(Updated: August 4, 2020) M-town’s rise over the past decade has been exciting, to say the least. But Marathi filmmakers raised the bar further in 2016, taking the industry to a whole new level. Marathi films have almost perfected the art of balancing audience expectations and critical scrutiny. The films set box office records in 2016 with even Bollywood turning to Marathi cinema for remakes. (Read: Why ‘Sairat’ remake is a bad idea, Bollywood). Evolving audience tastes and staggering amount of revenue have propelled the Marathi industry to new heights. So, here are the 6 must see Marathi films that led the success, and are my favorites of the year.
Director: Sameer Vidwans
Honestly speaking, YZ’s trailer didn’t intrigue me. I thought it was just another remake of 40 Year Old Virgin. But the romantic comedy drama far exceeded my expectations and made it to my list.
Bold, progressive ideas are sprinkled all over this witty, breezy film. The dialogues are crisp. Both Akshay Tanksale and Sagar Deshmukh share electrifying bro-chemistry while delivering superb lines.
The film maturely handles themes like sex before marriage, arranged marriage, age gap in relationships, and stigma on divorcees, yet never takes them too seriously. Gajanan Kulkarni’s transformation from a wimpy, diffident boy to a man who refuses to succumb to societal pressure feels organic.
Greatness Element: Sagar Deshmukh gives an understated performance and the finest in recent times. The entire film rests on his shoulders and he is rock solid with a magical screen presence. He makes you think of him as a loser when he wants you to, and take him as seriously when he rises above the character’s vulnerabilities.
Only an unafraid first-time director could have made such a film. Director Sameer Vidwans clearly had a blast making the film and that’s what makes YZ special.
Watch YZ on Amazon Prime
Director: Mahesh Manjrekar
Remakes are tricky and remake of a legendary Marathi play is quicksand. Shreeram Lagoo’s portrayal of a tragic stage actor can never be replicated. The only way Nana Patekar could have stood the test would be by giving it a unique voice. Dr. Lagoo’s Ganpat Belwalkar was a revered patriarch who was a victim of circumstances. Nana’s rendition is more of a flawed father who does not understand the new rules of the world.
Nana played to his strength and the anger of a dejected father was palpable and heart-wrenching. Medha Manjrekar’s restrained performance beautifully complimented this anger. In a no holds barred Nana show, Medha provided the much needed stability of a loyal, loving wife.
Manjrekar shrewdly recognized that a film is a completely different format from a play. He raised a master art work of abandoned stages and life on footpath. It would take me a whole other article to describe how much I enjoyed the scenes featuring Vikram Gokhale and Nana Patekar. The Vikram Gokhale subplot was a masterstroke which was not present in the original play.
Greatness Element: VV Shirwadkar’s play’s iconic moments come to life in Natsamrat. Belwalkar’s loneliness through his soliloquys — from asking for a roof on his head, contemplating to be or not to be, to the breaking point where he gets lost in the characters he played on stage — is all brilliantly mounted.
The audience resonated with the love and passion of the writers and director’s attempt to recreate the magic of Natsamrat on celluloid. Very few risks in the film business have paid off this well.
Recommended: 10 Best Marathi Movies On Hotstar
Director: Rajesh Mapuskar
Our films take death too seriously. Promises are made and shattering truths are revealed using intense narratives/flashbacks. But the non-dramatic, ordinary death has its own charm. And hospital drama Ventilator captures it perfectly.
Ashutosh Gowarikar, along with several other family members — a mix of colorful, eccentric characters — get together to meet the dying relative on a ventilator. The setting is simple, with the story hardly moving outside the hospital. Ventilator carries the unique charm of a Hrishikesh Mukherjee or a Raju Hirani (who is also director Rajesh Mapuskar’ mentor) film. Small moments convey multiple emotions. Nothing feels artificial or fake. The twists cater to the characters’ growing arc. And the humor is consistent throughout.
Greatness Element: The special thing about Ventilator is that it doesn’t try to give solutions to problems. It doesn’t judges anyone; it only puts forth various sides of human emotions. The film takes great restraint to pull back from going full blast on father-son relationship issues.
