Bijaya Mohanty has been the most identifiable film personality in Orissa’s collective psyche. He has played diverse roles in more than 180 films he has acted in Oriya, Bengali, Hindi and Telegu.
Three films where ha has acted, have bagged the prestigious National Awards. Personally he has won State Film Awards seven times and a National Award for contribution to art and literature. This year marks the 25th year of this thespian’s uninterrupted run on home turf.
BIJAYA MOHANTY takes time out to converse with SASWAT PATTANAYAK about his life and times.
This successful life of a Star has been a result of an inspiration, a series planned efforts or mere circumstantial decisions?
I have never planned out a life. When I stepped on the stage to play a drama character role during Class X, it was a spontaneous decision. From Class X till BA classes, I had acted in several plays. Incidentally, Baripada, those days used to encourage whoever wanting to exhibit talent.
And when I joined National School of Drama, the credit goes to Prasanna Mohanty, a senior from National School of Drama who saw me on stages, appreciated my talent and wanted me at NSD.
So I think, I have neither sought inspirations, nor have I made any calculated moves. Environment has been the driving force.
How did you stumble upon Ollywood? Was Ollywood a necessary follow-up after NSD?
Like everything else, Ollywood merely ‘happened’ to me. At NSD, my classmates Nasseruddin, Raj Babbar, Om Puri etc turned for Bollywood and urged me to accompany. I said, as an Oriya I would come back to Orissa, rather Baripada, since, now let me confess, I had not stepped out of Baripada till I had left for NSD!
In 1975, I left Delhi, where I had cultivated considerable amount of experiences in theatres, thanks to NSD’s specialisation offer those days.
Back home, I was directing many plays and also conducted a short term theatre training course for Orissa Government.
But when disillusionment about career prospects made me restless here and I was about to leave Orissa for good, something better happened. At the bus stand itself, a telegram arrived for me which said, “Come for shooting: Babu Bhai”. I had not seen either the venue for shooting, Ranihat, Cuttack or this Babu Bhai, who I found out was Dr Basant Mohapatra.He had heard about me having passed from NSD and wanted me to act as the protagonist in his production “Sankalpa”, which was directed by Prafulla Mohanty. After 12 days, its shooting ended abruptly.
Then I came to Bhubaneswar and met the then Sangeet Natak Akademy secretary Manoranjan Das, whose dramas I had directed earlier. He asked me whether to become the first teacher in the drama department that the institute was going to open shortly. I was as undecided as he was adamant to have me there. I gave in to a satisfying teaching profession.
How did the first film come your way?
This also happened incidentally. Lyricist Satyabrata Das felt it apt to inform me that director Biplab Rai Choudhury was waiting for me at Chilika along with the entire crew. I rushed there to be welcomed into the team of “Chilika Tire”, which also bagged National Award later.
Has the actor in you ever got satisfied with life?
Not entirely. The moment I would feel contented, there would not be scopes for improvements. Water has value only for the thirsty. The good news is I always maintain a drive to attain higher satisfaction.
Is lack of originality an overriding influence on Oriya filmmaking?
I advocate the fantastical aspect of movies that do not necessarily touch reality. After all, we were all great fans of grandmother’s tale, and her tales were neither original nor had a touch with reality. So why should not audience want to experience dreams and enjoy an illusory world inside the cinema halls too.
Yes, mental lethargy has set in here in Orissa among filmmakers. Innovations are rare and original stories are rarer still.
Why has the recent Oriya music scenario not made a worthwhile mark?
Budding talents are here, but they do not quite go out of their way to learn their trade well enough, before jumping into the fray. So what results is a half-baked produce.
Secondly, we have achieved classical status only for the Odissi dance, not even Odissi music, which in other words means, culture-rich Orissa does not have a classical music to its credit.
Thirdly, I am personally against the Mumabi singers being entertained by producers here in order to flaunt big names. Only today, one Oriya event manager was boasting how he has struck a bargain with a Mumbai singer, who would be paid Rs 12 lakh only for coming to Orissa, six lakh less than the quoted fee. And all of us know, we refuse a mere Rs 5,000 to our homegrown talented singers.
So, what is the biggest single folly Ollywood commits repeatedly?
I think the comparison that our audience and filmmakers make with Bollywood, is the biggest foolhardiness we can display. Facts are that we make extremely low budget movies according to our economic capabilities and so, our technical manifestations on big screen is nowhere with Bollywood. Second, our target audience is different. We have to cater to all segments of public, our loyal rural fans and the unique culture prevailing in Orissa. Once, we realise these small dynamics, I think, comparisons would end.
Do you think films should guide the popular conscience or is it the other way round?
I think a wise amalgamation of both is required in order that a striking balance is done. And this is pertinent for Oriya filmmakers who most of the time, try to impose only what they feel is good or bad, without taking the popular opinions into consideration.
Being the ex-principal of the largest institute of its sorts in Asia and now a reader, do you think, institutionalised education is a pre-requisite for one to become a good artist?
I think, formal education is required, unless of course, if you have a tradition of artists in your family. Talent should be reinforced through formal education. However, no institution makes anyone an artist. It only paves the way for an artist.
What do you think is the greatest achievement for an artist?
Ans: I think, the fulfilment of a purpose with which an artist begins his/her career is the achievement in his/her life. It can be making money, being popular, being recognised or winning awards.
What message you would give to young aspirants?
I would say there is scope for getting discouraged in film industry. But there is even bigger scope for creating one’s own identity, which requires tremendous dedication and sacrifice. Prepare yourself thoroughly well to take on the world and I am sure, Time, will do the rest.
Interview also published in Hindustan Times