The Marathi literature has seen many milestones in words metamorphosed in moving images in which theatre played a critical role
Devidas Deshpande from Pune
Most of the milestones in Marathi cinema's history are just translation of written word into pictures. Not only the stories, novels and plays were made into the movies, the giants of Marathi culture like P. L. Deshpande and Acharya Atre themselves produced, directed and acted in movies. What they gave to us was a real visual treats as also a glimpse of the life of the common Marathi Manoos to the connoisseurs.
The trend has caught up even more in the recent times. Challenging as the task of transforming the literary works in visual media, the attempts have received praise from the spectators as well as drawing flak from the purists. Most importantly, like other vernacular movie industries, this industry has constantly brought the virtues of Bhartiyata, patriotism and family values.
One can trace the tradition of film adaptations of literary works almost from the start. The thespian of the Indian movie industry V. Shantaram directed Kunku, a historic work indeed in 1937, barely five years after the films started talking. Based on Narayan Hari Apte’s novel ‘Na Patnari Goshta’, the movie brought to the fore issues related to men-women disparity in marriages. Then Atre, the doyen of the Marathi journalism, literature and arts, directed the movie Brahmachari (1938), an adaptation from his own play.
Atre gave Maharashtra its ultimate tribute to the mother's love for her child. Shyamchi Aai (Shyam's Mother, 1953) has entertained and enlightened generations, providing life lessons for the impressionable children. It eventually won the first ever Suvarna Kamal Award in the National Film Awards in 1952 and is even today appreciated for its cinematic value.
Marathi movies were always decked with the nationalistic fervour and native ethos. Thus, works like Satyache Prayog (1935) by legendary writer C. V. Joshi found their ways to the theatres. It was a satire on the excessive insistence on truth as a political tool. This and other movies from the same author commented on changing family values and the prevalent political situation through its main protagonist Chimanrao, a middle class clerk. Bhalji Pendharkar recreated life and times of Chhatrapati Shivaji through his innumerable films.
Dnyanpeeth-winner V. S. Khandekar wrote scripts for many movies in 1940s. G. D. Madgulkar, called the Valmiki of Maharashtra for his melodic rendering of Ramayan through Geet Ramayan, wrote songs for movies. His brother Vyankatesh Madgulkar, a Sahitya Academy winner, wrote scripts for about 40 films. Director Amol Palekar made Bangarwadi (1995) on his novel and won critical acclaim. He also later made Kairi (2001), a film based on the story by reclusive write G. A. Kulkarni.
Authors like Y. G. Joshi, G. N. Dandekar, Shankar Patil, D. M. Mirasdar, Vasant Sabnis showed the facets of Maharashtrians life. Joshi's penchant for depicting the strong familial bonds and human relations, Dandekar's mastery in exploring the tribals and the historical places enthralled the cinemagoers as well as the bookworms. Jait Re Jait (1977), the national award winning movie that catapulted Smita Patil to national fame, was based on Dandekar's novel and peeped into the Thakar tribe’s culture. Veteran historian Babasaheb Purandare’s Shelarkhind, was made into movie 'Sarja' by award-winning veteran director Rajdutt. It depicted the patriotic fervour that existed even among the common masses during King Shivaji’s time. Shankar Patil and Anand Yadav's depiction of rural life was equally unerring in books as well as movies.
Speaking about the process of converting a literary piece into the film, Rajdutt says, “The literature is expressed through the words. A director has to think of the nature of the character, his or her surroundings. We do not just draw word picture, but actual picture. We can go deeper in the narrative. In case of big novels, some details have to be curtailed while many details need to be added for movies based on short stories. The literary works have no limitations of size, but we have to follow them. However, I think this limitation is a good thing. For us, the main thing is that the story must be gripping.”
In fact, the prominent Marathi movie directors form a sort of writers’ club. The tradition continued even when the Marathi cinema industry suffered onslaught of the Bollywood masala movies. Garambicha Bapu (1980), one of the all time favourite novels of the Maharashtra, was translated in English as part of the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works. This masterpiece by S. N. Pendse came to cinema halls after theatres. Jaywant Dalvi's Pudhche Paul too is seen in all three forms beside a TV serial. It dealt with the issue of dowry system. Arun Sadhu’s two novels – Sinhasan and Mumbai Dinank – appeared as a single version through Sinhasan (1980), the first multi-starrer political drama of Marathi. Vijay Tendulkar, who adapted many of his own plays in films, scripted it.
In the last decade, many movies have endeavoured to fulfil the otherwise reading-starved new generation's appetite for art. Sandip Sawant’s Shwaas, based on a story by Madhuri Gharpure, bagged the Suvarna Kamal in 2004, only second in five decades. Nishani Dava Angatha, brought the sorry state of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan to celluloid while Shala (School), based on the novel with same name by Milind Bokil, rekindled the nostalgia of schooldays.Natrang (2010), again based on namesake novel by Yadav that in turn was based on real life incidences, portrayed the struggle of a Tamasha artist over his gender identity. Duniyadari, based on another potboiler churner Suhas Shirvalkar's novel, set records at box office collection. Why, Arun Khopkar even ventured out of the realms of Marathi literature to make Katha Don Ganpatraonchi (1996), an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story ‘The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich’.
Rajdutt welcomes the trend of movies based on novels and plays saying with the habit of reading on the wane even in urban areas, the movies reaches to wider masses. “Of course, there should be literary values in the original piece. At least in Marathi movies and literature, until now, there was something that enriched the viewer or reader. The movie will be good only if the literature is good.”
Not surprisingly, the Marathi dramas are finding their way to the big screen and that too with élan. Two of the biggest blockbusters this year, Katyar Kaljat Ghusli and Natsamrat, came from the plays with same name. The latter is written by Dnyanpeeth winner V. V. Shirwadkar and is inspired by the King Lear of Shakespeare. Actor director Mahesh Manjrekar directed the movie while actor Nana Patekar portrayed the lead role. According to Manjrekar, “I had not seen the play on the stage, but my curiosity was aroused after reading the book. I made certain changes like introducing the character of main
protagonist's friend that are not in the original play. This character as also some dialogues came in as a need of the medium of cinema. Those who watched the original play were treated to a different work.”
Noted movie critic Ganesh Matkari, whose writer father Rantakar Matkari has written many a scripts for award winning movies, says that Marathi movies need to adapt the work from global literature. “Most of of the adapted literary works are socially relevant, they have complex texts or subtexts and they result in the films beyond the traditional plot lines. Going by the recent trend, we can safely assume that Marathi filmmaking will be in capable hands for the long haul,” he says.