By Ghanashyam Mohapatra
When I was a student in the Ravenshaw College, Cuttack, from 1951 to 55, I had occasion to see some good Bengali films in the morning shows on Sundays at the Prabhat Cinema at Buxi Bazar, where a majority of Bengali families got togetherforthat purpose. I liked the story and treatment of the Bengali films of that period. Famous among those are films of star pair Uttam Kumar-Suchitra Sen, films like ‘Meghe DhakaTara^by Ritwik Ghatak’ and some other films by reputed Bengali directors. That is how I developed my appreciation of good cinema and love for the film medium.
In July 1955, 1 got admission in Cinematography at S.J. Polytechnic, Bangalore as a Govt. Scholar from Odisha. It may be informed here that the S.J. Polytechnic, a Govt. of Mysore Institute, was the only one of its kind in the whole of India at that time, having a 3 years Diploma Course in Cinematography & Sound Engineering.
In 1955-56, the first realistic feature film of Satyajit Ray i.e. “RATHER PANCHALI” was released in India and I saw that film at a special morning show in Bangalore on a Sunday at Majestic Circle. At the first instance, I loved that film, so much so, that I have never forgotten some of the scenes like rains on pond water, the little daughter playfully drenching herself in rain and subsequently falling ill and succumbing to her illness. Her death compelled the family to leave the village. The other scenes I remember are, monkey-pJay enjoyed by the children and offering of guava fruits by the girl to her old aunt, who was not treated well by her mother.
From that day onwards, whenever there is a show of any of Ray’s films, I don’t miss it-whether the show is put up at a far-away cinema at Lower Parel or at Dadar in Bombay. I have seen a majority of Ray’s films. To name a few: Apu’s Trilogy, Jalasaghar, Devi, Teenkanya, Documentary on Rabindranath Tagore, Kanchan Jungha, Abhijan, Mahanagar, Charulata, Nayak, Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne, Aranyar Din Ratri, Pratidwandi, Seemabadha, Shatranj Ki Khilari & even Doordarshan’s commissioned Film ‘Sadgati’ withSmita Patil.
My first personal acquaintance with the great director began in 1959, after my return from Bombay, when I went to Kolkata and met him at his two storeyed flat in Ballygunj. Actually I went to his 1st small house at Lake Temple Road, where he was first staying with his maternal uncle’s family and his mother, who directed me to his Ballygunj residence. A tall figure, standing in front of me near the door, asked me my name and the purpose of coming to him. ‘Tumhara naam ta Ki’, ‘Tumi Kena Aasheche1, I replied in broken Bengali. ‘Aapaner Kachhe Aami Kaaj Karate Chahi, Taar Janya Ashechi, Aamake Ekta Chance deen1. Then I informed that I am a graduate in Cinematography with 1st class from SJ. Polytechnic, Bangalore and had also practical experience of working as Assistant Film Director in many Hindi Film Productions at Filmistan studios, Bombay for about one year. He quietly listened to me and then said ‘Bhallo’ ‘Kintu Tumake Bangla shikh te habe, akane kaajre janya bangla bhasa balte chahi’, ‘aamar kachhe ekhane kichhu khali naye, Tumi Jigish Kare PareAesh’and I returned.
At that time, there was no regular film production activity in Odisha.Nor there was any film studio. Being a film technician I thought why not try myself out in production of Oriya films. I contacted many business men, industrialists and even met the then Chief Minister Harekrishna Mahtaband Biju Patnaikbutto no avail. Then I contacted some young friends and with their little support I started a private ltd. company “KONARK FILMS’ in 1960 and was able to produce some documentary films with a social message on “Maternity and Child Welfare” and also on the subject of “Family Planning”. Later on, one of these films won the Govt. of Orissa Best Documentary Award.
Being thus encouraged, I approached the Reserve Bank of India for Bank Finance and produced the first Eastman Colour documentary “Odissi Dance” with exponent Sanjukta Panigrahi, her singer husband Raghunafh Panigrahi and Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’in 1971. On the success of Odissi, the Chairman of State Bank of India R.K. Talwar encouraged me by granting finance of 1.5 lakhs for the production of a classic novel “KANAKLATA” written by poet and educationist Nanda Kishore Bal. The novel depicted the life in rural Odisha in the early 20th Century.
The entire full length Oriya feature film “KANAKLATA” was shot in rural locations of some villages, zamidari houses, temples and even Govt. Katcheri, advocates’ chambers – all in the true realistic traditions of the Great Master Satyajit Ray, as he did in “Pather Panchalli” way back in 1954-55. In my shooting of the feature film, there was no dubbing even of a single sound-track. All the dialogues of about 20 or more characters are of sync, shooting in Arrieflex 35 and Nagra Recorder. It took me about 40 day shifts and another 2 night shifts ; one for the marriage-scene and another for Jatra- scene. The song recording, post production work i.e. editing, B.G.M, film processing and printing, titles etc. was all completed at India Film Laboratories, Kolkata under the guidance and supervision of Mr. R.B. Mehta at Tollygunge, where Mr. Satyajit Ray also does his post production work.
