In an age when Hindi movies are piling on urbane layers,Marathi cinema is taking a route in the opposite direction. From love stories to gangster dramas to political rabble-rousers,Hindi films have taken on a decided shift to thinking in English and dressing in city clothing. Marathi films on the other hand are digging up deep-rooted topics from the rural sides of the state,tackling issues that range from questioning age-old religious and social biases,to gender equality and perception. Recent memory would pick at examples like Natarang,Jogwa,Deool and Kaksparsh. But this daliance with relating stories that have verdant rural landscapes as their background began much earlier. Films like Shwaas,India’s official entry to the Oscars in 2004,was a touching tale of a family in a village coping with a serious medical problem,and a grim prognosis. The placid rural setting lay the ground for the depth of loss the child protagonist would suffer,and the cinematography backed this up with a contrasting,chaotic city-life depiction. The wide-ranging popularity of these movies have been driven by their astute commitment to their story-lines,and the fine detail with which every thing from acting,make-up,costuming,sets and intonation and dialogue is presented.
“The most striking thing about a movie like Deool is how it takes on the issue of rampant superstition in the villages. But what makes the treatment so effective,and hard-hitting,is the superbly realistic depiction of rural life,” says city-based freelance writer and researcher,Ishwari Rai. In 2010’s release Natarang,the boldness of the subject was accentuated by the realism of the rural landscape. Cinematographer Mahesh Limaye,also known for his work in films like Dabangg,Fashion,Traffic Signal and Corporate,created a rich green backdrop against which the story of moving theatre and gender politics played out.
Similarly for Jogwa,the radical plot was livened up by earthy visuals of quaint village homes,fairs and religious idioscyncracies. The effect was made more resolute by mundane details like the casual,almost indifferent,drapes of the saris,the lead actors Upendra Limaye and Mukta Barve were afforded; the big talismans on their foreheads; and the curious slant in the dialect and the songs.
Deool had a smorgasbord of quaint rural characters populating its canvas. “These movies showed what goes on in rural Maharashtra in a true way,” says Shantanu Bankar,an ad agency professional and movie buff.
Kaksparsh is the latest remarkable addition to this pantheon. Set in the Konkan of the 1930s,the film walks a tight-rope of presenting a feminist tale of a time when women lived on the fringes of social consciousness. From the body language of the actors,to the spartan furniture pieces,every little detail emphasises the suffocation of a living in a restrictive rural set-up. Art directors Prashant Rane and Abhishek Vijaykar succeed in conjuring up the rural realism by keeping up the simplicity in the settings.