Nativist film draws viewers in cosmopolitan Mumbai

MUMBAI Wed Apr 15, 2009 2:37pm IST

MUMBAI (Reuters) - A film about a local Marathi man being sidelined by job-seeking migrants in Mumbai is pulling in audiences in a city often swept up in violent regional rivalries.

Anti-immigrant tensions have simmered over the years in Mumbai as thousands from the countryside and small towns arrived in India's most cosmopolitan city to eke out a living.

Many Marathis have resented the deluge while politicians have made capital out of it.

This week, audiences are flocking to cinemas to watch "Me Shivaji Raje Bhosle Boltoy" (This is Shivaji Raje Bhosle speaking), a film made in the local Marathi language unlike more mainstream Bollywood fare.

The film tells the story of a bank employee in Mumbai who feels being a Marathi, one of the original inhabitants of Maharashtra, is a disadvantage in a rat race dominated by migrants from other parts of India.

“It is a fact that these very residents now feel threatened and their number is dwindling,” said Mahesh Manjrekar, the film’s producer.

“My film tries to address the issue but by telling Marathi person to wake up,” said Manjrekar, better known for his bit role as a gang leader in the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire”.

Manjrekar also plays a small but pivotal role in "Me Shivaji Raje Bhosle Boltoy", enacting the part of 17th-century Maratha warrior Shivaji -- a catalyst for the film’s protagonist to take pride in his Marathi roots and fight for his rights.

Last year, “Deshdrohi”, a film on hardships faced by migrants in Mumbai, was banned after concerns it might incite a fresh wave of violence in a city that has seen several attacks on immigrants.

Local Marathis make up less than half of Mumbai's population of more than 17 million, and rising anti-immigrant rhetoric is widely seen as a sign of the strain of lopsided economic development.

“The original resident of Mumbai has to introspect as to why he has lost respect and why outsiders are now taking over his city,” Manjrekar said.

"Me Shivaji Raje Bhosle Boltoy", made at a budget of 37.5 million rupees, has grossed 50 million rupees in just 10 days -- unusual for a Marathi-language project.

Analysts say the film may have benefited from lack of competition at the box-office after an ongoing producer’s strike over revenues from multiplexes delayed the release of big-ticket Bollywood projects.

But "Me Shivaji Raje Bhosle Boltoy" is doing better business than Bollywood films currently running in Mumbai cinemas.

“This film is a huge hit, mainly because the subject is one that has touched people’s hearts,” said trade analyst Amod Mehra.

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