Gujarati cinema has come of age. Two national award-winning movies in the past five years and an entry to the Oscars this year – with Chhello Show getting the official nod ahead of much-hyped RRR – has revived an otherwise-sluggish Gujarati film industry. It has turned the spotlight – which was being hogged by southern cinema – on the region’s movie-makers.

Nine decades after the first black-and-white movie Narsinh Mehta (1932) flagged off Gujarati cinema, it has largely remained alienated from mainstream audiences for its lack of experimentation and technological razzmatazz. But there is change brewing on the screens now.

After the National Awards for Wrong Side Raju (2016) and Hellaro (2019), Chhello Show is the next hope for Gujarati cinema’s change of course. Shifting screens

“In the past decade we have seen Gujarati cinema undergoing a drastic change in content and production.

“Earlier, we were not very sound technically. But now we are comparable to Bollywood films. We have better technical teams and high-end equipment, camera and artists,” said Bhavesh Upadhyay, of Magnet Media Films, a Gujarati film production house.

Gujarati film-maker Mikhil Musale, who directed national award-winner Wrong Side Raju, believes that “if the film is made with an honest story and intent, it would strike a better connect with audience”. He says: “An Oscar entry for a Gujarati film is truly encouraging, and should be used as a catalyst and motivation to make better films.”

Commercially, too, in recent years, Gujarati cinema has seen better earnings in recent years. The annual box-office collections shot up from ₹10 crore in 2014 to ₹55 crore in 2015-16.

Market watchers say out of 70-80 Gujarati films made every year, 95 per cent fail at the box office – a major reason for investors’ apathy towards this industry. But post-pandemic, both the film production of films and the box-office collections have zoomed.

“The business has reached ₹200 crore, and is expected to touch ₹600-700 crore in 3-4 years if this pace is maintained. The investors have started putting in money and the audience has started watching it. The average ticket sale has increased from 20,000 earlier to about 40,000-50,000,” said Upadhyay.

Analysts consider this as baby steps. “Producers are motivated because of the strong regional content, better cost economics and promising return on investments. Also, the digital distribution has increased the access to a wider audience across the globe. There is a new trend of Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati films,” said Karan Taurani, SVP, (entertainment research analyst) Elara Capital.

Clearly, the Oscar entry is the biggest moment for Gujarati cinema. Will the industry seize the moment is the question.