(earlier published in the Hindustan Times)
Let's go down beyond the memory lane to see what was it like when Oriya cinema started in 1936?
Sita Bibaha, first Oriya dream in celluloid
It would be cherished more than just for the sake of nostalgia. It’s history would be food for thought for the connoisseurs of cinema for more reasons than just the fact that it was the first ever made cinema in Oriya.
“Sita Bibaha” was the saga of relentless struggle for a manifestation of Oriya identity in celluloid form. It is a trenchant reminder that Oriya film industry culminated from a undying determination of dreamers on their path to materialise, facing odds, at home and from outside.
It was the year of Oriya resurgence. 1936 was marked by a formation of a new entity of a nation in its political outlook. Culture could only follow suit. And even six days before the historic April 1, the first prints for the 12-reeled “Saita Bibaha” was already produced.
Puri’s ‘Lakshmi Talkies’ first released the cinema which would subsequently be screened as a ‘touring picture’ (one whose reels travel places to be screened from inside tents at places having no cinema halls). Entire charges for the production of the cinema (and the screening charge of Rs 175 per week) was borne by Mohan Sundar.
Mohan Sundar as the producer then had to seek loan to pay all the artistes. According to the vouchers signed by the artists, Makhanlal (Ram) had received Rs 120 on October 30, 1935. Adaita Ballabha Mohanty (Laxman) was paid just Rs 35 as conveyance fee. And incidentally, the actress Miss Prabhabati (Sita) received the highest among the lot, Rs 150.
The total expenditure incurred to make the first ever commercial movie in the history of Orissa was Rs 29,781 and 10 anna. The picture was subjected to Bengal Board of Film Certificate and the police commissioner of Lal Bazaar awarded it the censor certificate.
Nobody would claim the movie to be a flawless venture. But the very fact that it was first such adventure in the last sixty-five years of Oriya cinema suffices it to be termed commendable.
While congratulating the efforts in concretely producing a cap that would adorn many feathers later, the cinema critic of the day, Mr Atanu for “Utkal Deepika” (in its May 1, 1936 edition) minced no words in coming on heavily on the flaws of the film. Pronouncing the acting talents of Mohan Gosein (in role of Biswamitra) as “Cadaverous”, he went a step further to criticise the choice of Miss Prava as Sita (because his personal preference was Miss Chandraprabha who had enacted the role of Sita’s ‘sakhi’).
However the “flawless” performance of Narasingha Nandasharma as the boatman as well as Makhanlal Banerjee as Sri Ram were well received. The fourteen songs encapsulated in the movie amidst mythological interpretations were written collectively by Mohan Sundar and Nandasharma.
What sets apart this cinema even when it is compared to this date, is the fact that all singers for the movie were from Orissa and Mohan Sundar knew his job well to maintain traditional music of the land in the cinema.
The settings of the songs and dances were carefully chosen. Rishi Biswamitra arrives at the court of King Dasaratha to seek help of Ram and Laxman to combat the Asuras. A group song envelopes the durbar. Both the princes follow Biswamitra to an Ashram where a jagnya is underway. Tadaka and Subahu who then arrive to disrupt have to face the wrath of Ram. Tadaka dies while Subahu flees. A contented Biswamitra then welcomes the brother duo to Rishi Goutam’s Ashram. A major welcome song is then played in the cinema: “Ei je Ashrama Dekhuchha Sr Ram, Ei je banabaasa.”
Post welcome, another song is sung in praise of Ram, “Debanka Tarane, Danuja Marane.” Among other songs in the film are “Apurba Kumari Tripura Sundari” as an ode to Janaki’s beauty. Miss Prava in role of Sita, likewise, sings “Kali dekhithili madhura chaliki” which is jovially joined in by Sita’s Sakhis who sing “Kahniki go priya sakhi?”
It was the arrival of the first complete Oriya film. And it was a commercial success too. If popularity is any yardstick of any film’s success, it was a runaway hit. The two-hour long movie was released in Lakshmi Theatre, Puri and subsequently at Cinema Palace in Cuttack. It was drawing numerous crowd at several touring assignments like the ones conducted by “Radhakishen Chamelia Touring Cinema”. Not everyone could get a chance to watch the cinema in want of space for the first few days, as quoted by veteran Oriya filmmaker Gopal Ghosh to chronicler Sarat Chandra.
TABLE of available Data:
Film: Sita Bibaha
Date of Release: 1936
Production House: Kali Films (founded 1931)
Producer: Mohan Sundar Deb Goswami (1892-1948)
Story Writer: Kamapala Mishra
Cameraman: Nani Sanyal
Duration of Shooting: One month
Total Expenditure: Rs 30,000 (approx.)