Orissa: Manmohan Mahapatra the Father of Odia New wave Cinema
Thursday, October 06, 2011
By Ashok Palit; Bhubaneswar: His characters are emboldened by truths of life. Truths are subject to judgments, but they are well within the demarcations, those individual lives effect. The anguish stemming from the absurdities of life may result in the conflicts, but then is it not a truth that life entails a conflicting journey, one which espouses delightful moments before reverting back to depression ? If modern-day stress is overwhelming the individual id, do not blame the filmmakers. The characters are only the mirrors of the blues we all face today; differing may be only by degree, never by types.
One of the prime tasks of a responsible filmmaker i.e. most trenchant analysis of contemporary societal dilemmas, has been nearly mastered by Manmohan Mahapatra, arguably one of the pioneers of purposive new wave cinema. Not he, but his meticulously crafted characters loom large in all his films. Not the characters' traits, qualifications, social class, showmanship or reputation, but their mere existence is the ground which dominates the films.
No wonder then, characters do not hover around the themes. Themes evolve by the characters. Like the essential rebel, Mahapatra has justifiably earned the acclaims as one who has given the dues to the roles people play, in circumstances which are mostly not within their sphere of control.
Surrealistic touch of Mahapatra is evident unfailingly in all his movies. That desire to draw a line outside the boundary, which stands contrary to conventional films based on factious utopian themes, characterizes his genius. To quote the great story-teller Conan Doyle, 'it's quite elementary'. Is life not all about experimenting ? Is life not about breaking the formulae ? Blame it on as bland a factor as monotony or as creative a facet called rebelliousness. Mahapatra sticks to his guns with a conviction which is honest i.e., he must not get allured into the commercial gimmicks, will not project events which have none or least common denomination and which is not reflective of a perception framed by his own self.
From his experiences with realities of life, he has drawn inspirations. The film direction alumni of FTII, Pune, Mahapatra has at the same time tried to learn and master the psychology of heterogeneity.
To begin with, he deals with true stories etched out of existing human memories. Two, he relates the human with the society : the purposive goals, noble aims and virtues which have been inculcated within, only to be shattered again by societal circumstances.
The realistic stories finds the surrealistic touch when life is left to go on, not twisted to ultimately offer a solution to human misery. The human characters linger on in the journey, facing revolting, submitting, compromising, going into the oblivion. Reminds much of Alberts Camus's "Stranger" M. Mersault, the young man who commits an unpremeditated crime in a moment of aberration and then is slowly and methodically condemned to death for it.
However, Mahapatra's thrust is more on the social side of everyday's problem, although he helplessness of the characters resemble Camus'. All are ready to take up the onus, the responsibility of their actions, acknowledging the sacrifice of their personality in lieu of conformance with societal concerns lest more physical danger is embraced. Yet despite the responsible youths they are, for no faults of theirs, they are condemned. At times, as Mahapatra has so aptly portrayed, by their conscience.
There are many explanations to the excellence. One is that he refrains from getting defocused. His themes revolve around majority's problems. In a civic and urbanizing society that he experiences he has seen from close quarters the perpetual dilemmas which refuse to leave the equally lingering dreams. Hence the setting is economically Middle Class families, with mediocre dreams, dreams which are relative but almost similar, that of marriage and job. To realize these dreams, there is purpose, but the means do not follow. Hence, the upright virtue, the conscience must be compromised with. The rebel must give in. welcome the practical, pragmatic, failure who has killed the poet and the philosopher inside, in order to at least survive in this inhuman human society. Exploitations abound. Protests also abound. Seeds of revolution are sown. But the soldier must live too. Hence the submission, or failure to be the victor. In any case, we the losers.
True. We all live through this post-independence virtuous dilemma; conscience or individual survival; where the instinct takes over finally. Very life-like. Very you and I.
