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Hold your breath: who's biggest living Maratha'
- Thackeray help for Oscar entry comes with snide remark at Tendulkar promise to raise funds

Mumbai, Nov. 12: Sachin Tendulkar's bat versus Bal Thackeray's bounty.

A Marathi film, Shwaas, India's entry at the Oscars this year, has become a rallying point for Maharashtrian pride ' leading to intense competition among the state's most powerful to back the film in its journey abroad.

There's Tendulkar, who has pledged to auction a bat and other sports gear touched by him to raise funds for the film's promotion, there is Thackeray who donated Rs 15 lakh yesterday for the same cause, there is Sharad Pawar, and there is the BJP.

Presenting the money yesterday to the producer, Arun Nalawade, at his residence Matoshree, Thackeray wished the film luck at the Oscars and declared that Shwaas had the support of the entire Marathi community.

But Thackeray feels Tendulkar could have served a Marathi cause better. 'I am not digging into the pockets of others and auctioning my bat. I am giving my own money,' he said.

Tendulkar was not available for comment, but the cricketer, who raved about the film, has said that since he was aware of the film's small budget and the lack of the funds required to promote it abroad, he would auction a bat, an India T-shirt and a stump used in the Mumbai Test to raise funds. He also said he would talk to his Indian teammates to join him in the effort.

The auction is yet to be held, says the film's Mumbai-based director, Sandeep Sawant, but that has not deterred an overwhelming response from building up.

Made with a modest Rs 30 lakh, the film needs Rs 1.5 crore to be marketed abroad. But the kitty is slowly swelling because of the rekindled Marathi pride in a winner of a film from a moribund industry whose output is hardly visible at the national level, let alone international.

The movie, inspired by a real-life account from a leading cancer specialist, is about a child suffering from cancer and his family. Shwaas won the best film award at the National Awards this year ' the last time a Marathi film took the honour was 50 years ago.

Sawant, who has mostly worked in the theatre, was not even born then. Shwaas is the 36-year-old director's first attempt at making a feature film.

'Mr Sharad Pawar has helped with funds and sponsorship, and his party NCP has given me Rs 5 lakh. The BJP has given Rs 5 lakh, too,' he said.

Congress MP Sunil Dutt has handed over Rs 50,000. Nationalist Congress Party leaders Chhagan Bhujbal and R.R. Patil, the deputy chief minister, have promised help.

Thackeray's Sena wanted to hold a rally to raise funds, but it was stopped.

'We have about Rs 50 lakh now,' Sawant said.

Still a crore short, but efforts to raise money have been accompanied by some serious strategy sessions. Sawant has met Ashutosh Gowarikar, the director of Lagaan, an erstwhile Indian hopeful at the Oscars, for marketing tips. He had a telephone conversation with Aamir Khan, the producer and lead actor of Lagaan.

A three-member Shwaas team is leaving for the US on November 17. 'The aim is not an Oscar campaign, but promoting and marketing the film internationally,' Sawant said.

He would want it to be screened in the festival circuit as well as in theatres abroad. For the Oscars, the immediate goal is to clear the first round. Entered in the best foreign film category, it is competing with 49 films for the final nomination, which will be declared on January 25.

If it makes it to the select few with such abundant support from Marathis all over the world ' Maharashtrians settled abroad are actively engaged, too, with money and good wishes ' Sawant and his team will be holding their shwaas real hard on February 27, the awards date.

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