Back in 2011 in my attempt to chronicle the new wave of marathi films I wasn’t able to find a common feature or attribute that these films can be identified with. But now if you look back over the marathi films that have been made since then it becomes apparent that many of these filmmakers have preferred to tell their stories through children. Mind you, marathi filmmakers have chosen to make films ‘about’ children than films ‘for’ children. Including Shwaas (2004) , the film that kick-started the re-birth of quality marathi cinema, the list of films about children is certainly quite long with the prominent ones among them being Tingya, Vihir, Shala, Balak Palak, Fandry and the newly released Killa.
It was first Iranian cinema that caught the world’s attention with their exemplary films about children. Majid Majidi’s ‘Children of Heaven’ and ‘Colour of Paradise’, Jafar Panahi’s ‘White Balloon’, Samira Makhmalbaf’s ‘Apple’ or Abbas Kariostami’s ‘Where is My Friend’s Place?’, all these films recognised around the world as cinematic achievements feature children in the lead roles. Post the Islamic revolution, cinema in Iran was heavily censored. Anti-establishment ideas in a film was an absolute no-no. Thus, the filmmakers started telling seemingly innocuous tales of children to critique the Iranian society in a discreet manner. Marathi filmmakers though have never had it as tough as their Iranian counterparts. Most of their films are about coming of age or adolescent love. So this fascination marathi film industry has with making films with children in the lead roles has left many a movie enthusiasts curious.
Commercial success of such films has to certainly be a factor. Though Shwaas (2004) and Tingya (2008) were the first films about children and Vihir (2010) the most critically acclaimed, it was only after the breakthrough success of debutante director Sujay Dahake’s Shala in early 2012 that the marathi film industry seems to have noticed the commercial potential in such kind of films. Balak Palak (2013) that was produced by Riteish Deshmukh went on to become a major hit and since then the genre has definitely become popular with marathi filmmakers with even the biggest player in the industry like Zee backing films like Fandry, Elizabeth Ekadashi and Killa. Since Shala, quite a few films like 72 Mile, Aayna Ka Baayna, Tapaal, Avtarachi Goshta, Salaam, Yellow etc. have had children as protagonists. That the marathi audience too is lapping up such kind of films must have probably motivated the makers of these films.
It is certainly not easy to direct or even cast child actors, but one major plus is the cost factor. Actor’s fees are one of chief expenses of most commercial films and marathi cinema is no different. Living under the shadow of Bollywood, marathi cinema has always had major budget constraints. Needless to say, payment to child actors are minuscule compared to the popular ones, coupled with the big commercial success of Balak Palak and Shala, the directors thus might be finding it easy to get financers for their films about children as the return on investment, if the film becomes a hit, is certainly higher.
Now, it can’t be denied that the world of a child is appealing and relatable. The filmmaker doesn’t have to try too hard to impress with a child. Their innocence works like a charm. Charlie Chaplin had once said, “They say babies and dogs are the best actors in movies. Put a twelve-month-old baby in a bath-tub with a tablet of soap, and when he tries to pick it up he will create a riot of laughter. All children in some form or another have genius; the trick is to bring it out in them.” Contemporary marathi filmmakers seem to have found the trick to bring out the genius of acting in children that Chaplin talks about. It might also be that they believe their artistic vision would be least compromised with the depiction of the world of a child. Indian cinema on the whole hasn’t much explored the coming of age, so these efforts by marathi filmmakers are definitely noteworthy from the point of view of the whole of Indian cinema.
However, now with the large number of films with children as protagonists releasing in the last few years, there has been an overlapping of subjects. The newly released Killa, despite the stunning cinematography, did not completely blow me over as I got a ‘been there, done that’ feeling having previously enjoyed watching Shala and Vihir. If the industry keeps churning out such films the novelty of the genre will quickly fade. Marathi cinema, despite the low average quality, is these days widely regarded as the industry that makes the most path-breaking films in India. Here’s hoping that the young and promising brigade of marathi filmmakers, who have breathed fresh air into the once dying marathi film industry, experiment with wider subjects and keep the flag flying high.