There are hardly any clichés of a typical commercial film in Meemansa (The Judgement) as veteran film maker Chakradhar Sahu has tried to maintain the balance between art house and commercial cinema in his latest release. Based on a true incident, the film has attempted to merge itself into the mainstream without losing its realistic streak through intense story telling.
Chakradhar, who has focused on portraying strong female characters in his films, speaks to MCL about his experiments of making such a film despite the current unrest around casting couch and why there is still a long way to go before women-oriented cinema cracks the glass ceiling in Ollywood. Excerpts.
How did the subject for this project come about?
The subject for this film came from a book that I was reading once, on my way back from Balasore. That was a play and happened to be the first story of that book. The very first time I read the story I had decided to make a film on it. It was intense and touching while reflecting the richness of Odia literature. Anybody reading it would be overwhelmed. So making a movie on it would definitely appeal a larger audience.
I started searching for the original author of the story. When I found him, I approached him for the rights to make a film on it. And he gladly agreed considering my efforts in finding him. But the bigger challenge remained in finding the right producer for this kind of a subject.
Thus, I approached Soumya Ranjan Patnaik to finance the film. Fortunately he too agreed to take up the project. Unlike most other producers, his non-interference in the creative process of making the film was what motivated me to work towards making the film even better.
Tell us a little about the story and what drew you strongly to turn it into a film?
The story is based on the lives of the fishing communities thriving in the coastal belts of Odisha. The members of this community display immense grit and courage in their way of life. The male members of this community take to the sea everyday for their livelihood even when they are well aware that they may or may not come back alive from the sea.
My film depicts the life of Padma who has lost her fisherman husband and how she tries to protect her loyalty to her departed husband (Ananta) while fighting against the cunning elements in the family and society. However, when she is about to surrender to the societal pressure and exploitation, her husband returns. This brings about the turning point in the film.
The factor that strongly inspired me to make this film was it was not only based on a true incident that needed to be told; the story and its characters carried a good deal of emotional value. The character of the protagonist is very strong. The audience, I am sure, will be able to relate with the characters and the emotions displayed by them.
What kind of preparation did you have to go through before making the film?
Meemansa is a low budget movie as is the case with most realistic films. In this scenario, I had to ensure quality while making the film for which I approached few of my technician friends. They all agreed to work on a lesser budget compared to what they generally charge. Finally, I could manage to make a low budget film with high technical standards.
The film’s cast does not boast of any big names. Was that a conscious decision?
Yes, the film does not have any star actor in it. All the actors including Lipi who played the protagonist in the film have done significant work before this movie, but are not famous. When I decided on the cast, I was very confident about the acting skills of the actors I had chosen for the film.
In an industry where actresses are viewed as glam dolls, your films have mostly been women oriented. Do you consciously drift towards female-centric subjects?
I have always respected women and believe that they are stronger than men in most of the ways. From managing a house to child rearing and nurturing entire families or going to work, women can accomplish much more than we realise. But the society fails to give them the status they deserve. This idea also reflects in the kind of movies I have made. Be it ‘Nila Mastrani’ or ‘Tumaku Ta Paruni Bhuli’, ‘Kebe Tame Naha Kebe Mun Nahi’ or ‘Meemansa’, all have female- dominated characters in the lead.
While it appears to be a good time for women-centric films in Bollywood, why is it such a rarity in our industry?
It has always been difficult to sell the idea of women oriented films to the Indian entertainment market. Women dominated films doing well is a recent phenomenon in Bollywood with more number of film makers from the younger generation taking up the responsibility. However, in Odisha, directors or producers will not attempt to make such films as they still dwell on the idea that there are no takers of women centric films. This attitude trickles down to distributors and the audience too.
What factor can help encourage such a trend?
Only making a good film isn’t enough. Promoting the film is important. With reluctance among actors and distributors to take up such movies, a powerful financer is the key to the problem at the moment. Luckily for me, Soumya Patnaik helped me promote this film in a big way.
Also if more women appreciate original intellectual content and start thronging the theatres, we may see a change in trend.
Do you think the success of a ‘Krantidhara’ or a ‘Meemansa’ could bring consistency to this trend?
I don’t think so. We have been repeatedly producing terribly aped remakes rather than doing one quality original film. Our mindsets have become set in formula and we hesitate to experiment.
Meemansa not only portrays the love and strength of a woman, but also reflects the prevailing oppression women face in our society. Do you think this film will lend a voice to this socio-political issue and send across a message to the society?
Society and politics can always be influenced and changed with the help of art. Cinema of all mediums of artistic expression can invoke the best reaction among people. A good story and well made film will never fail to leave its audience thoughtful. So, I think my film will at least create awareness towards the plight of women who are oppressed in our society. However, we want to send across the message that women are strong and should not surrender to exploitation.
The Odia cine industry is probably going through an unfavourable phase surrounded with the casting couch controversy. Was this a good time to release your film?
This was the best time to release this film. It has original content adapted from Odia literature. It also has all the commercial elements to make it a mainstream film in spite of its realistic story telling. This film will change the negative perspective that people hold towards our industry and reinstate their faith that good films are still being made.