Can Oriya art cinema revitalise?

Source: Expressbuzz , Author:Kasturi Ray , 11 Jul 2010

From Mrinal Sen’s Matira Manisha and Nitai Palit’s Mala Janha in the 1960s to Manmohan Mohapatra’s Muhurta in 2000, film lovers have seen with relief and joy a stream of parallel cinema in Orissa that had been trudging its way — though through ups as well as downs. But then the last decade has witnessed nothing to rejoice about on this front. If there was a plenitude of new-wave films from 1970-2000, the graph 2000-09 has plummeted like never before. Lack of support from the state government, receding audience interest and absence of the profit quotient in the form of returns have exacerbated the situation.
During the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, such movies — released occasionally in theatres and mos tly on national channel Doordarshan — were widely viewed and appreciated. Mostly produced on low budgets (Rs 25 lakh to Rs 30 lakh), these films used to be partly funded by the government (up to Rs 15 lakh) through the national and state film development corporation, while the producers paid the rest. Their makers did know that their works were not commerci ally viable, but more often than not they would end up winning a national award or two. That would ensure they got a chunk of their money back — along with the telecast of the films on DD (which paid up to Rs 8 lakh). But once the government set up the Prasar Bharati (in 1997) as an autonomous corporation comprising both DD and All India Radio, that amount too came down with a change of rules. And that made even the telecasts rarer.
Orissa today has master filmmakers who rue the fallen graph of the state’s parallel cinema — and don’t hesitate to give the public television broadcaster much of the credit in galvanising the artistic movement for the final three decades of last century. “By the 1970s,” notes Nirad Mohapatra, maker of the much-acclaimed Maya Miriga (1984), “parallel cinema had gathered momentum in many regions of our country, including Orissa — though, only in a few pockets of the state. The enlightened audience here was aware of this new development, but they only had a glimpse of it on DD.” Even so, he notes that not everything was encouraging for the movement in Orissa. “With the sole exception of Maitra Manisha (1966) the prevailing state of affairs did not encourage any such production,” notes Mohapatra, whose Maya Miriga won the national award for the second-best feature film besides the best film in the state awards.
Maya Miriga was part of a package deal for three films between National Film Development Corporation and Orissa Film Development Corporation (OFDC) to support good cinema in Orissa. “My film too had a restric ted release. In the urban centres, it was screened in the morning and noon,” he recalls. And adds: “The story is not any different today.”
Raju Mishra, whose Laxmira Abhisara was a much talked about film in the genre, feels art cinema in Orissa is “practically non-existent”. “These days, it’s more about awards than commercial success. A director cannot manipulate commercial success, but an art film director needs an award come what may. This increases the credibility of the film — and the director too,” he says. Currently busy in making of the sequel of Hum Log for DD, Mishra says, “the economics simply don’t work out now for such films in our state.” He attributes the mess to the negative attitude of the government, the absence of a means to get returns for the investment and a lack of audience for art films in the state.
One basic problem lies in getting past the stranglehold of the existing distributor-exhibitor nexus and reaching out to the audience. Many such films that broke away from the mainstream had to be content with Door darshan release only since they were never taken to the masses.
But not all are pessimistic. Manmohan Moha patra, who has made the maximum number of art films for Orissa and has clinched many national awards, disagrees. “This is a transitional phase. I am hopeful that things will improve in some time from now, with the creation of an alternate channel and government patronage. I can see many young directors showing keenness to direct parallel cinema and we need to cultivate good audiences,” says Manmohan whose films like Sita Rati (1982), Niraba Jhada (’84), Majhi Pahacha (’87), Nisiddha Swa pna (’88), Kichi Smruti Kichi Anubhuti (’89) and many more have turned out to be national award winners.
Nirad Mohapatra str ikes a middle path. “If we can catch them young at the university level and provide opportunities to see good cinema from all over the world, it can generate an enlightened audience,” he notes. “But to reach out to that audience a parallel channel like the Art Theatre in Europe may have to be worked out.”
For the record, those who have done commendable work in Oriya art films include A K Bir, Shagir Ahmed, Shantanu Mishra, Bip lab Roy Choudhury, Pranab Das, Sushant Mishra, Subash Das, Bijoy Ketan Mishra, Malay Ray-Gouri Das, Him anshu Khatua, Prafulla Moha nty, Chakradhar Sahu, Sabyasachi Moha patra and Dolly Jena.
Film societies too have a role in promoting good cinema other than government patronage. Points out film critic Ashok Palit: “We just have two societies. How do we arouse an interest in our audience for such films? We don’t have a dearth of good stories neither do we lack filmmakers. What is required is ample number of cinema halls for the masses to watch meaningful cinema. Moreover, to dev elop audience interest, the role of media is of utmost importance.”
OFDC chairman Sitakanta Mishra, however, is upbeat. Mishra, who has produced a couple of films like Bhanga Silata (1987) and Shodh (1980, which introduced Om Puri) in Hindi, explains that concerted efforts have led to a rise in OSFD’s government funding from this year to Rs 75 lakh from Rs 15 lakh. “We can now finance good scripts up to Rs 15 lakh and another Rs 1 lakh for censor clearance. In the process, we can go up to financing five films per year. And there will be a committee which will approve good scripts.”
Mishra also adds that the government is planning in collaboration with various Mumbai-based groups to make good cinema in digital mode and show them in digital film halls with a capacity of 150 to 200 people.
“Efforts are also on to revive the Kalinga Studio, the only film studio in Orissa, with the help of private entrepreneurship for which tenders will be floated soon and there are many people who are showing interest too.” Looks like a silver streak could still light up the Oriya screen.

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