbour mixed feelings towards their offspring, who was once the apple of their eye.

Oak’s decision to shoot the film in mostly black and white underlines the dismal existence of the characters and cinematographer Amalendu Choudhary's deft camerawork sets it apart visually.

Kaccha Limbu is available on Zee5.

8. Kaasav (2017)

The legendary filmmaking partnership of National award-winning social scientist Sumitra Bhave and FTII graduate Sunil Sukthankar has resulted in the production of 15 high-quality feature films and scores of short films, television serials and telefilms. Kaasav is a veritable jewel in their crown.

Shot in 18 days at Deogarh in the Konkan region, the film is centred on a youngster Manav, played by Alok Rajwade, who suffers from a debilitating form of depression. After a suicide attempt, he ends up in the company of Janaki Kulkarni (Iravati Harshe), a kind-hearted social worker who is no stranger to depression herself. Kulkarni, who is on her way to Goa, decides to take along the youth whom she christens Niche. They meet a wildlife conservationist named Dattabhau, played by Dr Mohan Agashe, who is involved in the protection of Olive Ridley turtles on the Konkan coast.

Kaasav, which means ‘turtle’, effectively uses the reptile as an allegory for Niche and Kulkarni, who come to terms with their loneliness, while showcasing their unusual but effective relationship. Eschewing preachiness and a heavy-handed approach, the film uses the power of visuals to the fullest while Rajwade and Harshe steal the show with their understated but powerful performances. Dr Agashe, who also produced the project, helped shape the project initially in his capacity as a qualified psychiatrist.

7. Katyar Kaljat Ghusali (2015)

Making a film based on a revered play that prominently features classical music would be quite a task for any filmmaker, more so nowadays when peppy dance tracks and maudlin ballads are the order of the day. However, first-time director Subodh Bhave rose to the challenge with Katyar Kaljat Ghusali.

Set in the British era, the film is a faithful adaptation of the smash-hit play of the same title by Purushottam Darvhekar which was premiered in 1967. The film revolves around the acrimonious rivalry between two gharanas or schools of music, which are represented by Khansaheb Aftab Hussain Bareliwale (Sachin Pilgaonkar) and Pandit Bhanu Shankar Shastri (Shankar Mahadevan making his debut as an actor).

Bhave struck a fine balance for contemporary viewers as well as fans of the original production by retaining some of the play's music, which was composed by Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki, and adding new songs by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, which were tailormade for the film.

The film’s biggest strength lies in its ability to make complex classical compositions accessible to casual listeners who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the genre. Music is the crux and star of Katyar Kaljat Ghusali, and it also plays a pivotal role in lifting your spirits at the film's denouement.

Katyar Kaljat Ghusli is available on Zee5.

6. Fandry (2014)

The entertainment industry has always been hush-hush about casteism, an issue that has been plaguing Indian society for thousands of years. Even when Marathi cinema began exploring complex and taboo subjects, nobody dared to address the elephant in the room — caste discrimination. Until poet Nagraj Manjule came along and filmmaker with his powerful debut Fandry (2014). The film, based on his own childhood experiences, hits you in the gut with its powerful caste allegory.

Fandry follows Jabya (Somnath Avghade), a not-so-good-looking 12-year-old boy from the Kaikadi community who lives on the outskirts of his village. He has a huge crush on his upper-caste fair-skinned classmate. He struggles against the caste system by daring to dream and eventually rebelling against the perpetrators of that system in one of Marathi cinema's most hard-hitting climaxes.

Fandry is available on Zee5.

5. Lathe Joshi (2018)

Director Mangesh Joshi’s Lathe Joshi (2018) explores the commonplace issue of humans losing their jobs to machines. Joshi (Chittaranjan Giri) works as a lathe operator in a workshop in Pune. He is not only an expert at his craft, but also enjoys the work. Then, one fateful day, he and his colleagues lose their jobs after their employer replaces them with machines.

Lathe Joshi offers cinematic brilliance even as it portrays the grim life of the protagonist. Initially, the film might appear slow but it gradually sucks you into what can only be called Joshi's universe. The film does not have a proper background score. But it doesn't need one as its sound design is brilliant.

Chittaranjan Giri leaves behind an impact in every scene despite having hardly any lines of dialogue. His expressions and body language are more than enough to convey his thoughts.

4. Deool (2011)

Deool marked the third time Girish Kulkarni and Umesh Kulkarni, one of the more celebrated writer-director duos in Marathi cinema, came together. The film that brought Marathi cinema its third Golden Lotus at the National Film awards is a satire on the commercialization of faith and religion.

