It was in 1896 that the cinema came to India, in the form of 6 films by the Lumiere brothers sent to be screened at the Novety Theatre in Mumbai at a ticket price of 8 annas each. And India’s obsession with moving pictures grew steadily. It was while watching one of these lavish imported films named ‘The Life Of Christ’ that Dadasaheb Phalke, a photographer, had a Eureka moment which led to the genesis of Indian cinema. He later said “While the life of Christ was rolling before my eyes I was mentally visualising the gods Shri Krishnu, Shri Ramchandra, their Gokul and Ayodhya”. He gathered an all-Marathi crew to create the 3700 feet of film which would be known as ‘Raja Hairshchandra’, India’s first ever full-length feature, and incidentally the very first Marathi film as well.
Dadasaheb Phalke produced over 90 more films as Indian cinema flourished. But in spite of legendary directors like Acharya Atre and V. Shantaram helming some memorable films, the Marathi film industry was overshadowed by its more notable neighbour – Bollywood. Nonetheless, the 1970s saw a wide range of films, from tragedies involving tamasha artistes to comedies starring the famous double-entendre master Dada Kondke. In the 1980s, two actors, namely Ashok Saraf and Laxmikant Berde, made a slew of iconic comedies and catapulted to stardom, working with actors-turned-directors Mahesh Kothare and Sachin Pilgaonkar. Some of these films are still cult crowd favourites.
But the true renaissance of the Marathi film industry began in the new millennium, as evidenced by the presence of 13 films released post the year 2000 on this list. Strong-willed, content-driven and intimate to the issues of its Maharashtrian milieu, it has come of age. So much so that Marathi cinema hogged the spotlight at the 64th National Awards with its psychologically probing films. As someone who has grown up on Marathi films and has lived a couple hundred metres from the legendary Prabhat Talkies in Pune for a quarter of his life, I consider it my job, nay, my duty, to honour the best and the greatest Marathi movies. Here they are:
20. Katyar Kaljat Ghusli (2015)
An adaptation of a play of the same name, ‘Katyar..’ is a musical of epic proportions beyond anything ever seen in Marathi cinema. The film centers around a prestigious dagger bestowed upon the greatest poet in the kingdom of Vishrampur, and how the lust for the dagger (which symbolises the fame associated with its acquisition) and pride of his own artistic prowess drives a man to do unspeakable harm to another man who had always considered him a friend. Enveloped in his ego, he finally rediscovers his love for music through a disciple of the man he betrayed. The film is a thorough entertainer, with its culturally significant subject matter, grandiose sets, star-studded ensemble and one of the best Marathi soundtracks of recent times. A melodious extravaganza.