The Trends in Marathi Cinema

By Sunita Lancaster
Collage of Marathi Films, Film Actors and Posters
Image courtesy of
When most people think of Indian cinema, they immediately think of the raunchy dance numbers, dramatic sound effects and twisted family dynamics that define “Bollywood,” the booming Hindi language film industry based out of Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra. Bollywood, however, isn’t the only player in the Indian film industry. In fact, the very first Indian film ever made (Raja Harishchandra, produced and directed by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913) was part of the Marathi film industry, also based in Maharashtra. Don’t worry, that came as a surprise to me as well! Marathi cinema is thus the oldest film industry in India; yet, its prominence in Indian film has greatly declined over the years.

One of the main reasons for Marathi cinema’s lack of fame is the proximity it has to Bollywood. With the rise of Bollywood, Maharashtrian folk cinema was pushed to the sidelines giving way to something bigger and more relatable for all of India. Unlike Bollywood films, the Marathi film industry was poorly funded and catered only to those who understood the Marathi language (approximately 7% as opposed to the 42% of Indians that speak Hindi).

Raja Harishchandra, Directed by Dadasaheb Phalke, First Indian Film
A Still from Dadasaheb Phalke's Raja Harishchandra
While all these reasons are still relevant today, the past few years have shown a major jump in box office sales in the Marathi film industry. I think a lot of this has to do with the significant change in the themes that make up Marathi films. Back in the 1960s and '70s, directors like Anant Mane and Dada Kondke focused on creating traditional family dramas as well as humorous films with social and political undertones. These names were (and still are) well known in the average Maharashtrian household and films from these eras are still watched today – trust me, my grandmother back in Mumbai is a huge fan. The '80s saw a rise in comedy films, with slapstick and satirical storylines. Today, however, we see that Marathi cinema is producing a number of youth-oriented films. With storylines based on friendship, love, marriage and identity, Marathi film has been gaining quite a bit of traction. Classmates, a remake of the 2006 Malayalam film adapted to modern-day life, was a box office hit in 2015. Films such as Mitwaa (2015) and Timepass (2014) also did extremely well nationally. Lai Bhaari (2014) became the highest grossing Marathi film ever, and featured prominent Bollywood actors such as Riteish Deshmukh and Salman Khan! Rumor has it that today, big names in the Bollywood playback singers business have signed contracts with Marathi filmmakers, for the production of a more upbeat and non-traditional soundtrack in upcoming films.

Salman Khan (left) and Riteish Deshmukh in Lai Bihari
All this sounds great for the publicity of the Marathi film industry – but this movement away from the traditional, and toward the more generic sort of film-making makes one wonder whether Marathi films have lost their true essence. As someone who doesn’t consider herself as an “oldie,” I’m all for “getting with the times” and “appealing to the masses”. BUT, there really is something to be said about spending an afternoon, watching a slapstick Dada Kondke film, cup of chai in hand, laughing with your grandmother about the idiosyncrasies of a typical Maharashtrian household, knowing that your family shares the very same quirks. While the sudden rise of Marathi cinema is indeed commendable, I can only hope that some of the more old-fashioned emblematic elements of Marathi films remain intact.

About Author - 

Sunita grew up in India and moved to the U.S. for college and fell in love with Chicago where she’s lived since. She’s an avid movie fan, with eclectic tastes - everything and anything from the classic black and whites up to the new Marvel movies. Her current passion is introducing American audiences to the delight that is Indian cinema.

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