No small wonder that Mahapatra has the distinct and unique achievement in the Oriya Cinema history of winning as many as eight consecutive national film awards. Internationally renowned for having made progressive stream a reality with alternative cinema, he deals with reality more effortless Films of Mahapatra : Manamohan Mahapatra ;s first film Sheetrati was set against back drop of feuding factions in a village, And petty poltics .the film describes the love affairs of Aruna and Pranab -an affair threatened by the authoritarianism of the father and the conformism and ambivalence of the boy. The girl is disillusioned when she realizes the boy is unable to stand up the social pressure exerted on them.She accept the situation . In one aspect ,therefore the film is about the self realization of a woman within a traditional rural mileu.
In Neerab Jhada Mahapatra remains in the rural environment,this time depicting a universe of deprivation within the closed atmosphere of a single small village in Orissa.Long shot, a patient and static camera ,a deliberately slow pace, capture the rhythm of the villagers lives as they go about their daily chores, a form and pace that evolved as the director tried' :to discover-not invent" the truth of the human situation depicted in the film.
In Neerab Jhada Bhamar and Haria are the arachetypal peasants of india trapped by their ignorance and poverty into a cycle of exploitation continues to push them towards a dehumanished existstence. Yet they have the audacity to dream of a more fulfilling future. Their instinct for survival will not be crushed under the soul destroying drudgery of their lives. Haria "s little son dreams of the wide roads and colour lights of the city,Phoola desires home of her own with the man she loves, Bhamara knows he must come back to his own land.
Generations of submission to obsolete feudal laws of the land have not managed to annihilate the human sprit . Within their own confined worlds. Bhamar and Haria will continue to battle against forces that daily attempt to snatch away their last possession-their human dignity."But one day,the many individual worlds will unite,The silent storm will break,And its resonance will sweep away the dust of decaying system and make place for a new generation whose dreams will be their reality. The noted film critic ,John w Hood sum of Manmohan" s first two film as "It is with the advent of Manmohan Mahapatra that Oriya cinema might be said to have reached its apogee. Two black and white films, the first features of an immensely talented young director, stand amongst the finest works of the Indian art cinema: Sheeta Rati (1982) and Nirab Jhada (1984). It is in these two superb films that Manmohan sought with breathtaking effect to expose the variety of viciousness that festers behind the outward serenity of the Oriya village. His unsentimental humanism is reminiscent of Ray, while the artistic brilliance of his camera work, the long takes and the tantalisingly gentle pace of his films remind one of the great Keralan poet of the cinema, Aravindan:"
Manmohan Mahapatra's next venture "Klanta Aparanha" also is shot in a village. Apparently it's a theme about how dowry problem has rendered middle class a helpless bunch. But on a retrospective mode, the director offers much more. The social alienation ably reflected by three old men who conduct the pivotal roles brings home the point about absurdities of human planning, for which foundations can be laid, but beyond which control lie completion.
The movie, quintessentially Mahapatra's, takes each character in its merit. Niru, daughter of Adikanda, receives a proposal via her father's childhood friend Jadu. To materialize it, Adikanda borrows money from another bosom friend Shyam. If Adikanda is excited as his mother about Niru's marriage and shares it with his eldest son Sura, who works at Cuttack, Shyam is shown whiling away time playing cards all by himself. On the other hand, Niru is content with company of her new colleagues, Sandhya and Bina (hailing from outside but staying together at Niru's village), at the village school. Sandhya has a lover in Arun, but she will not marry till her brother gets himself a job since he depends on Sandhya's salary.
In the meanwhile Jadu dies of heart attack and Niru's marriage fails one love letter addressed to Sandhya falls in suspecting hands and she is asked to leave the village. On one hand Sandhya has to nurture her family and on the other, she has to face the society' wrath. Niru and Bina get worried about Sandhya and continue with prayers. And in the tired afternoon of his life, Adikanda receives another marriage proposal for Niru, this time through the village astrologer. Grandmother Kishori Devi murmurs to herself, "Maybe this time, it will materialize."
The storyline is thin, but the contextual linking of each of the character to the social totality that they are a part of is amazingly achieved through Mahapatra's directional ability. Set in a specific cultural milieu, "Klanta Aparanha" deals with intricate human relationships in a disturbed socio-economic environment . Each scene has been most meticulously and judiciously picked to international standard. Each of the dialogue finds an emotional outlet. But the movie also lacks a depth in the story development and scripting which has left much wanting so far convincing the audience is concerned. None of the issues of dowry, or alienation or old age blues have met with sufficient focus due to a bland storyline.
