Life in the Limelight

The struggles and successes of women in cinema, as told through the stories of the leading ladies, past and present, of the Odia film industry

Published: 27th April 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th April 2015 12:37 AM   |  A+A-

The glitz and glamour associated with the entertainment industry apart, actresses who have made an impact in the past five decades in the Odia film industry feel that charting a career in the world of entertainment has its challenges. All that one needs to do is face them and move ahead to prove oneself. From a time when a few dared to join the industry as actresses to the current scenario where women are queuing up for a chance to make a mark in the industry, times have changed and so have options. It has become an acceptable and respectable profession that needs as much, or possibly even more, dedication compared to other professions, say most actresses.

Over the years, acting as a profession has become lucrative, although there are the risks of working odd hours and having to adhere to unscheduled travel plans. Unlike the early days, when entry to the industry was easy, these days it has become very competitive, with most girls, highly and professionally qualified, taking a plunge into the industry to make it a full-time profession.

lifre 2.JPGEdex spoke to some veterans and present day actresses of the Odia film industry about their journey in tinsel town and how easy or difficult it has been for them to carve a niche.

It was with the entry of veteran actor-director Parbati Ghosh (real name Chapala Nayak) into the industry that the perception of people towards actresses changed. She was the first lady to have come to the industry from what society would consider a respectable family background. People began accepting acting as a career option for women. Parbati starred in the Odia movie Sri Jagannath (1950) as a child actor. Her presence and approach on the sets was much respected. Parbati went on to receive national awards for Stree (1968) and Kaa (1965). A few years later when Mahasweta Roy, who also belonged to a renowned family, became a part of the film industry, it cemented the idea that acting in films was a good career option for ‘respectable’ women.

LIFE 1.JPGVeteran actress Jharana Das, however, has a different story to tell, one of opposition to her choice of career, given the times. In 1965, when she got an offer to work in Mala Janha, her parents were against it. “My father said ‘no’ and reasoned that if I acted in films, no one would agree to marry me,’’ says Jharana. But her brother, who was working with the Indian Navy, supported her and convinced her parents to allow her to act. “My father agreed but he had one condition that I should always be accompanied by someone when I go on shoots”. Jharana received the national award for Mala Janha and commanded a lot of respect because of her work.

Remuneration

Though our society is male dominated, and even today actresses in Bollywood crib about being paid less in comparison to male actors, the story of Odia film actresses seem to be, positively, different. They say women were always paid higher in the industry in Odisha or the difference was negligible.

One of the present day heartthrobs in the industry, Archita Sahu, says, “I fail to understand the reason for any kind of disparity between what an actor gets and what an actress gets. In fact, being an actress, I have to come to the set much earlier than the  male actors,  and spend much more on my security and maintenance. Then why should I get less at the end of the day?’’ she asks.

Actor-director Dolly Jena, who holds a degree from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, entered the industry on her own terms and conditions, as far as the pay package was concerned. “I did not bother about what others were getting; I was told I am paid  higher than most,’’ says Jena, though she reveals that payments were never made on time.

 Jena has been working in Mumbai, making a mark in both national and international projects.

As acting began being considered a career option quite late in the day, most of the actresses entered the industry for the love of acting and not for money, they say. Mahasweta Ray, who ruled the industry for a long time after the success of Sesha Srabana (1976), never actually gave a thought to how much she was paid. “All good movies were at my doorstep and I was paid the highest. So I had nothing to worry about,” she says.

Concerns of Safety

As most of the actors are often escorted by someone from the family, or a friend, and even colleagues from the industry, the sets have always been a safe place to spend the long hours required of the job. After marrying producer-actor Goura Ghosh, Parbati started directing films and learnt cinematography and other production techniques.

“Everyone was so scared of me on the set because I was a lady,” she says defying the perception about women being disrespected. Parbati asserts that, be it in films or any other field, women should have the courage to speak up if they find anything objectionable.

Echoing Parbati’s words, actress Snigdha Mohanty, who has been in the industry for the past three decades, says, “Though there are always a few unscrupulous people, as in any other field, most people on the sets here respect women.The Odia film industry may not be considered at par with industries in Mumbai or the South, but we have a sense of bonding here with each other, which is rare elsewhere.’’

Another actress, Vaishali Mohapatra, says, “Everything is need-based; if you give people scope to take you for granted, you will be exploited.”

Facilities for actresses on sets

Shooting outdoors has its own disadvantages but that has not deterred the actresses from shooting for long hours under the sun or shade. Changing costumes, using toilets and having food outside has not been easy, though. Usually, the team asks for somebody’s house nearby for the actresses to use.

Archita sees things in a positive manner. “It was fun visiting so many people. When I went to someone’s house, they were so happy to see me there. They were on top of the world because there was an actress in their house,” she says, adding that it has always been a pleasure being on the sets, irrespective of whether the location is indoor or outdoor. If outdoors, most of the time the production team arranges for a bus with curtains for actresses to change costumes in.

“During the shooting of Sesha Srabana, I had to change my saree behind a boat close to the river,” reminisces Mahasweta. “We were so involved in the character and had a fantastic team, so we never thought there was something wrong with doing this,” says Mahasweta. However, a leading actress of yesteryears, Tandra Ray, does not mince words when she says, “It’s time we had vanity vans for the ladies to change costumes in and take rest like in other film industries.” Adding professionalism can help the industry grow,” she feels.

How important is education

To raise the standard of work in any field, the basic requirement should be proper education besides professional qualifications. Jharana was the first graduate to enter the industry. People were scared to talk nonsense in front of her because she was qualified and knew how the world worked. Now, things have changed for the better. Most heroines and supporting actresses are qualified. “Education teaches one how to deal with a situation and it is family upbringing that helps us deal with the various kinds of people under one roof,” says Parbati.

Social Acceptance

“Everyone felt proud of my role as Manika in Sesha Srabana,” recollects Mahasweta. “I never had to face any rejection from my family or among relatives. Even today, most actresses feel the same and are proud of what they are doing.”

However, Archita says earlier her friends were always questioning her on how she could romance any person who was brought in as the hero of the film. But all that was a passing phase and it became an accepted norm for people to see actresses working opposite various men on screen, she adds. 

Jharana says things were not easy for her. She had to face some amount of stigma, as people had a bad impression about actresses. But this too changed as people got to interact with her. “When I was invited to a few social functions and asked to speak on the dais, the mentality of people changed,’’ says Jharana, who also had a government job, even as she pursued acting.

There are times when people react adversely, but nothing can take away the effort you put in for something good, says Mahasweta.

As film critic Anupama Chopra rightly said in one of her columns recently, “Bollywood’s leading ladies have started making edgy, eclectic choices even as male superstars stick to safe, flashy entertainers”. The situation in the Odia film industry is no different. It has always respected actresses for their calibre, and the higher number of women-oriented movies being made nowadays are an indication in this direction.

Name, fame and fan-following apart, girls wishing to make a career in acting can now give wings to their dreams. The sky is the limit if you are good at what you do and work hard to reach the pinnacle, say most actresses.

— prachitara@newindianexpress.com

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