The film is set in a fictional village where life is uncomplicated and boring until the day Kesha (Girish Kulkarni), a simpleton, takes his cow Kardi for grazing. While there, he dreams of the god Dattatreya. Unsure of the meaning of the dream, he runs back to the village. This innocuous incident becomes the catalyst for huge change in the village.

Kulkarni presents a fantastic outlook on the commercialization of religion with his trademark witty dialogues. The film also boasts some of the finest performances of this decade from stalwarts like Dilip Prabhawalkar, Nana Patekar, Sonali Kulkarni, Girish Kulkarni, Jyoti Subhash, Kishore Kadam and youngster Om Bhutkar, who has since gone on to make his own mark in cinema.

Deool is available on Amazon Prime Video.

3. Naal (2018)

First-time director Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti’s Naal (2018) took Marathi cinema by storm without much warning. Of course, the film had generated a decent buzz ahead of its release. But not many would have expected it to become one of the most acclaimed films of the decade.

Starring child artiste Shrinivas Pokale, the film portrayed the journey of happy-go-lucky child Chaitanya aka Chaitya who realizes that his mother (Devika Daftardar) is not his real mother. The film explores Chaitya’s confusion in a way that it moves you even as it brings a smile to your face, especially the final shot.

Young Shrinivas's performance matches up to the film’s high-quality content and will remain etched in the viewer's mind forever, even if (god forbid) he never features in another film again. Naal is also a rare example of every department of a film rising to the occasion.

Naal is available on Zee5.

2. Sairat (2016)

This entry is a no-brainer. No other regional film in the past decade has made such a huge cultural impact all over India without even being dubbed in other languages. Sairat grossed close to Rs100 crore, a stupendous figure for Marathi cinema.

On paper, it is a simple love story of star-crossed lovers who have to fight for their love, something we have seen times without number in Indian cinema. But filmmaker Nagraj Manjule turned it into an honest portrayal of caste violence and how fake caste pride and hatred triumph over love. The film is filled with so many minute details that it's impossible to notice all in just one viewing.

Unlike most other love stories, Sairat has the flavour and smell of the world its characters inhabit. Manjule reverses the popular Hindi film stereotypes of love and gender; an upper-caste girl falls in love with a lower-caste youth who is a lot fairer than her. The assertive girl takes the lead in the relationship.

From Manjule’s impeccable writing and direction and Ajay-Atul’s melodious music to Sudhakar Reddy's breathtaking camerawork and Rinku Rajguru and Akash Thosar's unforgettable performances, Sairat scores full marks in all departments of filmmaking. It also has one of the most shocking climaxes!

Sairat is available on Zee5 and Google Play.

1. Court (2015)

Indian cinema has always been known to underline the distinction between art and reality, never more so than in its courtroom dramas. Until a film like Court comes along, which blurs the line between cinema and reality to such an extent that it almost becomes non-existent.

First-time filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane, then all of 26, threw all preconceived notions associated with courtroom dramas out of the window in this Kafkaesque tale about the justice system in India in its raw and uncompromised state. Instead of “order order”, “mere muwwakkil” and Sunny Deol-style dialogue-baazi, we get a bleak and unsanitized version of court proceedings where a judge refuses to hear a case because a woman has come to court wearing a sleeveless dress, a government lawyer nonchalantly talks about throwing a 60-year-old man in jail because she is bored, an expressionless widow narrates how her husband, a sewer cleaner, died in a sewer because the government failed to provide him necessary safety gear.

In a matter-of-fact manner, without melodrama, the film opens viewers' eyes to reality. And it is a disturbing sight.

Court is available on Amazon Prime Video.

Others that could have made this list:

Yellow (2014)

Cinematographer Mahesh Limaye chose a difficult subject for his directorial debut and did complete justice to it. The film is about a girl with Down’s syndrome who still succeeds in becoming a swimming champion. The film is based on the true story of Gauri Gadgil, who also plays the lead here to perfection.

Yellow is available on Zee5.

Rege (2013)

Rege is a gritty neo-noir thriller about a curious boy who gets sucked into the world of crime and pays a high price. First-time filmmaker Abhijit Panse told this story in a non-linear style. The film boasts of outstanding performances from Mahesh Manjrekar, Aroh Velankar and Pushkar Shrotri 

Rege is available on Zee5.

Killa (2015)

Cinematographer Avinash Arun turned director with Killa and hit bullseye. With brilliant performances from Archit Deodhar and Amruta Subhash, the film is a heart-warming saga of a schoolkid who comes to terms with various realities of his life. Avinash’s camerawork was as rich as his storytelling.

Killa is available on Netflix.

How many of these films have you seen? And what do you think of this list? Let us know in the comments below.

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