His next "Majhi Pahacha" ( 35mm/col/95mins ) made in 86, looks into the turbulence of a young poet , in a semi urban area , caught within the gaugmire of social compulsions.
Arun who stays in his village, works in Bhubaneswar. Poetry writing is another avocation. He has to sustain a family comprising retired father, unmarried sister and a brother yet to enroll in an engineering college. Freelancing his poetic talents, Arun manages to supplement his salary and family. But he has an aim for himself, he wishes to publish his anthology, for which the publisher wants him to bear the paper costs of Rs.5,000.
Arun's brother Arup needs Rs.12,000 as donation amount for the engineering college offer he has got from Madras. His father is worried about Kuni's marriage for which he has saved Rs.15,000 in the bank. That money has to remain untouched, no matter if the paternal building is in the verge of collapsing in want of repair.
Amidst these middle-class crises, Arun's uncle brings a marriage proposal for him, which promises among other dowries, Rs.20,000 as traveling expenses alone. Once jilted in love, Arun on first notice refuses this bait, but the money attracts him again. Always inspiring his readers to shun dowry and all abominable tradition, Arun the poet has to sacrifice that facet of his personality in view of the practical needs he confronts. Once citing dowry as a social problem, Arun is ready to solve his own issues with it. The morally defeated Arun, the poet is shown in a touching scene as browsing through his file of poems and he suddenly stops at one turn of leaf, takes it out, broods over it and catches it to fire.
Inability to fight against stark realities life, the idealist must destroy his ideals altogether. Pondering over the dilemmas at the middle stage of decision making, he cannot dare to step ahead, nor can admire himself for being cowardice. Dreams are for another day, today is failure to nourish them. Failure to arrange sister's marriage, send brother to college, repair the old home, unable to publish his works, Arun is atypical representative of Bhubaneswar's middle-class talents who must burn but not shine.
Rabi Patnaik's editing skills and Dillip Ray's co-ordinated photographic effects are noteworthy. Arun Nanda as Arun, Pushpa Panda as Kuni, Sachidananda Rath as their father and Dolagobinda Rath as the literary man have acted to a flaw. Realistically, they have represented a story which says the pulse of the depressed post-independence times, where talents are compromised at the alter of economic needs. "Majhi Pahacha" won the National Award for being the Best Regional Picture in 1987.
Birth-marriage-death trilogy is evident in Mahapatra's next, "Trisandhya" (1986) based on a joint family in Orissa. Members of this joint family are to have a get-together at the death anniversary of their late father Adikanda in their village. Prior to the night of ceremony, they interact with each other on many issues. Members start forming groups basing on mutual needs and topics of similar interests. Amidst the discussions they debate on Sandhya's marriage plans and the expenditure to be incurred on the 'Shraddha' (death anniversary). And the members of the family decide that they will sell off a land by the side of the village to meet the spending.
The middle class hypocrisy, necessitated by economic needs and social compulsions is again the recurring theme here. But the trilogy here is death-marriage-birth. The movie which begins with death of Adikanda ends with a wailing of a new-born. The old cloaks give way to new, the old lives give channel to new and the old sins give birth to new. Trilogy of life is never ending. Its as traditional as it is contemporary.
Dillip Ray's photography has created magic amidst the village landscapes. Cinematography is ably supported by acting brilliance of Raicharan Das, Parbati Ghosh, Namrata Das, Jaya Swami, Manimala Devi and Arun Nanda.
"Nishidhha Swapna" is another milestone in Mahapatra's illustrious career. The theme dealt with again speaks of the ethos of our times. The societal restrictions and hypocrisies on inter-caste marriage is a blaring truth which needs to be addressed. And it takes only a genius such as Mahapatra's to send across a message which is at the same time radical and elementary. The onus of judgment has been left to the audience, but the double standards maintained by the society while judging person's character basing on his caste, is also clearly posted.
