Category Archives: Odisha & Odia

Odia Film Music – A Very Short Introduction

Review of Jhuramana Jharageeti by Surya Deo The first Odia movie, Sita Bibaha, was made just five years after the first Indian talkie, Alam Ara was released, though the real journey of Odia cinema began a decade and a half later when the second Odia film Lalita was released in 1949, followed by more movies in 1950, 1951 and so on. In all these years, songs have been an integral part of Odia cinema, as they have been in Hindi and other regional cinemas. From the ras leela songs of Sita Bibaha to the traditional bhajans in Sri Jagannatha:  from the khorata-type song in Nuabou to the experimentations of Akshaya Mohanty in Malajanha; from the Rafi-Lata songs in Arundhati to the experimentations of Prafulla Kar in turning traditional Odissi tunes to modern beats, the journey of Odia film song has been an interesting and eventful one.

But there has been almost no account of that interesting journey.

The first book on the journey of Odia cine song informs, educates and entertains

Jhuramana Jharageeti, written by noted film journalist and writer Surya Deo, is that monumental work which attempts to chronicle this great journey.

It is monumental, not in the sense that it is voluminous or gigantic—in fact, it is less than 100 pages, just about 6 x 6” in size. It is not monumental only because it is the first attempt in the area. It is monumental because it is complete. In less than 100 pages, which also include so many rare pictures, it tells us the complete story of Odia film song till 1990, in just the right detail.

You get to know when each of important personalities associated with Odia film songs—singers, composers and lyricists—made their debut. You get to know what kind of experimentation was attempted by which the composer in what movie. You get to know—if you are not already aware—which songs achieved what kind of popularity. And you get all this, even as there is no break in the linearity of description—the book’s narration is completely chronological. You do not miss a movie, especially of the early days.

The author resorts to a clever presentation format to ensure that while enough interesting anecdotes are served to the reader, the main narrative does not become too large and too distracting. He achieves this by keeping all the anecdotal information to separate sidebars, mostly presented in the voice of the individuals associated with particular songs and movies. So, you get to know how Pranab Patnaik resorted to Saigal Saab’s style in bedana sagara tire or how the song baridare tu jana was rerecorded in the voice of Sikander Alam, as some thought the accent of Tarun Banerjee didn’t sound Odia enough or how Rafi Saab generously sang two songs for the fees of one, “cheating” his own secretary.

The only jarring note in the entire book is its subtitle: Ardha Shatabdira Odia Cine Geetira Tarjama or Analysis of the Odia cine songs of the (last) half century.

Tarjama? Analysis? Does the book even get into what, in musicological terms, would be called an analysis of a genre or even specific songs?

An analysis of a musical genre (Odia cine song in this case) would typically do one or more of the following: find and/or examine trends; raise questions and possibly answer them. For example: Where and why did Odissi and other traditional music disconnect from Odia cinema? Why is it that some songs (like this one from Arundhati) are never listed anywhere? Or what explains the dominance of non-Odia female singers in the 60s even though most of the male voices belonged to Odias—and this despite hits such as jaa re manadoli udi jaa? What was the relationship between Odia light music and film music and how they evolved together? Or who were the musicians/men behind orchestration and what was their background (In Bollywood, this is probably the most researched aspect, especially by foreign researchers)? What was the impact of regional music of different parts of Odisha on Odia cine song?

The book does not get into all these questions, I believe, because it never intended to do that. It does beautifully what it aims to do—to inform, educate and entertain the general reader about Odia film music.

When I read it, without noticing the subtitle, I did not find that the book fails anywhere in what it attempts to do. The size, the style of narration, the language, the amount of detailing, and the anecdotes in the language of the individuals associated with Odia film music—all contribute to making of a great narrative. Though the author’s deep insights into the subject (and the research behind it) pop out sometimes, he ensures that it does not affect the readability; in fact, he plays those beautifully at places to make the narrative only richer and more engaging. The added incentive: the lyrical flow of language which, at no stage, allows you to get overwhelmed by the abundance of information—and proper nouns!

Except for  this small gap I mentioned above—in the subtitle which is somewhat misleading—the entire content is flawless. The book is a great addition to Odia non-fiction in general and film literature in particular and is a must read for anyone even remotely interested in Odia films or Odia music.

