Friday Review

Conscience of Odia Cinema

Govind Tej  

In a career spanning over six decades, he directed just five films. His career as an actor was confined to 12 movies. And he produced only one film.

Yet, he was conferred the coveted Jayadev Samman, the State’s highest honour for contribution to Odia cinema three decades ago. And despite his retirement from film-making 15 years ago, his death last week at the ripe age of 88 was profoundly mourned across Odisha and among the Odias as a great loss to the Odia film industry.

He was Govind Tej, the trend-setter who was being revered as a guardian of the industry and a conscience-keeper as well. Of the five films he directed – Ramayana (1980), Kaveri (1984), School Master (1985), Tunda Baida (1987) and Gare Sindura Dhare Luha 92001); three bagged the State film Awards for best direction – Kaberi, School Master and Tunda Baida. Each of the characters he essayed on the celluloid – in films like Kedar Gouri, Maa, Dharitri, Mana Akasha, Bandhan, Krushna Sudama, Nagaphasa, Bandhu Mohanti, Gouri, Ramayana and School Master – speak volumes of his acting prowess. Looking natural, sans dramatic overtones, was the hallmark of his acting.

“An Odia movie is not one that is merely made in Odia language. And I don’t make films for the sake of making films. Films must be rooted to the culture of the land, it must be healthy entertainment and must reap revenue,” Tej had once remarked. True to his convictions and commitment, most of his films were based on great literary works of Odisha that eloquently reflected the cultural ethos of his homeland. The films he directed and the one he produced gained both artistic and commercial success.

Though a self-made film personality – he had quit his job as an engineer to be in theatre - Tej had a definite vision for the professional growth of Odia film industry. Way back in the 1950s, when he was in his mid-20’s, he teamed up with legendary filmmakers Nitai Palit and Goura Prasad Ghosh to form a public limited company to produce films involving the people.

Later, when he decided to be a producer in 1969 after quitting his secure job, he could convince the bank to fund his project that he paid back in time.

He was one of the brains behind the setting up of the state-owned Kalinga Studios in Odisha’s capital city of Bhubaneswar When the trends in Odia film industry turned to remakes of films from other languages and sensible filmmakers stayed away from the industry, Tej showed them the way for survival with dignity. He made non-feature films on Odisha’s history, heritage, art and culture.

He also made significant contribution to theatre, folk arts and dance traditions of Odisha for which he was honoured with the Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award. Since the age of nine, he started acting as a child artiste in the local amateur theatre groups in his home town of Angul.

His acting talent was honed and the passion for theatre got a big boost when he came to Cuttack, the cultural capital of Odisha, for higher study. Here he came across the stalwarts of the time and got the best of exposure to theatre, cinema, music and dance that made him a complete artiste. His spectacular achievements as a director and promoter of the dance-drama genre of Odisha known as geetinatya is still fondly remembered by arts exponents.

Quite concerned about the future of folk arts and theatre traditions of Odisha, he conducted extensive research into much marginalized shadow puppetry ( Ravana Chhaya) apart from staging the immensely popular Ghumura dance of Kalahandi at the Asiad Games in 1982.

It seems, Tej was destined to serve the culture of his homeland. And he did justice to the destiny’s designs diligently.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 7:58:11 PM |

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