BHUBANESWAR: In a career spanning 43 years, Manmohan Mahapatra remained an unstoppable force of realistic cinema in Odisha of which he was the harbinger himself.
A year after stepping out of the celebrated Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune in 1975, he made his first film ‘Seeta Rati,’ a film centering around a young woman in Odisha’s village setting, steeped in the class-structure.
Five years later, 'Seeta Rati' was released on television and went on to fetch Mahapatra National Award for the Best Feature Film in Odia. It became the first Odia film to be selected for the prestigious ‘Indian Panorama’ section of the International Film Festival of India, New Delhi.
Mahapatra who went on to pioneer neo-realistic films was soon to become the ‘father of new wave Odia cinema’. His grip on the lives of working class and poor, feudal structure, orthodox society and corruption was unparalleled.
While 'Neeraba Jhada' was a narration of the looming tragedy of an uprooted rural community, 'Nishidhdha Swapna' dealt with a family redefining life in the context of a social change. ‘Kichhi Smruti Kichhi Anubhuti’ was depiction of the past, present and future of the psyche of a representative village.
As a film-maker, his single-point agenda was to come up with cinema that was socially relevant and he was uncompromising in his mission despite having to work with shoe-string budgets. That he was the only Odia filmmaker and writer who consecutively won eight National Awards in Best Feature Film in Odia category was only a tribute to his craft and genius. Apart from ‘Seeta Rati,’ the others were ‘Neeraba Jhada’, ‘Klanta Aparahna’, ‘Majhi Pahacha’, ‘Nishidhdha Swapna’, ‘Kichhi Smruti Kichhi Anubhuti’, ‘Andha Diganta’ and ‘Bhinna Samaya’.
His last film ‘Bhija Matira Swarga’ had his class written all over it and got him the Award for Best Director besides awards in five more categories including Best Film at the 30th Odisha State Film Award last year.
Mahapatra remained unwavering in his mission as commercialism failed to touch him. People who have worked closely with Mahapatra would describe how he strongly believed in ethical film-making and always walked the talk.
Mahapatra has 12 films to his credit including one in Hindi 'Bits and Pieces' starring Nandita Das, Rahul Bose, and Dia Mirza. He also directed three short films 'Konark: The Sun Temple', 'Voices of Silence', and 'Anti-Memories'.
Apart from films, Mahapatra had directed a few classics for Odia television based on Odia literature. As the news of his demise at the age of 69 spread on a cold winter afternoon on Monday, a pall of gloom fell. Young and aspiring film-makers who had the opportunity to pick his brains mourned the loss of a ‘guru.”
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, members of the film fraternity in Odisha and outside deeply condoled his death. “Contribution of Manmohan Mahapatra to regional cinema is immense”, Naveen tweeted.
Filmmaker Sabyasachi Mohapatra described the day as black day for Odia cinema. "Manmohanji was a rare filmmaker who had the capacity to observe and bring out stories from simple, daily lives of people. As far as modern cinema is concerned, he had started a trend on making films that spoke about society, corruption and youth," he said. A Physics student, Mahapatra studied in BJB College before he went to Pune. His last rites will be performed in Swargadwara, Puri.
Cremation with State honours today
The mortal remains of Manmohan Mahapatra will be consigned to flames at Swargadwar in Puri with full State honours on Tuesday.