Published: 10th May 2021
This Odia film that won the National Film Award is an ode to one of Puri's most unique traditions
Shrikshetra Ru Sahijata is the documentary film we are talking about and the man of the hour is the director Ashutosh Pattnaik who we ask many questions about the film, the process and winning big
Sometimes, it feels like every corner of India has a custom, culture or tradition of its own. And when one rediscovers it via their camera lens in a way that makes us all notice, what else can we do but be awestruck? So when Shrikshetra Ru Sahijata won an award at the 67th National Film Awards in March, that too in the Best Art and Culture Film Award in the non-feature films category, of course we were curious and in awe. The director has built his reputation by applying to festivals with the various short films he makes and upping his game with every submission. This time he won big, for sure.
While the less than 20-minute documentary is not out online for anyone to see yet, Ashutosh is contemplating how he can make it happen
Ashutosh Pattnaik may be an alum of the Biju Pattanaik Film and Television Institute, Cuttack but he is a son of Puri, the coastal temple town of Odisha. He was born there, grew up there and the spirit of it flows in his veins. So it was obvious that one of his first big award-winning films would also be based on his hometown. "Frankly, I didn't even know that such a practice existed," says the 32-year-old. The 'this' he is referring to is sahijatra. As a follow up to Ramnavami, the Hindu festival which is celebrated as the birth anniversary of Ram, but the days leading to the festival is a frenzy of preparation. You see, Ramleelas are presented and they require a lot of prep work. And what's special is that the seven families of the Puri temple, those designated to serve and protect it since time immemorial, present their own chapter from the Ramayana in a way that's unique to them.
Still from the film | (Pic: Ashutosh Pattnaik)
So when Ramnavami came around again in the year 2018, Ashutosh thought to himself, 'Why not capture it all for the world to see the behind the scenes instead of just the finale?'.
So that's what he did and that's how Shrikshetra Ru Sahijata was made. "What makes each performance different is the dialogue delivery, the traditional paintings like pattachitra and all the temple rituals that are specific to that family or community," explains the director. So he called four of his friends who would help with the shooting and began the work in February-March 2018. At the end of the month, they have 4TB of rushes to edit.
Winners on stage | (Pic: Ashutosh Pattnaik)
The material, which also involved several interviews, was sensitive because it involved religion. So they had to be very careful when it came to the editing, check and cross-check the facts to th hilt. But when the time came for the documentary to do the rounds of festivals, it was clear that it was all worth it. Jury mention at the Noida International Film Festival; finals of the Pratibimb, the short film and documentary festival; selected for the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival and the list goes on.
Previously he has made films like The Butterfly about child discrimination and Tara Can about staying motivated
"When I look back at the documentary, I still wonder how even after spending 30 years in Puri, I did not know about this. Which led me to think about the preservation of art and culture. Puri a treasure trove of unexplored stories. And I hope to dedicate at least 70% of my work to this city," he says passionately.
Here's what you should know about National Film Awards:
- Established in 1954 and the winners are selected by a panel appointed by the government
- The awards are given away by the President of India in New Delhi
- This is followed by the National Film Festival where the awarded films are screened
- Indian directors, produced in India, certified by the CBFC and so on are some of the criteria