Duniyadari trumps Bollywood star power for Marathi magic

September 6, 2013

While Bollywood film Chennai Express was steamrolling its way to success, another movie was on the fast train too, but not many people noticed.

Duniyadari (Worldliness), a Marathi-language film based on a novel by Suhas Shirwalkar and released in July, has gone on to become the highest grossing Marathi movie of all time.

The film, a light-hearted and somewhat clunky take on a group of friends in 1970’s Pune, opened to full houses, and sustained its winning run even in the face of a near monopoly of cinemas by Chennai Express and later by other Bollywood films Once Upon Ay Time In Mumbai Dobaara! and Satyagraha in cinemas. A local right-wing party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, threatened the makers of Chennai Express if they forced Duniyadari out of cinemas.

It turns out this kind of support wasn’t necessary. “Duniyadari beat Chennai Express in every centre where (the) two films competed,” trade analyst Amod Mehra said. “It is an unqualified hit.”

The film has so far made 230 million rupees ($3.5 million) in ticket sales in just six weeks, and is still running in cinemas – a rare milestone even for Bollywood films.

For an industry that has always had to live in Bollywood’s shadow, the success of Duniyadari means Marathi films seem to have gained the marketing clout and expertise needed to compete with the Hindi film industry.

The realization that targeting the right audience is as important as making a good movie is dawning on Marathi film producers, said Rajesh Deshmukh, a director with Indian Magic Eye Productions.

“We don’t have the required marketing talent or budgets to match Bollywood, but certainly, the industry has at least realized that we need to spend money on selling our films,” he said. “Just making them is not enough.”

Duniyadari saw a record number of 5,000 shows in its second and third weeks, compared to 3,400 for previous record-holder Me Shivaji Raje Bhosle Boltoy (This is King Shivaji Bhosle speaking). That film took 10 weeks to earn 210 million rupees ($3.2 million) in ticket sales.

For an industry that has straddled the gulf between serious, thought-provoking cinema and mass-market comedy, Marathi cinema now seems to be leaning towards the latter.

“The industry is still struggling to understand its audience. There are those who are in their 40’s, who watch Marathi theatre, read literature and want good, serious content. And then there is the youth, who are more connected to Bollywood, watch English films and want the same things from their cinema,” Deshmukh said.

This year, films like Balak Palak (Children and Parents), the story of four school friends who discover adult films for the first time, have also done well at the Marathi box office. Balak Palak was produced by Bollywood actor Riteish Deshmukh, who is now producing and acting in a Marathi film.

Younger audiences, including teenagers, will decide the kind of box-office success that Marathi films will see in the future, said Duniyadari producer Nikhil Sane, who heads Marathi film production at Zee Network.

“We cannot compete with Bollywood in terms of sheer numbers, but we are learning how to draw in Marathi audiences and hold them in,” Sane said.

(Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay)

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