Before this, I have read four books on Odia cinema; three on the history of Odia cinema, and one a collection of essays on topics in Odia cinema—including its music—by Surya Deo himself. While one of the books—Odia Chalachitrara Agyanata Adhyaya—is full with lots of valuable information and is a great resource book for those studying the subject, only Deo’s book—Odia Cinema: Rupa Rupantara—would classify as a narrative non-fiction, a book that is engaging and would interest anyone who just loves to read.

The scope of Jhuramana… does not allow him to get deeper into any one single aspect, like in Rupa Rupantara, but what he manages to do is extraordinary. The book is unputdownable; I completed it in one and half hours of opening the parcel.  I had ordered it online through Odikart, an Odisha-based e-tailer, in July and have followed at least half a dozen of times before it arrived a couple of days back.

It was worth the wait.

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Filed under Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia

Odia Travel Literature: A Few Basic Facts

From my childhood, I have always been fascinated by travel literature. So, when a few of us decided to create a list of must-read Odia books across genres, I insisted and ensured that we include travel literature as a separate genre.  That was the easier part. When we actually started, I did not have any name beyond Dura Durantara by Manoj Das, and Deshe Deshe by Barrister Gobind Das to add—to the list of the must-read books. Many wondered if there would be even be 50 travel books in Odia!

That is how the idea of compiling a list of such books started. Having read a couple of dozens of such books myself, I was more than sure that the list would be much longer. I approached noted writer, educationist and scholar Dr Subhendu Mund, with whom I had some interaction on email earlier, to seek his advice and guidance. He confirmed that there are indeed hundreds of such books and encouraged me to go ahead in creating the list.

Once I started, I realized that to make it really usable in future and providing some value to researchers, I need to add a few more basic information, such as name of the publishers and the year of first publication. To make it a little more fun, the journalist in me added one more parameter: the geography (travel destination) covered in a particular book.  Thus continued my journey of creating what a friend in academics termed as  “a bibliographic index of travel writing in Odia.” Sounds heavy? To me, it does, for sure. But let’s not bother about the nomenclature too much.

Today, after about a year, in which I have devoted my free time to search for such books, I have more than 150 names (158 to be precise). The sources of information have been

  • Secondary research on Internet including library searches
  • Articles/research papers/proceedings of some seminars
  • Search in various libraries in Odisha (limited, because of physical limitations of being outside)
  • Catalogues of major publishers
  • Friends and acquaintances on social media

This has become, for me, a continuing exercises. I have, in the course of this one year, learnt a lot about such books; bought and read a few such books. Yet, I must clarify in no uncertain terms that it still does not make me eligible to comment on this genre or its evolution. As I continue with the journey, I, however, thought of sharing some facts with my readers. These are no analysis or insight, but plain “facts”.

  • Odia travel literature, without stretching its definition, started in the early days of modern Odia literature, with both Vyasakavi Fakir Mohan Senapati and Kavivara Radhanath Ray having tried their hand in this genre. Fakir Mohan wrote a book called Waltiar Darshan and while Radhanath wrote Bhramanakarira Patra.
  • It was Shashibhushan Ray, son of Radhanath, who actually started a definite genre, having written multiple books on his travel experience within and outside Odisha. Many say his Dakshinatya Bhramana  was a trendsetter.
  • Most Odia writers of repute have tried their hand in travel literature. The list includes Surendra Mohanty, Kunja Bihari Dash, Golak Bihari Dhal,  Mayadhar Mansingh,  Chittaranjan Das, Radhanath Rath, Manoj Das, Krushna Prasad Mishra, Bibhuti Patnaik, Sitakanta Mohapatra, Prativa Ray and Susmita Bagchi.
  • Many professionals in other fields who have traveled outside for professional work have also tried to add to the the genre by narrating their experience. Such luminaries include Gokulanand Mohapattra (scientist), Biju Patnaik (industrialist and chief minister), Akshaya Mohanty (composer and singer), Dinanath Pathy (Artist) and Baidyanath Mishra (economist)
  • Many of the works are not strictly travel experiences but the overall experience of the writer staying at a place for a fairly long period.

In addition, here are some of the numbers that are derived from the list.

Period of Publication: Except for the 70s, there has been a fairly uniform spread of new travel books. But that means their share as a percentage of total books published may have gone down.

 

There has been a steady rise since the 70s

There has been a steady rise since the 70’s

 

Top Areas: Most of the travel books are on the author’s experience in one or more foreign countries. Out of 148 books for which this information is available, 97 are about experiences in a foreign country, 43 are about experience in Indian locations outside Odisha and nine are about places within Odisha.