The story of "Nisiddha Swapna" (we may translate it as 'Forbidden Aspiration') is a silent protest leaving behind a loud reverberation. As is his wont, Mahapatra does justice to all members pertinent to the film and not just the 'lead roles' as he leads the film with entire family of 'Sachibabu'. He stays in the village with his wife, two sons Arup and Arabinda, two daughters Radha and Nita and daughter in law Soma (wife of Arabinda).
Elder son Arabinda works in Bhubaneswar City while Arup indulges in amateurish dance and music. Soma wishes to live in Bhubaneswar to which Arabinda has consent. Elder daughter Radha is pursuing M.A. in the city while Nita has left studies and lends a helping hand in domestic chores.
As time pass by, Sachibabu's wife comes to know from a love letter about Radha's preference. Radha is in love with Bimal, a boy from another caste. The family foes ruckus over the issue and the village astrologer only adds to it by predicting that Radha's life is in threat. To mitigate the hovering 'evil', the family arranges for warding off ceremony. In the meanwhile Nita calls everyone to witness, what could have been an attempt on part of Radha to commit suicide. The hanging rope without the body indicates that Radha wanted to commit suicide but she has just changed her mind and fled from the family and village to be with her lover Bimal.
The irony is starkly evident in so far as a person deviates from decision of suicide resulting from an insurmountable feeling of frustration, and choosing life with all vibrancy again. The family members who could not look beyond the cast factor of a boy who could actually possess humanitarian values irrespective of artificial divisions of biases, also represent a class of audience for whom the question mark has been abandoned.
There is clearly sign of inspiration of Ritwik Ghatak's "Meghe Dhake Tara" where Nita and Geeta are resembled by Mahapatra's Radha and Nita. Whereas in Ghatak's film, the schoolmaster also had two sons and two daughters, the noticeable difference is in roles of the daughters. Whereas Ghatak's Nita sacrifices all her happiness for the sake of younger sister Geeta, Mahapatra's Radha actually rebels and flees home in quest for a better place and love. The director has been symbolic and Jaya Swami as Radha has been realistic in her performance.
Director's role is not to educate, but to leave behind an introspective mind to the audience to learn from the unique self. Mahapatra has done and excelled in doing so in this movie.
Next film of Mahapatra, "Kichhi Smruti Kichhi Anubhuti" also is based on middle class crises. The biggest strength in the movie is credited to performance of Sujata Anand whereas the biggest weakness is Arun Mishra's photography. Among others who could contribute into making this film a success were the actors Hemant Das and Dukhishyam Patnaik.
Authoried by Prakash Patra, "Andha Diganta" beautifully brings out the essential hopes that humans pine for even in the face of worst crises. The village class struggle and in that, the individual quest for liberation; the longevity of the former and the short-lived later. The film narrates the victimization of a hope which once took shape with marriage of Shankara with Radha. Radha is extraordinary in that she has been castigated by the village folk, psyched up by propaganda of landlord Narayan Choudhuru. Radha's other facet is her 'tainted' past, her illegitimate child Ratan, and her indomitable spirit to evade the lustful Choudhuri.
Shankar has to offer feast to the entire village, for he has dared to marry this Radha. But such is the irony (reminiscent of Kanhu Charan's "Shasti") that for this, he has to mortgage his land with Choudhury. But this alone does not suffice, for Radha succeeds till the end to escape Choudhuri. But Choudhuri plays his last card by sending his manager to seize Shankar's property in hope against hope that Radha might acquiesce. Radha decides and Shankar consents to leave the village for good. They would borrow money in the city and work hard to pay of the debts and lead a new life there, with new rays of hopes.
Hopes spring eternal. Some compromise like Lakshmi, daughter of Shankar's friend Goura. She loves Madhua, but marries another person, due to societal compulsions. But Radha is hopeful of not giving in. She will struggle to bring hope to life, hers, her Shankar's and their children's. As actors, Arun Nanda, Manimala Debi, Sarat Pujari and Jaya Swami have ably supported the strong theme of the film.
