The Odia audience loves a hearty laugh. Although comedy as a genre in Odia films took a while to emerge, the appetite for good humour has only grown. Comedians are no more playing the sidekicks; now they command a place and some of them, like Pappu Pom Pom, are giving the lead actors a run for their money in Ollywood.
In 1970s and ’80s, the focus was invariably on mythology, melodrama and stunts; comedians were for comic relief. But such is their demand today that in a number of films, even the heroes are trying their hands at raising a few laughs.
Although the emphasis is still on lead actors, there are comedians who have emerged as centrepieces of the plot. Prominent among them are Jairam Samal aka Jayee, Harihar Mohaptra alias Hari and Tatwaprakash Satapathy who is now a household name as Pappu Pom Pom. The three are probably the only comedians in Ollywood who can hold their own against superstars such as Bijay Mohanty, Uttam Mohanty, Siddhant Mohapatra and Anubhav Mohanty and new stars such as Akash Dasnayak, Babushan and Sabhyasachi.
Pappu’s last release Rangila Toka is a pointer to the fact. The film, industry’s first-of-its-kind full-fledged comedy, is running houseful for the third consecutive week and Pappu himself is playing the lead role for the first time. His TV shows are run-away hits and with him playing a lead, he is emerging as a rage.
“Vidya Balan’s character Silk in The Dirty Picture said films run on entertainment, entertainment and entertainment. In case of Ollywood, the three entertainment factors are story, song/dance and comedy. If you take comedy out of the film, you are killing a third potential of the film’s chances of being a hit,” says veteran filmmaker Prashant Nanda. Remember Jayee in Jajabara or Hari as Chudamani Sandha in Ashok Pati’s Dosti or the quirky Pappu in Balunga Toka? With each movie, these great comedians have made a mark which is at par with lead actors. “In many of the eminently forgettable Odia films, there has been a slice of life and humour that has managed to bring the audience back,” says Nanda.
In a career spanning nearly five decades, Jayee has acted in over 300 Odia films. “I have done over 300 roles as a comedian. They are more or less similar, but the audience loved them. Films with good story and screenplay coupled with comedy will always withstand the test of changing times,” says Jayee.
While Jayee ruled the comedy scene from the ’70s, another hit comedian duo that made its presence felt was Nari and Shymalendu. The two were launched by Byomakesh Tripathy in Mamata in 1975, the same year when Jayee began his career. Prior to them, comic relief was provided by ace comedians like Dinabandhu Das, Sarat Mohanty and Sagar Das.
In the ’90s, its mantle was passed on to Hari. “Of late, even as Jayee and Hari continue to keep audience in splits, Pappu has emerged as a star of comedy,” says Nanda.
Pappu says one can make a film without comedians but not without comedy. “My previous film, Balunga Toka, in which I had a meaty role alongside Anubhav, was a super hit. I had also worked on the script. My work was lauded by many, which gave me confidence to take the risk of becoming the first comedian in a lead role. In the first two weeks, Rangila Toka has done a business of `2 crore,” says Pappu. In the film, he plays the role of Shibu, a roadside romeo and a tout.
Like Pappu, Hari too is coming up with a comedy flick where he plays the lead. While the film’s title has not been finalised yet, scripting has been completed. Hari has written the story and Ramachandra Pradhan is producing it. “We will start shooting in September,” says Hari says. Surely, the golden age of comedy is here to stay.