When ‘Kanaklata1 was released in July 1974 in Odisha, it had mixed response. So I invited the veteran Director Mrinal Sen in Puja holidays to preview my film “Kanaklata” and advise me. Mr. Sen was good enough to accept my invitation and previewed the entire film at India Film Lab. Theatre. Sen appreciated my efforts. After hearing of the Film’s lack of response in Odisha, Mr. Sen advised me to prepare a new good print in 35mm, b& wand enter the film in the coming 1975 – 5th International Film Festival of India to be held at New Delhi after a gap of 11 years. He also gave me the detailed address of the Directorate of Film Festivals and instructed me about the procedure of making an entry. I followed his good advice.
But by the time of my preparing a new 35mm print of the film, the date of entry for competition section, i.e. October was over as I came to be informed by the OFF office. However the OFF advised me to enter the film in the Information category, since there was no Indian Panorama Section at that festival. It was my bad luck I thought. Satyajit Ray was the Chairman of the 1975 5th iffi that year at Delhi. I took a chance and met Mr. Ray at the Ashoka Hotel and requested him to preview my film “Kanaklata”. Mr. Ray was good enough to listen to me as to how, with much difficulty I was able to produce the feature in Odisha where there was no encouragement of any sorts for new comers and neither any facilities of film production. Mr. Ray was all sympathetic to my cause and told me ‘Tumi Jakhan Kolkataya Aasho, Takhan aamake dekha kar, chhabitar dekhibar par aami Tumake Kichhu balte parab, aakhane delhi te aamake subidha habena’ and he gave me his contact phone number and Kolkata address.
After that I had gone to Kolkata and met Mr. Ray several times at his 1/1 Bishop Lefroy Road home. He is so affectionate and sympathetic to me that it is not possible to narrate all those feelings in mere words. “Aami Jakhan Jigish Kara be Ki dada, aami ekto dekha karate chahi, Takhan uuni ballen ‘Jigish karochha ki chalo aasho’. Mr. Ray always answered his telephone himself and the words were so sweet andencouraging, as if he was a close relative – always ready to help and advice. When I meet Mr. Ray, he first enquired everything about my film and my Personal well being and frankly discussed several points of his under production film ‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’ – How he went incognito to the Chor Bazar in Bombay near Crawford market and to old Delhi – Chandni Chowk in search of various property items as also dress material jewellery etc. of that period of Lucknow.
While Mr. Ray sat in his usual chair near the corner window surrounded by all types of his working materials and books etc. in the big and spacjpus office-cum visiting room, many visitors came and went. But when I asked “Dada, aami aakhan aasab -Takhan uuni ballen Kena, baso” and saying so attended to his other visitors or to any other work. So I sat for long hours in his room and observed his working and talking to other visitors. It was a life time’s experience for me to be with the great master on those days.
As I know and felt myself Mr. Ray has all the love and affection and words of encouragement to the young film makers. This was his specialty unlike other big film directors and film personalities. He was always very simple in dress and in behaviour. I felt that there is no comparison of Mr. Ray with any other film celebrity in India. Mr. Ray stands the high pedestal of ideal film personalities I ever met in all my contacts at many National and International Film Festivals, be it at Nitra Czechoslovakia, Wettebewerb Berlin; Amstardam as also at the first International non feature film festival at Leningrad (presently St. Peters burg Russia) as also at many of Mumbai’s International Short & Documentary Film Festivals; where the writer was a delegate or Executive Committee Member, Jury Chairman and severaltimesJuryMember.
In 1977, during the editing of ‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’ Mr. Ray being unable to find a two hours gap in his daily work schedule, cancelled one of his editingiprogrammes in order to make time to preview my film at Kolkata India Film Lab. theatre. Mr. Ray was good enough to sit silently for two long hours to preview the Oriya feature Film “Kanaklata”. Thus he kept the request I had made to him several times in the past. After the show, he highly appreciated the film and advised me to prepare the English sub -titled version and try to enter the film in some foreign film festivals. Later on Mr. Ray also favoured me with his letter of appreciation of the Film “KANAKLATA” in his own handwriting, which I have preserved (along with a Photo with him taken earlier at Delhi) till date as most valuable treasures of my life.
Mr. Ray had confided in me that he never liked to see any Indian or regional films of any director or producer either of Kolkata or of Madras or of Bombay because there was nothing new in the film for him to see or know. He would say “Ki dekhbo” ? But Mr. Ray was sympathetic to me whenever I met him for his kind advice and guidance. My only sorrow that I could not meet him in his last days of life at the private nursing homeint Kolkata, where he breathed his last.
Except his own relations, no private persons were allowed to visit him there. Mr. Ray and his idealism shall remain as leading light to all those young Film makers who love the art of cinema in India and abroad.
Ghanashyam Mohapatra is the first technically qualified film entrepreneur, producer, director and documentary film maker in Odisha. He has contributed to the development of cinema in Odisha during the last 50 years since 1960 and made classic films like Odissi Dance,feature film Kanakalata,tele film Abhisapta Gandharva and Nisanga Akasa.al are adoption from odia literature. Born in January 1933 at Dhcnkanal, he pursued his higher studies at the Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. During his Ravenshaw days he worked on theatre stage with Professor of English Bidhu Bhusan Das as his mentor. From his acquaintances with film magazines published from Mumbai, he decided to enter filmmaking. At the age of 22 he joined S.J. Poly technique, Bangalore to pursue 3 years Diploma in Cinematography. He successfully completed the course with First Class with merit scholarship and joined Filmistan Studio as an Assistant Director in Mumbai and worked in more than 20 films.