Ventilator brings back the most fundamental strengths of storytelling: great cast and brilliant writing. Rajesh Mapuskar proves you don’t need big sets and over-the-top drama to take audiences on an emotional rollercoaster ride.
Recommended: 5 Best Marathi Movies That Are An Essential Watch
Directors: Sumitra Bhave, Sunil Sukthankar
It’s really not much of an introduction when we first meet the characters of Kaasav. A young man, aimless, haggard and weary, wanders through a crowded metropolis after getting off a train, and a middle-aged woman looks out of the window of a high-rise to see a train pass by while pensively sipping coffee.
Something is not quite right; their impassive faces suggest loneliness. They are detached from the real world. She has been through depression, but it hasn’t completely left her; he is going through it.
The train immediately suggests a connection. (She doesn’t see him, but depression isn’t as rare or far as one might believe. It may be closer than we think). Their fates intertwine, of course, but not before we get to understand them better.
Directors Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar let these sequences unfold patiently. The dialogue is brief. Time is used wisely. Things are not spelled out. Unusual, yes, but also effective.
Their first meeting is after his botched suicide attempt and eventual hasty escape from the hospital. By the time it comes to this, we understand why she takes him in and tends to him. She’s been through this, she knows what this is like.
She sees a bit of herself in him, and this empathy drives her to dedicate herself to taking care of him. She could have left him and moved on, but she chose to stay.
Again, this is merely hinted at. These are real people, people whose pasts define their actions as opposed to characters in a film whose actions are often given context immediately after a dramatic event, something born out of lazy writing. But not here.
Greatness Element: The very fact that Bhave and Sukthankar chose – consciously, I believe – to tell this story of two souls helping each other through a difficult phase by avoiding melodrama emphasizes on the strength of the material they worked with. There is no need for it.
The observations, a result of thorough research and compassion, no doubt, are acute. The symbolism is eminent. The young man doesn’t respond to her kindness immediately.
For a large part of the film, he chooses to keep to himself, occasionally kicking the plate of food or medicines away out of despair. When he finally bonds with her, our hearts soar. There is hope, there is light.
It’s a film that does not make a mighty big fuss of it. It’s a triumph that is captured with subtlety and intelligence, without the lavish helping of drama that usually accompanies it. (By Advait Kamat)
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Director: Nagraj Manjule
Where do I begin? Sairat is an accumulation of the efforts of the Marathi industry in all these years. Both the urban and rural audience took to the film, a true-blue blockbuster that didn’t compromise on content.
Sairat is the Sholay of Marathi film industry.
Nagraj Manjule’s genius has been dissected and discussed many times, from his technique to the heartfelt performances extracted from the leads. Both Rinku and Akshay immerse themselves in the characters and never miss a beat. For the record, both are non-actors. But only untrained actors could have given such natural performances.
Greatness Element: Every moment of the love story — Parshya’s jump into the river when he hears of Archie, their rendezvous in the farms, Archie’s confidence, their escape from the goons — is epic. And the film manages it all without expensive sets and on a bare budget (2 crore). Even their little house in Hyderabad is so beautifully scaled over the slum landscape.
Ajay-Atul’s music is as instrumental to the film’s success as Manjule’s direction. The rousing soundtracks lend the film its grand, epic feel.
Films like these familiarize you with your core. You don’t just care for the characters, but feel and live them. They make you realize you are way more human than you’d imagined yourselves to be.
Sairat is not a film. It’s an experience. I wish I could erase all memory of it so that I could experience the first high over and over.
Where to Watch: Netflix
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1. Kaul – A Calling (2016)
Director: Aadish Keluskar
A school teacher starts losing his sanity after witnessing a baffling event that takes him on a journey of unlearning everything known to him about humans and God. Kaul – A Calling is a highly experimental film that will be a rewarding experience if you peel each layer of it. It’s a milestone film that relies heavily on an exploratory audio-visual medium that is rare in Indian cinema.
Kaul takes a vehement jibe at the superficial way of living and how we perceive God. The film is a meditation on sanity that challenges our confined thinking by the decree of society and thrashes the conventions of normalcy.
There we are! These are the 6 must see Marathi films of the year. How many have you seen? What did we miss? Send us your recommendations in the comments below.
By Shridhar Kulkarni
(Additional writing by Nafees Ahmed)