Bored of moonlit romances set in metros? Just when we thought rural love stories are an extinct art form comes M Padmakumar’s Orissa, a heart-wrenching story set against the rugged hinterlands of Odisha. Orissa will be a cinematic experience oozing freshness, says its director who adds, “It explores an unfamiliar tale, culture and landscape.” The storyline is spun around a couple, who are no ordinary lovebirds, but souls caught in a strange predicament.
The film, set in early 80s, takes its cue from the ancient ritual of agnipaurnami through which a girl is initiated into life of a glorified courtesan, also known as devadasi. “Though the girl is dedicated to the residing deity of the temple, there will be a stand-in representative from the ruling class and the girl will end up as his concubine. In the film the story takes place in a village which is under the patronage of a particular zamindar family, whom nobody dares to offend.”
Orissa revolves around Suneyi who belongs to the clan of devadasis. But when her turn comes her mother goes against the whole community refusing to make her daughter another unfortunate nautch girl. “All the hell breaks loose in the village and angered by the irreverence the landlord kills Suneyi’s mother. The villagers can only stand and witness the scene with terrified disbelief. But a school teacher brings up the issue in public and it reaches the national media. The government adopts Suneyi and two police men are assigned for her protection,” he explains the thread. The plot thickens when Suneyi falls in love with Christuraj, the Malayali cop who is also her bodyguard.
While Unni Mukundan and Sanika Nambiar appear on screen as the lead pair, Kaniha and Tanusree Ghosh also play key characters in the film. Sanika, who is well remembered as the cute child artist in Olympian Anthony Adam, makes her debut as lead lady. Kaniha plays Chandrabhaga, Suneyi’s elder sister who is caught in an ever-tightening grip of customs. Bengali artists Nigel Akkara and Sanjeev Chakraborty are also part of the cast.
Padmakumar says Orissa will bring to the screens an unseen landscape, something strikingly different from Kerala. “Greenery is what makes our topography stand apart, but Odisha has more of a dry and parched geography. Then, unlike Kerala, the place doesn’t have a unified culture. The border areas in Odisha close to Bengal and Andhra are influenced by the cultures of the neighbouring states.” Kerala has a huge population of immigrant labourers from the place and the filmmaker says the state still has far-flung interiors where development is yet to make inroads. “In Kerala such primitive customs are part of the folklore, but in many parts of northern states they are still prevalent.”
Orissa, mainly canned in locations near Cuttack, also has its parts shot in Mysore. The film, a musical, has six songs composed by Ratheesh Vega among which two are in Odiya language. The film, made under the banner of Heera Films, hits the screens this weekend.