Published: 24th July 2019
Here's why you should check out this National award-winning director's latest film on Lord Jagannath and Odia culture
A took a good two years to make the film The Lord of the Universe. They were researching at all times like before, during and after the shoot was concluded
It's not every day that one gets to talk to a National award-winning film director. So when we got a chance to talk to Shibu Prusty, the director who won the National award in the category of Best Arts and Cultural film in 64th National Film Award, 2017, we milked it and how. Born in 1981, Prusty worked with the best in the business. He was the Associate Director of Photography for Aamir Khan Productions' popular TV show Satyamev Jayate, Crime Patrol and more. But it is this 55 minute-long documentary The Lord of the Universe that catapulted him into success.
This film is about Lord Jagannath, who is considered a form of Lord Vishnu. The culture, tradition and rituals surrounding the Lord are embedded in the culture of Odisha so deeply that it is almost impossible to distinguish the two. Prusty explores Nabakalebara through the film. For the uninitiated, as the idols of Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are made of wood, which decays over a long period of time, the custom of carving new deities is called Nabakalebara. "According to the Indian lunar calendar, when an intercalary month is added in the month of Ashadha only then does Nabakalebara happen. So it's very rare and unique. This film is about a grand celebration of Nabakalebara and the philosophy behind the rituals," says the director. Excerpts from an insightful interview:
World, hold on: A still from the movie | (Pic: Shibu Prusty)
How long did it take to make The Lord of the Universe and when did you start working on it? Tell us a little about the film as well.
The whole film, from the research to the final output, took around two years to complete. The whole process was a grand experience for me. It was very tough as I had no sponsor or financer for this film, I spent savings of 14 years in this film. The research work took about six months, then I shot for around 100 days. Shooting rushes took around 150 hours. Then post-production, editing, background music, colour grading, sound mixing and so on took a year.
Why a topic like Nabakalebara? Tell us some of the adventures that you went through during shooting for the movie for two years?
This vast subject itself was a challenge. Since my childhood, I was fascinated with the concept of birth and death, even in my student life I made a photo feature titled Finite within the Infinite which was based on human life. So, when I realised that this universal play of death and rebirth reflects in our own culture of Lord Jagannath, I was delighted. I thought the whole world should know about it and as a proud Odia, I took the responsibility and with the blessing of the Lord himself, I started my work. It was only later that I realised that an unseen force drove me to make it happen.
The film has travelled to film festivals, but is not available on any online mediums for the public to watch. "I am also looking for a proper channel to release. If anyone is interested to distribute this film, they are always welcome," he says
How much research went into making the film? You were involved in all aspects, including writing, producing, cinematography and direction so which role was the hardest for you to play and why?
The research went on throughout the making of the movie, during the pre-production, at the time of shooting, even after the shooting was done and at the time of narration writing and editing as well. For me, fiction is the illusion of reality, but documentary is the interpretation of reality. During the process of making, lots of responsibility was on me, because I was making a film on a very rich and old culture, which is beyond history and different people have different views. So I verified my script with experts and involved people who know the culture in detail. Even I took feedback from different people and re-edited the film many times. I would say the scriptwriting part was very tough for me.
How did you shoot the film with a limited crew? Who supported you during the making?
At the time of the shoot, mostly I used two cameras, sometimes I used four cameras like during the chariot festival and so on. I had a very limited crew, Birendra and Rudrakant were there throughout and whenever I needed more operative cameramen, Rajesh, Ashutosh and Akshya stepped in. It was very challenging to shoot within the huge crowd. The most difficult part was travelling with the crowd, you can’t drive a car in the crowd so we used bikes to travel and walked miles in the hot summer in the month of May and braved the rain in July. Since cameras are not allowed inside the temple, it was even more difficult to convey the idea. The best part of this film is the sand art animation, which was done by an international sand artist Sudam Pradhan. The awesome background music, which adds the Odissi flavor to it, was done by Sudhir Pal. The most support I got was from Sudarshan Prasad Nayak (lecturer of Cinematography) who gave the right resources at the right time.
In the making: The director engrossed in work | (Pic: Shibu Prusty)
Tell us a little about your childhood and about your career path? Did you get into filmmaking by chance?
My visual sense developed from my childhood by looking at my father's paintings. So painting became my hobby, later, while studying Marine Engineering, I developed an interest in filmmaking and choose Cinematography as my career after studying in Biju Patnaik Film and Television Institute, Cuttack. So I am a blend of art and technology like cinema itself is. I am blessed to have SK Sahu as my guru as it is because of him I learned filmmaking with so much passion and learned how to deal with complex things in a simple way. After three years of studying (2000-2003) Cinematography, I began my career in the Mumbai film industry with Rajlaxmi Film Production. Then, I worked in different production houses like Talesmith, The Square Peg Films and so on. It was only a matter of time before I found myself making a film on a unique culture which relates to the universal truth. The concept itself drove me to make my directorial debut film The Lord of the Universe.
Share your opinion about the state of the Odia film industry and what does it desperately need right now?
I would say Odisha is very rich in literature, art and culture, so Odia films are also enriched when it comes to content. It will be more authentic if we involve our own culture and own original subjects into it. Our state desperately needs more good quality cinema halls all over so that the audience will be interested to actually go to the cinema hall.
He also received two silver lotuses from the President of India, "which paid off for the entire struggle during the making this film. I am always thankful to those who supported me to make this film happen," he says
You have also made movies like The Motherland, tell us how you choose the topics that you take up in your film?
I think I am not a regular filmmaker who makes films as a business. I make films with passion. When I find something which is interesting, the subject itself has relevance to society and if I feel that people should know about it, then I go forward to make the film on it. For me, the subject and what we want to communicate to the society is most important.
The Motherland is a social issue-based film that talks about the huge land acquisition that goes on for industrialisation and tries to find a solution towards inclusive development. The whole film is being narrated from the perspective of a social thinker Mayadhar Nayak, who has worked on this issue for more than five decades and gave the theory Land to let.
What is your next project or what are you working on currently?
I am working on a subject which is a fiction and on intolerance to love. My life will be meaningful if I can make some good films on good causes for the society.
Quick three questions with the director:
- Favorite Odia film: Mala Janha by Nitai Palit
- Favorite Odia director and why?: AK Bir because his films are simple to understand and has a cinematic depth.
- A song that is your current favorite: Songs by Akshaya Mohanty like Jajabara Mana Mora