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Gujarati film industry, still a work in progress

A hit-and-run case. A well-known individual involved. The driver getting blamed. The trailer of the forthcoming Gujarati film Wrongside Raju, by debutant director Mikhil Musale, suggests that the above points form the barebones of its plot. And in case your thoughts veer off to an incident involving a certain Mumbai bhai, producer Abhishek Jain is quick to dispel it. The film does take cues from many different real-life incidents, but promises to play more as a drama-thriller than a crime-suspense flick.

Wrongside Raju, primarily shot in Ahmedabad, is the first of the three Gujarati films for which Phantom Films is collaborating with CineMan Productions, which Jain and Musale co-founded. The involvement of names like Anurag Kashyap,Phantom Films’ co-founder, is likely to arouse the curiosity of non-Gujarati audiences too. “Talks on the script with Phantom started in November last year and got finalised in February this year, after which we began shooting,” says Musale, a fan of Kashyap’s brand of cinema.

Jain and Musale started CineMan Productions in 2010 with an aim to produce quality Gujarati cinema. The former had studied film-making at Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods while the latter is an engineering graduate. Their first venture, Kevi Rite Jaish( How Will I Go to the U.S.?), which released in 2012, was centred at a theme many urban, middle class Gujaratis could connect with—an obsession with emigrating to the United States. “The American dream of Gujaratis is similar to the Canadian dream of the Punjabis and the Gulf dream of the Malayalis— in many cases, the fantasy involves finding an NRI bride,” says Jain, who also directed the film.

Kevi Rite Jaish did to Gujarati cinema what the similarly-themed Jatt and Juliet, released in the same year, did to Punjabi cinema—tapping into a nascent market of urban, middle-class audiences at home.

CineMan’s next film Bey Yaar ( Oh My Friend!), also directed by Jain, had among its key tropes an M.F. Hussain painting and a fictitious tea stall in Ahmedabad he is supposed to have visited. The audience loved it, as can be gauged from the fact that it made Rs.8.5 crore and is among the biggest grossers in the industry.

Its plot? “A tea-stall owner’s son, in his greed for quick money, gets duped into selling the painting to a dealer. They have to act their way through to get it back, along the lines of Khosla Ka Ghosla,” says Hardik Rayachanda, a Kutch-based structure designer and a keen observer of Gujarati cinema.

Rayachanda says the average Gujarati audience’s curiosity got piqued only after Kevi Rite Jaish. “We hardly watched any Gujarati film, leave alone in theatre, before that. The earlier films were of very low production value, many of them following very outdated techniques. Urban moviegoers used to avoid them,” he says.

So, how much ground has Gujarati cinema covered altogether? The first Gujarati talkie, Narsingh Mehta, was released as early as in 1932, just a year after Alam Ara, the first Indian talkie. In the 84 years since then, the industry has made just above 1,000 Gujarati films, many of them comedies and social dramas.

No Gujarati film has so far won a National Award for the Best Film. Only nine films have won awards in the special category, including The Good Road, which was India’s submission to the Oscars in 2013. This compares very poorly to industries from the south and Marathi, which win at least one award every year. What could be the reason for this?

“Many of us (Gujaratis) lead an itinerant life and have never been too exclusively attached to our own cinema. For us, Hindi cinema is as much emotionally-relatable as the local one, considering that Hindi is very similar to Gujarati. This could have somewhat acted as a disadvantage for Gujarati films,” says Rayachanda, who also watches Marathi and Tamil movies apart from Gujarati and Hindi.

Director Mahesh Patel, whose film Power of Patidar, based on the Patel agitation for reservation, was recently denied clearance by the Central Board of Film Certification, has been part of the industry for the last 18 years. Having made about a dozen films, he says one reason for the backwardness of Gujarati cinema is the lack of adequate State support. “Unlike, say Marathi cinema, we have historically not received much encouragement from the Government. Further, because of low confidence of producers in the industry, the budgets used to be less. They would not be able to pay the artists well because of which the best of them would migrate to Hindi films,” he says. Patel also says that unlike other industries, Gujarati rarely had its own stars, apart from a handful like Upendra Trivedi and Naresh Kanodia.

The State government had announced a subsidy of Rs. 5 lakh for Gujarati films in 2005, a scheme that was discontinued in 2013. This saw a marginal increase in quantity. However, there was not much assistance on the distribution and the release fronts. “We had to distribute both Kevi Rite Jaish and Bey Yaar on our own. Due to the involvement of Phantom Films this time, we have the assistance of Reliance Entertainment,” says Musale, the director of Wrongside Raju.

Jain, the co-founder of CineMan, says the budget of an average Gujarati film is Rs. 1.5-2 crore. “A film has to make about Rs. 6-7 crore to be considered a hit,” he says.

The biggest Gujarati hit, Chhello Divas ( The Last Day), released at the end of 2015, made about Rs. 17 crore. “Its plotline was similar to the Telugu film Happy Days. Mostly involving four college students and their campus life, the film was of entertainment as well as nostalgia value. Apart from the usual comedy, it also had double entendres, uncommon for a Gujarati film,” says Rayachanda, adding that the film’s collections picked up steam only after the first few days.

One parameter to judge the success of a film is whether people from other industries are taking note and in this regard, Chhello Divas has been successful. Its Hindi remake, Days of Tafree, is likely to hit the screens sometime in September this year.

Earlier this year, the State Government announced a new subsidy scheme under which it would fund up to Rs. 50 lakh of the production costs of the movie, subject to various parameters like the genre and the location of shooting. “This has caused a sudden boom in the number of films that have been announced. Currently, about 150 films are in production set to release in the next 18 months. That sounds a bit scary,” says Jain. But will this result in diversity in content?

Musale, who is a big fan of Tamil director Karthik Subbaraj’s cinema, says though the Gujarati audience likes light-hearted comedy, there is scope for varied content. “The key is to create new trends by experimenting with varied genres. Our film has more of dark comedy than slapstick,” he says.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 1:08:29 AM |

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