Anwesh Satpathy

Odia cinema has been looked upon with condescension by a major chunk of its audience in Odisha for almost two decades. This has not been without valid reasons.

The issues plaguing ‘Ollywood’ would be obvious if someone gives a cursory look at a ‘hit’ movie. First, the likelihood that it is copied from a south Indian movie was extremely high. Secondly, lack of nuanced acting and a heavy dose of overacting has characterized Odia cinema. A typical Odia movie has a predictable storyline- Boy woos a girl, they fall in love, parents/society oppose, boy fights and defeats villain and voila there you have a movie! Add to this some clichéd songs and predictable dance moves reminiscent of a 90s Hindi movie.

This ‘escapism’, combined with technical mediocrity, meant the movie would appeal to a very narrow section of the populace. The reason for this is pretty simple. People have access to better and more nuanced ‘escapist’ movies from both the South and Bollywood. Thus, there is no reason to prefer a parody remake in Odia masquerading as a movie.

Over the past few months, things have started to change. Audiences with a diverse range flock to film halls to watch Odia movies. This started with the release of DAMaN. Directed by Debi Prasad Lanka and Vishal Mourya and starring Babushaan and Dipanwit, the movie covers the story of a young doctor posted in a remote region with barely any access to healthcare. The inhabitants of the village are mired with superstitious beliefs. Patients are treated through exorcism. What follows is the struggle of the protagonist to change the mindset of the villagers by raising awareness about healthcare. The film works on three levels. First, it’s an original rooted story which highlights the issues that many encounter in rural pockets of the state. Second, not a single one of its songs is irrelevant to the storyline. Not only are they well written and decently composed but they also add and propel the narrative forward. Third, the cinematography is beautiful and has been barely witnessed in Odia cinema in a long time.

This is not the only Odia movie that’s making waves. Months before the release of DAMaN, Amartya Bhattacharya’s ‘Adieu Godard’ premiered at Moscow International Film Festival. In an ingenious story, the movie locates the work of legendary French film director Jean Luc Godard in a remote village in Odisha. It follows the struggle of its protagonist to organize a Godard film festival in the village. Its profound and thought-provoking impact can be glimpsed by the fact that it has already bagged several prizes at both national and international film festivals. Last month, it won an award for Best Feature Film at Cardiff International Film Festival.

Recent developments provide reasons to be hopeful about the future of Odia cinema. They also vindicate critics like me who have always maintained that the commercial failure of Odia cinema is due to production of bad movies, not due to disinterest of audience.

In fact, there cannot be a better time for revival of Odia cinema. The language barrier is broken. People no longer go to movies due to the popularity of ‘stars’ or the accessibility of language. On the contrary, they actively look for movies which are characterized by good stories, writing, music and acting. Nothing explains the massive success of the relatively low-budget ‘Kantara’ against the failure of expensive star-powered Samrat Prithviraj.

There is no shortage of good stories in Odisha. For starters, we have a treasure trove of Odia literature, the overwhelming majority of which have not been adapted into screen. Whether it’s Gopinath Mohanty or Manoj Das, Odia literature is characterized by a strong sense of rootedness that the audience today demands. The golden era of Bengali cinema heralded by the likes of Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak were characterized by a proliferation of adaptation of great writers like Tagore and Bibhutibhushan.

Odisha also has a rich and diverse legacy of traditional art-forms reminiscent of Bhoota Kola depicted in ‘Kantara’. These art-forms can be explored to craft narratives. Apart from these, a focus on the issues facing common populace has the potential to capture the masses given the increasing popularity of realism in cinema.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author's own and have nothing to do with OTV's charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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