Ten years ago if you ask someone to think of Gujarati cinema, his mind conjures a picture of a plain old Gujarati TV drama show. Since that time, Gujarati cinema has progressed rapidly over the years. However, to merely call this spectacle as an evolution of Gujarati cinema would miss the interesting facets of the history of Gujarati cinema.
Surprisingly, there was a time when Gujarati cinema was well ahead of others in South India, Central provinces and other states. Gujarati businessmen, even during the days of the British Raj, had heavily invested in film production during the silent era itself (between 1913 and 1931, 20 production houses were owned by Gujaratis and Gujarati Parsis). The producer luminaries were featured in Film India Magazines. One of the first major, full-length talkie Gujarati film was Narsinh Mehta (1932). This marks the beginning of Gujarati Cinema.
Post-independent India saw a surge in production of Gujarati films whose main themes revolved around religion and social values. Socially progressive films lie scattered in the long list of films made at that time. However, this golden period lasted till the 70s after which the long, slow decline started in Gujarati cinema. The partition of Bombay province into two new states: Gujarat and Maharashtra, meant that major production houses owned by Gujaratis ended up in Bombay while Gujarat lacked the resources, film production houses and capital to make major films. This had a deleterious effect. Even then, with the Gujarat govt giving huge tax incentives in the 70s, some films continued to make their mark. For example, Gunsundarino Gharsansar (1972) that won the National Award for Best Feature Film. Bhavni Bhavai was a major social themed film directed by Ketan Mehta and produced by NFDC. It won major recognition for incorporating Gujarati cultural aesthetics and it won two National Awards.
Yet, the downward trend of Gujarati cinema continued. Govt incentives were misused to an extent that poor quality cinema dominated the theatres packed with mostly rural audience whilst the middle and upper classes shifted towards Bollywood films and television shows. This trend continued until early 2000. In 2005, the Gujarat govt gave 100% entertainment tax exemption. This gave a new lease of life to the Gujarati Cinema and unleashed the forces of film production. The result was that in 2012, a record 72 films were produced in Gujarat.
Kevi Rite Jaish (2012) and Bey Yaar(2014) were hit films directed by Abhishek Jain who is now among successful Gujarati film directors. Then came Gujjubhai The Great and Chhello Divas (our film) in 2015 which were declared hits. Especially, Chhello Divas was a super hit at that time with a record 20 Crore Box Office earnings.
Government incentives in 2016 have now focused on film quality too. A spurt of new films, such as Hellaro (2018) by Abhishek Jain and Reva(2018) directed by Rahul Bhole and Vinit Kanojia, have won National Awards.
From the time of saint, sati and religious themes in Gujarati cinema till today’s urban Gujarati perspective in recent films, Gujarati cinema has come a long way since the time of its illustrious past. Exploitation of new film techniques, gathering of artistic luminaries for executing new projects means the future ahead looks bright.