Top Destinations: The United States of America, not so surprisingly, tops the destination list. Here is how destinations stack up.

 

It's clearly westward

It’s clearly westward

 

*Europe does not include UK and USSR/Russia. (A book may contain description of multiple locations)

Top Publishers: And here is how the list of top publishers looks like.

 

Five publishers account for close to half of all travel books published whose information is available

Five publishers account for close to half of all travel books published whose information is available

The  idea here is not to reduce a genre of literature to a few quantitative charts. This exercise is aimed at highlighting this comparatively lesser celebrated branch of Odia literature before an audience that enjoys Odia books but may not have the wherewithal, time or energy to research into different aspects. In short, people belonging to my own tribe.

The work is still in progress. I welcome comments, suggestions and ideas.

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Filed under Books, Litearture, Odisha & Odia

A Tribute to Manna Dey

And with that, goes our last link with the golden era of playback singing in Hindi cinema. Manna Dey, who died yesterday, was the last among the six legends of that era—Talat, Mukesh, Rafi, Hemant, and Kishore being the other five—to depart.

Many critics and musicologists say Manna Dey was the most underrated among his peer group. I personally do not subscribe to that view. Any artiste should be considered underrated if his work would not gain the popularity or critical appreciation that it deserves. Neither was the case with Manna Dey. Music composers always turned to Manna Dey when they needed him. They knew his capability. While he came to be identified with classical/philosophical numbers, many of his songs were chartbusters too. Chunari sambhal gori, Pyaar hua ikrar hua, Aaja sanam madhur chandni mein hum, Yeh raat bhigi bhigiAe bhai zara dekh ke chalo, and of course, the all time favorite, Ae mere zohara jabi are but just a few examples. I am of course, not counting those that are popular but belong to the category of classical/philosophical numbers which went to become superhits, such as Ae mere pyare watan, Zindagi kaisi hai paheli, Laga chunari mein daag and many more.

The reason he was not elevated to that cult status is because he was never part of any composer’s camp or was identified as any particular actor’s voice. So, he got much less number of songs as compared to others. On the other hand, if you have to calculate the the quality songs sung by any singer as a percentage of all songs sung by that singer, it is a no-brainer that Manna Dey would clearly come on top. It is not that Manna Dey chose to sing only a few good songs. Composers came to him only when they needed him. He was not the default choice. So, he was not underrated; neither by the composers nor by the audience. He was under-used. That did not impact the popularity of his songs. But that did prevent him from being prolific and in the commercial world of Hindi music, that factor worked against him.

A lot of good playlists have been created by admirers and fans of Manna Dey, like this one. So, I am going to refrain from getting into that. What I am doing here is highlighting his contribution to the playback singing in films made in Odia, my mother tongue. 

How many would know that among all the greats of Hindi playback singing of that era—the above six as well as Lata, Asha and Geeta Dutt—Manna Dey sang the most number of songs for Odia movies? How many would know that he was the first among these greats to sing for Odia films?

Manna Dey was brought in by Santanu Mohapatra, the music director, who created a unique identity for himself, even as the other three great composers of that era—Balakrushna Dash, Bhubaneswar Mishra and Akshaya Mohanty—often worked with each other and used mostly the same set of singers. It is Mohapatra who brought in popular singers from Hindi cinema to sing for Odia movies. Manna Dey was introduced to Odia film audience in Mohapatra’s first movie as music composer—Suryamukhi.  Manna Dey, true to his image in Bombay, rendered a philosophical number, Bandhure…Duniya re samayara naee bahi jae re. Lata Mangeshkar too debuted in Odia playback singing in the same movie, with her popular sei chuna chuna tara.

But while Mohapatra kept experimenting with other Hindi playback singers—he brought in Rafi, Usha Mangeshkar and Lata again in his next movie as composer, Arundhati—other composers did turn to Manna Dey when they needed him. I have listed here seven songs he has sung for Odia movies. Interestingly, they are for seven different movies, composed by six different music directors. So, here too, he clearly did not belong to any camp.

And like in Hindi movies, here too, he was always brought in to sing that odd song with a classical/philosophical undertone. As you can notice, six of the seven songs listed here, clearly belong to these categories. The sole exception is Dharichi jebe chaadibi nahin in Samaya, incidentally composed by the classical duo Pt Bhubaneswar Mishra and Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia under the name, Bhuban-Hari.

