Changing Gujarati Cinema!

Changing Gujarati Cinema by Abhishek Jain

Gujarati cinema before the era of urban Gujarati films

Almost a century back, when Indian Cinema was just taking its baby steps, very prominent Gujaratis were part of this revolution. Be it in film production, distribution, crew or cast, Gujaratis have  played important roles since then and till date they are the leading force in one or the other way. Back in 60s-70s Gujarati regional cinema was considered to be more promising industry than any mainstream industry in this country. Suddenly the monotony of content, the rustic milieu and demi god portrayals saw a withdrawal from audiences’ interest. They moved on to own up and love Hindi mainstream cinema more than their own regional films.

Since 1980s, Gujarati cinema has tried to establish itself on national map, but it continues to languish in the backwaters and seldom creating a ripple in the national circuit. Once, a flash of brilliance with films like Bhavni Bhavai or Hun Hunshi ane Hunshilal were produced, which claimed it to the national awards, but the major portion of Gujarati cinema is still dominated by traditional larger-than-life costume dramas with usually either love stories set in rustic backgrounds or stories dealing with religion and superstition form the staple fare for these films. The audience however doesn’t remain limited to Gujarat, but to some parts of Mumbai and over to thousands of NRIs in United States and across the world.

Bhavni Bhavai Gujarati Movie
Photo Courtesy: Saregama Regional

The only solution to this is to produce films which match set standards of National Film Industry- Bollywood, not only with actors and scripts but also with high production quality; having said that, sticking to the roots and portraying the stories from the land should be a priority- A need to bring a film which can give platform to established talents and upcoming talents to an entire untapped market of Gujarati cinema. This will be accomplished only when we have our Guajarati actors and Guajarati crew in Bollywood, to work together for this industry.

The scenario has changed since last 3-4 years and specifically youth participation has brought a sea of change in perception towards the Gujarati films. Not only young filmmakers, but young audience has been lured to the box office. The change is perception and a fresh approach towards these multiplex films has brought a new wave in the never explored arena of Gujarati films market. If this momentum continues and all kinds of content cater to the different segments of audience base, this industry will have a long way and I can personally say that I am fortunate to be part of this change. Very special thanks to the audiences for being so considerate and owning up to Gujarati films.

Why did I choose Gujarati cinema?

To make my first feature film in Gujarati language was a very personal choice, I wanted to tell a story that I have been living with, that I have experienced in my years of growing and when there was nothing being made for audiences like me who would like to go and watch a film in multiplex where you get to see banners of a Hollywood film along with a Mainstream Bollywood film and in addition there are some niche films and experimental film, then why not our own regional film too. This thought keep on pressing me to move back to Ahmedabad and start making a film in Gujarati. It was more so an emotional decision than a commercial decision. Later when Kevi Rite Jaish became a hit, I realized that the audience was probably craving for their regional content, it was we (filmmakers) who were presuming things and hesitating from taking a plunge.

Contribution to the trend of Urban Gujarati Films

I can’t take the credit for this change after KRJ, because before KRJ there were many other good films been produced. May be the timing was wrong or may be the multiplexes were not open to release a Gujarati film, but with KRJ one can definitely say that the multiplexes opened their arms and warmly welcomed Gujarati films because they saw a potential audience base which was hungry for more such content. This was about it, later after KRJ there were so many changes that came in, especially the young filmmakers who would organically get drawn towards more greener pastures in main stream Bombay cinema, chose to stay back and contribute, they were ready to risk everything and that we can see today most of the film’s release post 2012 are directed by under 40s directors.

How can a Gujarati contribute to the industry as an audience?

One cannot levy a responsibility or force an audience to watch a Gujarati film; ultimately they are paying their hard earned money and expecting entertainment. But what actively can be done is that if the audience likes a Gujarati film, they can own it up and spread the word. Till today, there is nothing better than the word-of-mouth publicity. Keeping the economics in perspective, it is difficult for a producer to pump in huge amount for marketing of a Gujarati film, so if audiences like the film, their communication to others, can really work wonders.

Role of media/ multiplexes/ government in promoting Gujarati cinema

As far as media and multiplexes role is concerned, they have been generous enough to support Gujarati films, without any bias or prejudice they have given way to Gujarati filmmakers and a fair chance has been practised. The government soon will plunge and be party to it and there are some great reforms are awaited, which will suddenly uplift the industry to another level. Be it in form of subsidy, tax free (which every Gujarati film is already), screens allotment, subsidies rates of equipments, eco system, awards and gratifications everything has been taken into consideration and in coming days we all will be celebrating this big participation from the government.

Does Gujarati cinema have a potential to surpass other Regional Cinemas?

Considering the population of Gujarati speaking audiences and their prosperity to spend money on watching films, I think Gujarati cinema has a fair chance to surpass the other regional sectors, but there is a long way to go before even a light seeps into this tunnel.

The future of Gujarati Cinema

The future of Gujarati cinema is wonderful, it is youthful, it is energetic, it is bubbling. Consider this, in the last 3 years suddenly people have started talking about Gujarati films in all kinds of social circuit, people have started showing keen interest in producing and financing Gujarati films, audiences have started demanding for more regional content, all this is just last 2-3 years is a clear sign that if we continue with this flow, things are only going to be wonderful.

Why should financiers/ producers back Gujarati cinema?

At this junction, I can say that it’s a risky proposition for the ones who want to enter for the sake of it, produce one film and move on to something else. The ones who are looking at investing corpus funds, someone with a vision of more films than just one will survive the battle. It is simple economics of the business; you invest more in multiple projects and find a right balance in recovery so the risk percentage also reduces. Talking clearly by ROI, today one cannot surely commit a recovery, sheer due to expenses in making a film, marketing it and distributing it but if one has to look at the bigger picture, he will definitely have the smile at the end of the day.

Suggestions for upcoming Gujarati filmmakers

All kinds of genres will be attempted, some will be a massive hit and few will get a Lukewarm response but this should not discourage anyone to attempt something different. Because blindly following success of someone else’s film will be like following the herd and eventually stereotyping the industry and making it more rigid. To understand the economics of the film vis a vis its reach and target group will help one decide the budget and sticking to the budget will help the filmmakers recover well. If that happens, even niches genre will be attempted and a variety of content can be offered.

My contribution to Gujarati cinema apart from making films

The best I know in my life is to make films, and that’s the best way to contribute to Gujarati cinema. I am doing my bit by sharing my experiences, mostly my mistakes so that anyone else, who is making a Gujarati film, doesn’t commit the same mistakes. We are all young people will no ego problems and we know that if we all get together and work towards the right intent for the industry, things will change and this is how I am contributing, by being a participant to every other Gujarati film that is been made. In whatever capacity I can be helpful, I am willing to take it up. Staying together is growing together and that’s what my contribution is.

Gujarati cinema of my dream

When I started, I couldn’t even dream because everything would only seem to be like a nightmare but now things have changed this is the Gujarati cinema of my dreams. Where filmmakers are excited to make Gujarati films, Producers are open to put in money, audiences are looking forward to watch Gujarati films, media is generous to support, multiplexes seek a business opportunity in playing Gujarati films and Government is cushioning the entire growth journey. This is more than a dream is a reality now.

[Featured Photo Courtesy: CineMan Productions Ltd]

Abhishek Jain
Abhishek Jain is an accomplished filmmaker who contributed to the concept and trend of urban Gujarati films with films like Kevi Rite Jaish and Bey Yaar. He is also an alumni of Whistling Woods International and he recently published his maiden book - Aa To Just Vaat Chhe.