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The reel cash-in
In the neglected hinterlands of Vidarbha, television serials do not rule prime time TV. Giving stiff competition to the zadipatti theatre, nascent zadipatti cinema is now the go-to entertainment source for the rural population.
Popularised by the touring talkies, which get off the ground during the numerous jatras that happen in the region, short films produced on shoe-string budgets have nudged their way into this segment and are quite popular in areas of Loni, Morshi, Washim, Gondia, Bhandara, Chimur and Deolgaon Raja and the bushes of Chandrapur. The filmmakers are wannabe producer-directors and even actors, who are restrained by lack of exposure and money, and thus satisfy themselves by making short films that cater to rural audiences.
Modern technology and state-of-the-art cameras have made it possible to shoot good quality DVD films. These are then shown at mass gatherings usually organised in schools or other community centres or even in the open by setting up a pandal, for a nominal ticket charge.
Most filmmakers fight shy of admitting that their films are low budget tacky productions meant for this circuit. Another reason why these filmmakers are so unwilling to discuss this is that they fear too much publicity would bring in bigger players for a share of the pie.
Pradip Deshpande, an actor and producer, has made a one and a half-hour Hindi film Garv Se Kaho Hum Hindu Hain in which he plays the lead role of an NRI who comes to India and discovers its rich culture. Though he is proud to hold a screening of it, he is reluctant to discuss the purpose behind making it.
After much needling he says, "I will be showing this film in the rural areas at the jatras. The cost of production is Rs 2. 5 lakh and I can easily recover this money by charging Rs 15 to 20 per person at a show. Eight to ten shows at different places can help me recover the cost and also profit. " Ask him why is he so reluctant to discuss it and he admits, "Too much publicity to this segment will bring in a rush of filmmakers and that would affect our profits. "
Even the themes of these films cater to rural taste. If Deshpande's film is about Indian cultural values, then Madhuri Ashirgade, who sings, acts and even produces and directs films, has made Tandla, which is about a woman being treated as a goddess. Ashirgade insists that it is a big-budget film. But she also admits that theatre releases could have made her lose money so she did hold shows at Chandrapur and Lonavala. "The jatra circuit is a lucrative one and can help us to earn back our money, as in the theatres we pay upfront but are never sure if we will get the required audience to recover our cost. "
Film director Narendra Shinde is more forthcoming. "This jatra circuit is a good platform for small producers and directors to show their films and make money. Two films directed by me, Mahad Satyagrah and Mann Udhan Udhan, were very well appreciated during the jatras. As the films are shown in open grounds, more than a thousand people view it at a time. There are no chairs and people get their own sheets to sit on. For my films, the ticket was Rs 10 and there were nearly 15 to 20 shows. "
Agitated with the reluctance of these filmmakers to talk about their films, Vilas Bobde, the president of the Vidarbha Cine Artists Association, says, "The best part about this segment is that these small film producers are not at the mercy of anyone like the theatre owner or the distributor. Nothing comes between their film and the end viewer. Besides if a film clicks it can be a money spinner as there is no limit to the number of shows that can be held. "
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