From growing up in Balidhip, a remote village in Odisha, with scarce resources to carving his identity as a successful entrepreneur and a filmmaker, Akshay Kumar Parija’s journey and success story has served as the inspiration to several young Indians who dare to dream. In this interview, he speaks about his eventful journey, struggles, love for cinema, representing the culture of Odisha globally and a lot more.
You were a banker for a very long time and dabbled in business. What got you interested in films?
I grew up in a remote village in Odisha where we struggled to have access to basic amenities like water and electricity. At that time, the only source of entertainment for us was jatra. Jatras would mostly be conducted in the villages during the summer season. Because of these jatras, I slowly got drawn towards the world of art. I was a voracious reader. Since there was no other source of entertainment, I found comfort in books. I am an accidental filmmaker. As I grew up, I discovered the cinema of filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani and was hugely inspired by it.
Your first film ‘Jianta Bhuta’ (‘The Living Ghost’), which received a Silver Lotus award from then-President honourable Pratibha Patil, was inspired by the kind of events you had experienced or heard about while you were in Cuttack. Do you like to draw inspiration from your experiences while making films?
I feel it is better to express what you have seen than making a film out of events that you do not have any idea about. We see and experience so many things in life. If we manage to put them together on the paper skillfully, we would never run out of stories to tell the world. I wanted to back stories that I thought were important and make an impact on the consciousness of the audience.
Most of your films highlight the culture of Odisha. Has doing that been a conscious decision?
Yes, I have always been proud about the fact that I belong to Odisha and I try to highlight several beautiful things about my state in the films I produce. I have always been a fan of Odissi dance and I felt it was not getting the recognition it truly deserved. So, I produced a film on Odissi dance. The concept of ‘Kadvi Hawa’ is a concept that originated in Odisha. There is a saying in Odia, “Jala bahule srusti nasha, jala bihune srusti nasha”. That one line inspired us to make the film. It was lapped up by global audience and received a lot of appreciation.
Apart from ‘Kadvi Hawa’, you collaborated with Nila Madhab Panda on ‘Halkaa’. How was the experience of working with him?
Nila Madhab Panda is the pride of Odisha and the whole of India. There are three directors in Odisha I hugely admire – Prashant Nanda, Dr. Manmohan Mohapatra and Nila Madhab Panda. I have always said that I am a moon and I get lighted up by the light of these great personalities. I am closely involved in all my productions and get to spend a lot of time with the directors. Having said that, I never interfere in their creative process. Once I ask a director to make a film, I trust his vision completely.
You have collaborated with the famous Bengali filmmaker duo Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee on films like ‘Konttho’ and ‘Gotro’. What made you venture into Bengali Cinema?
One of my motivations behind making films is to learn. I discovered Bengali cinema at a very young age and was hugely fascinated by it. Ritwik Ghatak has been one of my favourite filmmakers. Even contemporary directors who are from Bengal like Shoojit Sircar and Sujoy Ghosh are doing some wonderful work. Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee’s Windows Productions is making commercial films with strong content. Their films remind me of the kind of films made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
Your short film ‘Paika Bidroha’ has become one of the most acclaimed Odia films by winning four state awards and the prestigious Special Jury Award in Mumbai International Festival. the film has seen a lot of accolades coming its way.
Yes, I feel extremely humbled to see the kind of response ‘Paika Bidroha’ has garnered at several film festivals across the country. I feel extremely proud to be associated with the film as its producer. It was not just a project for us. The film was made with the intention of showcasing a landmark event in the history of Odisha.
You live in Dubai. Is it difficult to supervise all the work that happens in your production house in India from there?
I spend half of the year in Dubai and the remaining half in Odisha. The directors that I have worked with have been quite responsible and good with their work. So, I feel relaxed and does not feel like checking with them again and again when I am abroad. I have set up a highly efficient team here which looks after the projects I lend my name to as a producer.
Why do you think there is a dearth of people from Odisha working on a national platform or in an industry like Bollywood?
I have seen a change in that trend in the last couple of years. A lot of people from Odisha are working on national and even international platforms now. There is a lack of good content in Odisha. We need more original voices. The focus should be on creating content. Even if you are doing a remake, you must try to make it better than the original.
You have won two National Awards, more than 25 state awards and 62 international awards. When one looks at your filmography, one realizes you are slightly more inclined towards offbeat cinema. Would you like to make an out-and-out commercial film someday?
Some of our upcoming films are very commercial. Whether it is offbeat or commercial cinema, I want to invest in stories that have a heart and will make the society introspect in a positive way.