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Mee Marathi boltoy


Move over Jalandhar, Koliwada is here. After a long gap, the Marathi presence is finally being felt in Bollywood.

The last 'Godbole' in Hindi cinema was a man in an enormous bra and the kind of nine-yard saree that allows for easy landing on motorbikes. More than a decade after Kamal Haasan's memorable portrayal of the antic-prone character of Lakshmi Godbole in Chachi 420, a fitting namesake has arrived in the form of Sridevi's endearing Shashi Godbole in the recent English Vinglish.

During that gap, it was rare for a Bollywood audience to see a protagonist with a Marathi surname, hear a Marathi punchline or even songs with Marathi words. But that changed around the time Ajay Devgn entered Goa as Bajirao Singham loudly declared several times in Marathi that he was angry (" Ata Majhi Satakli" ).

It was as if Bajirao Singham was speaking on behalf of a collective because since then Marathi words, politicians, cops, kidney-shaped noserings and green glass bangles have hit the big screen with a vengeance. First, lavani, a traditional Marathi dance form, made a hip-swaying entry with Vidya Balan's "Mala Jau de" in Ferrari Ki Sawaari. This spawned a nauvari-wearing epidemic. Soon, Chitrangada Singh (Joker), Katrina Kaif (Agneepath), Rani Mukerji (Aiyyaa) and now, even Asin in the forthcoming Khiladi 786 have been seen wearing the sari with its sexy middle parting.

The Marathi presence has extended from costume to dialogue, facial expressions and even phonetics, quite unusual for Bollywood which usually tilts heavily in favour of Punjab with a few southern accents. In fact, this invasion has reached a point where it seems symbolic when Rani Mukerji's character Meenakshi Deshpande in Aiyyaa, tells her friend in the film that she wants to get away to a world where "there would be no Marathi cops".

Rajesh Mapuskar, director of Ferrari Ki Sawaari, says the sheer number of Maharashtrian directorsthat have entered Bollywood this year is a factor. The list includes Gauri Shinde, Sachin Kundalkar, Mapuskar himself and Umesh Kulkarni (of national award-winning Deool fame) who is planning to make a Hindi movie). "It is natural that you would base, especially your first film or script, on personal experiences, " says Mapuskar, who grew up in Koliwada which has a sizeable Marathi population. That is where he plucked brilliant characters such as the frail yet dominating Marathi politician who gets his meek son to toe the line by training a gun at him.

Mapuskar even wanted his hawaldar to "look like a Maharashtrian cop". The Marathi cop, he says, looks very different from the South Indian cop. "The Marathi cop has a paunch and is not very interested in his job. He is mainly doing it for the money, " Mapuskar explains. In the film, all these theatre actors from the driver to the watchman retain their endearing Marathi accent. "Initially, the actors thought their accent would be a problem and asked if they should refine their Hindi diction in the workshops. But I told them that it would in fact be an asset, " says Mapuskar.

For Aiyyaa (a Marathi word used to express surprise or shock), director Sachin Kundalkar asked Rani to learn common Marathi reaction words such as "aiyyaa", "isshya" (conveys shyness ) and "Aga Bai" (conveys shock).

Her character 'Meenakshi', who is even phonetically Maharashtrian (as she replaces the "f" sounds with "ph" ), belongs to a family comprising a wheelchair-ridden grandmother, a landlineobsessed father, a belan-sporting mother and an excitable brother, all of whom are all prone to overreactions and bouts of dancing.

This prompted many uninitiated viewers to ask director Sachin Kundalkar if Maharashtrians are, in fact, as loud or exuberant as the Punjabis. "This is my own take. Most families are quiet, conservative, cultured and don't dance at weddings or parties, " says Kundalkar, who wishes they would be more lively.

Interestingly, even the fact that Rani's character in the film is enamoured by a South Indian boy stems from her Maharashtrian roots, reveals Kundalkar. "It is very normal for a Maharashtrian girl to marry a Tamil or Kannada boy and not a Punjabi, " says the director, who has observed many such Marathi girl-South Indian boy weddings in his own family. However, he says his next film won't feature a Maharashtrian family. "I am not here to endorse Maharashtrians and am very happy to be assimilated into the cosmopolitan world of Bollywood. "

It's not just Marathi but rooted content in general has started working universally in Bollywood, says a spokesperson for Bhasha, Bollywood's first region-specific marketing agency. "Localised content helps a lot in buidling connects in tier 2 cities, " he adds.
Besides Bollywood, the M-effect has even percolated to the small screen, Pavitra Rishta, which has got highest viewership among fictional shows, is based on a middle-class Maharashtrian family. Laagi Tujhse Lagan, Maayke Se Bandhi Dor and Mrs Tendulkar boast Marathi elements.

Of course, the fact that Amitabh Bachchan chose to read out poems by a Marathi poet at a literary conference in Pune recently and that Aamir Khan declared that he has been taking Marathi lessons at an award function, only reinforces Bollywood's newest object of affection.

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