Op-Ed: The Pretence of ‘Reviving’ Kalinga Studios Must Stop

In its stupidity, the proposal to utilise the ‘vast stretch of vacant land’ at Kalinga Studios to build a sports complex in Bhubaneswar is on par with the ill-conceived idea of having the second campus of Rama Devi University on land allocated to Utkal University, which was given a quiet burial after students of Vani Vihar were up in arms.

Sports and Youth Affairs secretary Vishal Dev’s WhatsApp message to journalists on Monday expressing ‘surprise’ at the ‘needless controversy’ over the proposal is ingenious. Having been in the top echelons of the bureaucracy for so long, he could not have been so naive as not to know the possible repercussions while making the proposal to the General Administration (GA) department. It was obviously an exercise in damage control after the issue snowballed into a major controversy. It is possible that the U turn came after he was ticked off by someone higher up.

The sheer audacity of the proposal is born out of an arrogance that has crept into the minds of the manadarins in the Sports department. This arrogance, in turn, has its origins in the all-round praise (largely orchestrated) it received after successfully organising two marquee events – the 22nd Asian Athletics championships and the Hockey World League (HWL) – in Bhubaneswar and pulling off the hockey World Cup in December this year. They have started fancying themselves as the new Czars and Odisha as the emerging sports hub in the country. “Why should an all but defunct film studio continue to occupy prime land in the state capital when infrastructure needs to be built up to justify the tag of ‘sports hub’ for Odisha?” appears to be the thinking that prompted them to conceive such a proposal in the first place. (A few years ago, Bhubaneswar was tom-tommed as the ‘education hub’ of eastern India and we all know the present state of the mushrooming engineering colleges that earned the tag for the city!) The thought that this property may be renovated in future to serve the purpose for which it was set up in the first place – if not by the present government, then by a future government – does not appear to have crossed their minds at all. Even if it did, a film studio, in their view, was not as important as a sports facility. If nothing else, at least the fact that the government had allocated a sum of Rs. 2 crores for the renovation of Kalinga Studios in 2015-16 and again the same amount this year should have dissuaded them from going ahead with the proposal. But so blinded were they by the ‘success’ of the recently organised sports events that they would not allow anything to come in their way of making Bhubaneswar the new sports hub of the country.

Aa part of the damage control measure, MSME minister Prafulla Samal has said that an amount of Rs. 2 crores has been allocated this year for the renovation of the once flourishing studio. But what is Rs. 2 crores worth in this age? A state of the art recording console alone would probably cost more than that. This only goes to show that the state government just wants to maintain the pretence of doing something rather than thinking about a thorough overhaul of the infrastructure to revive the glory days of Kalinga Studios in the 1980s and early 1990s when it was the preferred destination of film makers of the stature of Mrinal Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta and others.

The equipment for recording, editing, mixing and dubbing (mostly in the analogue format) installed in the 1980s and 1990s are now well and truly obsolete and have to be replaced wholesale if Kalinga Studios is to be restored to its past glory. This would obviously require pumping in huge sums of money. The renovation of the property to make it viable for shooting again itself would cost a tidy sum. Simultaneously, the Odisha Film Development Corporation (OFDC) needs to revive its scheme of offering finance and subsidies to film makers. But that will be possible only when the facilities here are at par with those available at the best studios in Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad.

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Piecemeal grants would not serve any purpose. If the government is really keen to revive Kalinga Studios, it must earmark the required funds – preferably after stock taking by a professional agency. If it is not willing or able to pump in the necessary money, then it would be better to let the Sports department have its way and build a sports facility there! The pretence must stop.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are 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.)