Manmohan Mahapatra's "Agni Beena" is futuristic, radical and speaks volumes of a mass revolution which is waiting. The villagers of Madhupur not only complain and crib and suffer, they also know how to raise their voice to protest or hold aloft the torch of freedom. And they enact just that in front of their village head's bungalow when the sufferings have reached a hilt and they can suffer no more. The silent can no more be suppressed and the voiceless must find a channel to express the anger. Hence the villagers get together to lodge their protest and destroy the trend of exploitation maintained by the village head.
But this, unlike the October Revolution does not bring in the change. This time, in the milieu of an Indian village, the voice is lost and strength is once again suppressed by the ruling class. The village head goes atop the floor of his bungalow and starts shooting at the vulnerable villagers. Once after another fell to the bullets. The revolution, the director conveys, is not dead. Its merely postponed, for in one of the houses of the exploited class of villagers, then, Nata's wife Phoola gives birth to a new born. Hark ! The new born's shrill. This is the sound of the tomorrow's revolution. The warning that times will change and the new-born of today shall be torch-bearers of tomorrow. Victory shall be soon attained by the ones suppressed today by bullets. Phoola has just given birth to a revolutionary.
The famed cameraman of "Mirch Masala" Jahangir Chaudhury has spelled brilliance through his art work. Rabi Patnaik has once again proved his editorial splendour in "Agni Beena".
"Bhinna Samaya" maybe categorised slightly in the line of "Klanta Aparanha" and "Majhi Pahacha" as one filmed in a city backdrop. But this one is unique, so far as Mahapatra's preference is concerned. Entirely filmed in Bhubaneswar, Mahapatra's place of residence, "Bhinna Samaya" is about changing times where values, attitude and pace of life have also changed over the time.
This realization dawns upon Adikanda Babu who has two sons Siddhartha and Abhinaba, daughter-in-law Purnima (Siddhartha's wife) and grandson Ajaya. Siddhartha works as a lecturer in a local college. Abhinaba works with a financial company as an assistant manager and desires to marry his lover Smita. At this juncture, Abhinaba is directed to manipulate his accounts to help an industrialist, an order of his authority which he refuses to carry out. He quits from the job.
He decides to start a business, a venture for which his brother and father cooperates. The business pace fast changes Abhinaba who sacrifices his ideals in life for his own financial security and asks Smita to marry elsewhere.
Amidst all these upheavals, Adikand's words echoes around Abhinaba's conscience : "Son, do not make a simple life complex". And once on his car and way to procure a big construction consignment, Abhinaba aces a road-block. Upon inquiring he finds that a rushing vehicle collided into an accident. Abhinaba asks himself the question, "How far shall I go with this fast pace"?
That the world is a circle and aspiration for fast achievements at the alter of values will only bring one down onto the knees in the square number one, is a big lesson. Abhinaba is no exception to the rule. Like 'how much land does a man need', the question to ponder is how much ambition at what cost, what pace ? Will the changing times offer an answer.
Mohapatra"s next film MUHURUTA Set against the background of a remote village of Orissa, the film portrays a human situation in the context of a particular cultural milieu. The protagonist of the piece, Raghu, earnestly desires his only son, Somu, to take up their traditional occupation of playing the drum beside the village temple, as a service to the presiding deity. But, his wife, Malati dreams of seeing her son as a high official. In trying circumstances, Somu accepts the truth of his tradition, he plays the drum beside the temple. For Raghu it is faith restored and for Somu, in a scence, it was a journey back to his roots.
Manmoha Mahapatra has established himself as one of India's finest filmmakers and won international acclaim for his elven feature films characterised by technical excellence and artistic beauty and noted for their extraordinary originality in both style and substance. Most of his films are based on a thin storyline, comprising a series of moments, which have a cumulative effect on the onlooker, where the characters, the situations, the minor story elements all ensemble into an experience .it is observed that he deliberately underplays the dramatic points of the film, in fact the de-emphasis of drama happens to be an integral part of his cinema. His films rarely use a close- up,its mostly with mid shots and long shots along with elliptical cutting that he creates an ambience which has a distinct style than any other.