Recipient of several national and international awards and titles, Padma Shri Nila Madhab Panda has been globally recognized as one of those filmmakers in India whose films are aimed at bringing about a change in the society. Panda’s filmography largely consists of films that deal with social or environmental issues and with his new film ‘Kalira Atita’, he has aimed at bringing to the fore the story of ‘disappearing villages’ in Odisha owing to climate change.
The film, starring Pitobash Tripathi in the lead role, is one of the three Indian films this year, in contention for the 2020 Best Picture Oscar and is all set to have its world premiere at the 28th Prague International Film Festival, which is the longest-running and the biggest feature film festival. A theatrical release, too, is on the cards. In this exclusive interview, the acclaimed filmmaker talks about the film, what it takes for an independent filmmaker to send his film to the Oscars, what makes the film mandatory viewing for every environmentally conscious person, upcoming projects and more.
You made an entry for ‘Kalira Atita’ to the Oscars General Entry Category. The film was then approved by the Committee and the jury will soon watch it in the Academy Screening Room. What is the process an independent filmmaker needs to follow to send his film for the Oscars?
It is a simple process. Earlier, you had to release and advertise your film in New York and Los Angeles for it to be qualified for the selection process. Now, they have made the process simpler by accepting online entries. There are certain guidelines which you need to follow for your film to be eligible to be viewed in the Academy Screening Room.
You have said that you had to promote the film in a limited manner because of budgetary constraints. Often, it is said that campaigning plays a very important part when it comes to a film going ahead in the Oscar race. Do you think campaigning, at times, become more important than the content itself?
No, content will always remain the most important aspect of a film. If your film does not have good content, even if you spend crores of rupees in campaign it would not really help. We are confident about our film and believe in its potential. That is the reason we felt it should get a certain amount of backing. The PR team is trying to make people aware about the film and its content. One should always paint a real image of the film through the marketing and that is what we are trying to do.
The film is scheduled to have its world premiere at the 28th Prague International Festival.
Yes, the screening is scheduled to happen in April. I am supposed to go there along with the team. It is a prestigious film festival and I felt honoured when they gave got the news that it will be screened there. I am eagerly looking forward to its premiere and see how the audience reacts to it.
You shot the film without a script. Why?
The film was shot using guerilla filmmaking techniques. We had a basic outline of the story but we had not written a proper script or a screenplay. When I decided I was going to make a film on this particular subject, I realized writing a screenplay around it would be quite tricky. We would discuss the ideas on the set every day and shoot the scenes. With this film, everything happened in a very organic manner.
After making seven Hindi feature films, ‘Kalira Atita’ is the first Odia film directed by you. Why did it take so long to make a film in your native language?
I am not somebody who thinks “Now, I will make a film in Odia” or “let me make a Hindi film now”. The language which the film will be made in is decided by the subject we are dealing with or the story we are trying to tell. ‘Kalira Atita’ talks about the events which happened in Odisha, so I thought it would be best if we make it in Odia.
You had stated in an interview that the audience should watch this film not for entertainment but as a duty. Can you elaborate on that?
Not as a filmmaker but as a human being I would say this is a very important film for the world. I am talking about an issue that needs immediate attention. Every individual, who feels they have a responsibility towards the society, should watch this film. A lot of people who watch this film will be shocked to see and realize that is something that could happen to the world we are living in if we do not protect our environment.
Just like ‘Kalira Atita’, most of the films you have made have dealt with social or environmental issues.
Yes, most of my films talk about social issues and right now, there is a strong urge to tell stories related to our environment.
When one sees the trailer, one realizes the protagonist plays a very important role in taking the story forward. What, do you think, Pitobash Tripathy brought to the table as an actor?
It is not easy for an actor to adjust himself to the methods of guerilla filmmaking. Pitobash has worked extremely hard on the film. He faced some health issues while shooting for the film but never complained and gave his best. We had to face rough weather and shoot in some difficult locations. It was not an easy shoot but now when I see the film, I feel it was worth it.
You shot the film near Kendrapada and in an area which was, at one time, surrounded by seven villages.
Yes, all those seven villages have been submerged by the sea. When you visit that area today, you would find it hard to believe that, there was a village and six other adjoining villages there.
The image of a tubewell in the sea, which one sees in the trailer and on the posters, makes an instant impression. It is an image which lingers in one’s mind for a long time.
I saw this particular tubewell for the first time in the year 2006 when I visited the village it was in. It was right in the middle of the village and a large number of villagers would gather there to drink water from. The tubewell is inside the sea now. A lot of people have asked me whether the production designer gave an idea about putting up a tubewell inside the sea. The truth is that it is a real tubewell and we have shown it just the way it is now positioned closer to the sea.
Is there a plan to release the film in theatres?
Yes, we are planning to release it in the first week of April. It will be released with English subtitles. I have always felt that cinema is beyond the boundaries of any language. ‘Kalira Atita’ is an Odia film that will resonate with a global audience.
A while back, you wrapped up the shoot of a feature-length film in Hindi called ‘Vishwa’. What can you tell us about it?
‘Vishwa’ is a children’s film. It is about a blind boy. The film has been shot entirely in Odisha. Sharib Hashmi is playing one of the principal characters in the film. Sharib is a gifted actor and has done a wonderful job in the film. I think it’s one of his best performances so far.