Picture this. In the last few years, every Friday has seen the release of at least two to four Marathi films. Last Friday, on December 23, for the first time in 15 years, not even one Marathi film hit the box office. Demonetisation has hit the Marathi film industry hard, not only in terms of releases but also registration of members, production houses, film titles, shooting applications, auditions and membership renewals.
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The figures shared by the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Chitrapat Mahamandal (ABMCM), the apex body for Marathi films, paint a grim picture of the industry which had seen a boom in the last few years.
Earlier, the four offices of ABMCM, located in Pune, Kolhapur, Mumbai and Nasik, would witness the registration of at least 20 production houses in a month. After demonetisation, the four offices have seen only five registrations. Similarly, registrations of individual members, membership renewals and film titles have also seen a decline of 80 to 90 per cent.
“The period between November to January is considered to be ideal for shooting, given the favourable weather conditions. Earlier, we would get a large number of applications seeking permission for shoots during this time. This year, we have hardly received any such application. Even those who had already applied have called off their shoots. Similarly, the applications for auditions are virtually nil,” said Meghraj Rajebhosale, president, ABMCM.
Surprisingly, while the rest of the nation is warming up to the idea of cashless and digital transactions, ABMCM is yet to offer any such facility.
Rajebhosale said neither did the ABMCM accept online payments, nor did it have a swipe machine to carry out cashless transactions. “Besides, even if we get a swipe machine, the staff is not trained to operate it. For the past few years, we have been accepting payments through demand drafts but after demonetisation, people are too scared to visit the bank due to the crowd and the long queues,” he said.
Rajebhosale said it was unfortunate that after witnessing a flourishing period — when Marathi films such as Sairat, Lai Bhaari, Timepass, Duniyadari and Natsamrat, among others, did extremely well at the box office — the industry has reached a stage where it was struggling to find a way out. It would take the industry at least a year to recover from the current slump, said Rajebhosale.
Despite the disappointing figures, the ABMCM president said there could be a silver lining in how the noteban had affected the Marathi film industry.
“Though a good number of Marathi films have been releasing every Friday, very few among them went on to do good business at the box office, and the other production houses ran in losses. I think demonetisation will change all that. Fewer number of releases will increase the chances of getting a good opening for the film,” he explained.
Filmmaker Samruoddhi Porey, who has films like Mala Aai Vhyachay and Hemalkasa to her credit, felt that demonetisation would eventually prove to be a good thing for the Marathi film industry which, she said, had seen a sudden influx of people who considered filmmaking a ‘business’, not an art.
A large number of industrialists and realtors had been investing their black money in films for monetary gains, she said. “Somewhere, because of all this, the quality of films was getting compromised. Now, the producers entering the industry will be better informed. Though the number of releases will drop, at least the films will be quality products,” she said.
Sameer Asha Patil, director of Marathi film Chaurya, said as most Marathi films were funded by real estate developers, demonetisation was bound to impact the industry, and the developers may not be ready to invest in films anytime soon.
Though the Centre’s move may not affect established film producers much, newcomers to the industry may find it difficult to stay afloat, he said. Citing an example of the lacklustre situation, Patil said, “Earlier, it used to be difficult to find shooting equipment on rent due to multiple films shooting at the same time. Recently, when I shot my film in Junnar, I didn’t face any difficulty at all. Earlier, between November and January, one would find a film crew shooting every 50 kms in the region… this time, I didn’t find any.
Meanwhile, the box office will run dry this Friday as well, with no Marathi films up for release on December 30.