Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mewati Blockbusters –capturing local culture through cinema

In a world in which the ‘local’ is increasingly becoming linked to the’global’, there is a parallel effort to retain the uniqueness and flavour of the local, be it customs, traditions, innovations or experiments.
This trend permeating the mass entertainment industry of films becomes a statement of local sensibilities and the pride in one’s own rather than in borrowed plumes. In the age of the glitz and glamour,of star casts and stupendous budgets of Bollywood, regional cinema is carving out a domain uniquely its own. Regional films produced in areas like Meerut and in Bihar in Maithili and Magahi language films are high on the popularity charts . Unlike Bhojpuri films, where commercial consideration is paramount, these efforts are of a more sublime nature. They represent local and regional aspirations, a tribute to the art and language and culture of the region in a cinematic format.
The history of film making in Mewat is not very old. In 2000 with Usman a local youth of Tawaru block moved by the issue of trafficking of women amongst the Meo tribe decided to make a film on the social evil. The “Meo” is a prominent tribe in the region. The film Mohaabat-e-Mewat (Love of Mewat)” was a pioneering effort but it also invited flak from the local community who reacted strongly to the negative portrayal of the region.

Even groups working for human rights and community service have not raised their voice against this deplorable practice. The local intelligentsia too has been in denial mode. There were threats to remove this film from local cinema halls. Amidst all this controversy Mohaabat-e-Mewat (Love of Mewat) became a trend-setter for the nascent Mewati film industry. Not all the films however reflected social issues as is evident from their titles . Meo jhukta nahin( Meo never compromises), Shere Mewat(Lion of Mewat), Mewak ka Khiladi(Player of Mewat), Chora Chaurasi ka(Guy of eight four) and Khwab ho yaan hakeekat(Dream or reality) indicates the full entertainment fare of this home-grown cinema.
Nowhere is the magnetism of the local cinema more evident than in the box office rankings. Bollywood that mighty giant is brought to its knees in Mewat. Nanakchand, who manages Ranga cinema at Nooh, the district headquarter of Mewat region says the hall screens Mewati films on four days a week while Bollywood films are screened only twice a week. For Bollywood movies, the rate is between Rs. 20 to 30 while tickets of Meo films cost Rs.40 to 50 and play to packed halls.

The cinema mirrors the Mewati society and shows them dreams in a tounge and visuals that the local population are familiar with . This has proved to be the winning streak. According to Mohammad Kasim, a social worker and a regular cine- goer people can connect closely to Meo films being in the local language. “Even the older people can watch them on CDs. Those who are reluctant to go to cinema halls also watch them at homes.”

Typically, a Meo film is produced on a shoe-string budget ranging from Rs one to two lakh. The industry meets the aspirations of many wanna-bes. The male cast generally works for free while the females are paid Rs 500 per day. Shailendra Gupta, Manager, Sanjay Cinema at Nooh says that Meo films have not attained heights where better actors could be roped in. Female roles are generally played by sex workers as they do not charge much. The locale is mostly around Aravali and in Gurgaon and the films are shot with local video cameras . While a dilution in quality inputs is evident, Gupta reiterates the basic spirit of the industry “The films are not of high quality but it is a good attempt to showcase local language and culture through films,”.

He says that some of the film makers have even approached the Censor Board for clearances in an attempt to widen their audiences and make a mark in the film industry. Mohammed Makhan, a resident of Shikrawa and a producer says it is a lucrative business where one can easily make a profit of Rs 50,000 per venture. These films are screened in the entire Mewat region covering Haryana parts of Rajasthan, districts Bharatpur, Alwar and Dhoulpur.

Seeing the industry expand, DVD production of these films has also mushroomed. It has found a vibrant market in Meo dominated pockets of Gautambudh Nagar and in Agra. Bulk orders for DVDs have begun to pour in.
Inspite of riding high on the crest of this growing industry, film makers and distributors have stuck to their low key publicity measures. Till recently, a loudspeaker on rickshaw publicized a Meo film in the local neighborhood. Makha however feels that with the vast and growing audiences, Meo films will need to look at better alternatives.

There are however more conservative sections who disapprove this trend. They remain uncharitable to the movers and shakers of this industry and see it as a frivolous effort by scions of noveau-rich families who have suddenly come into wealth through real estate boom.

According to local journalist Subedwin who is part of a local NGO“CIFB” there is a seamier side of this industry and criminal elements are associated with it . He says “The hero of film “Mewat Ka Khiladi” is languishing in jail under the charges of dacoity.”.

Notwithstanding the criticism from local quarters, the silver screen in Mewat is not losing any of its sheen. The small-time industry may not ever achieve the acclaim or attention of the industry big-wigs but in its own way, contributing promotion of the local culture, the language. It is performing that vital role of presenting old wine in new bottles so that the local remains alive and vibrant amidst the onslaught of larger influences of cinematic mass appeal.

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