Here is the list. The information in the bracket are the name of the film, year of the movie, and the composer’s name. 

My respectful homage to this great singer.

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Filed under Hindi Film Music, Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia, Uncategorized

Buy Odia Books Online. And You Have Some Choice

A few months back, I wrote this piece, The Other E-commerce Guys for a portal. In the peak of skepticism about the sustainability of e-commerce business models in India, I argued that the basic value proposition of e-commerce—removing the constraint of time and space from shopping—still remains and that is good enough reason for people to try making it work—even if those ventures are off limelight and do not measure their progress by how much funding they attract.

This is what I wrote, trying to build up a case for these ventures.

But how many of us can say honestly that we don’t crave for something that we have grown up with and something that we do not get anywhere in the superstores? Remember the banana cake that the bakery next to your house in Kollam made so perfectly? Or the auromatic curry powder that the man in the street behind your housing colony in Berhampur sold from his home?

We know the superstores, despite their 20 plus brands in offering, can never match that. Yet, we cannot do anything about it. We are too busy in our everyday lives to do anything beyond craving.

Of course, all the examples in the above piece were about sites selling food items.

But how many of us can say honestly that we don’t crave for something that we have grown up with?—you will agree that the question goes well beyond food. 

This piece is about one such thing that I have grown up with; one such thing that I badly crave for; and do not get anywhere in my city: Odia books

This piece is a celebration of the fact that in recent months, I have seen multiple efforts to fill this gap. There are at least three serious websites selling Odia books. And there are a couple of more who are also trying their hands but have long way to go.

This piece is a short review of those sites. The reason I chose to do that is not because going forward, I want to do a big annual ranking of these sites. But because, as the tagline of my blog says, I love “celebrating the excellence in the less discussed.” They are new; lesser known; let alone being discussed. And I could surely help a bit in their efforts by highlighting the good work.

The two specific objectives of the piece are

  1. to help my peer groups (whether they are Bangalore or Baltimore or Balasore) who do not have access to a good/any book store that sells Odia books.
  2. to give some sort of feedback to these companies, who are just beginning their journey with a great objective that will help many like me

And when I do that, there are bound to be comparisons and some criticism (identification of gaps). I hope the entrepreneurs and others behind these ventures will take that sportingly.

These are the three sites I found to be serious about what they are trying to do. Not only are the sites professionally designed, the effort to build good catalaogs is visible, as I have followed all of them from the time they started.

  1. Odisha Estore (sells multiple products but books are the main offering)
  2. Odiabook Bazar (focused on books)
  3. Odikart (the youngest among the lot sells multiple products but books are the main offering; started last month)

There is another one, Fullorissa.com which also sells books but the collection does not have any of the usual books that one would expect such a store to have. So, I am not sure what the model is. I am not including it in the review here.

As a professional researcher and editor, I have done similar exercise quite a few times. For evaluation of any e-commerce site, we take a few things into account.

  1. product range in offering
  2. product quality
  3. pricing
  4. user experience of the site (such as search/navigation)
  5. actual fulfillment (delivery)
  6.  customer service

The last two are measured based actual usage (mystery shopping) or survey and hence, I am excluding them. I will restrict myself to the first four.

  • Range: Range, in an evolving business, is often a function of the duration for which the venture has been in business. So, it is no surprise that while both Odisha Estore and Odiabook Bazar have more than 3000 titles each, Odikart has less than 200.
  • Quality: While range is good, curation is becoming extremely important in e-commerce, as people have less time. Quality in a standardized product category like books can be measured without actual usage/buying. For measuring this, I created a standard list, based on my brief survey with people like myself, mostly non-resident Odias (so it may be a little skewed against books published in the last ten years or so). The list is a combination of classics and popular titles; old and new; and a mix of multiple genres: poetry, novels, biography, science-fiction and other non-fiction. This is the list I used
    • Abupurusha O Anyanya Kahani (Manoj Das)
    • Amabasyara Chandra (Barrister Gobind Das)
    • Atma Charita (Fakir Mohan Senapati)
    • Chandrara Mrutyu (Gokulananda Mohapatra)
    • Chhabila Madhu Barnabodha (Madhusudan Rao)
    • Chhamana Athaguntha (Fakir Mohan Senapati)
    • Chilika (Radhanath Ray)
    • Desha Kala Patra (Jagannath Prasad Das)
    • Ghara Baida (Raibahadur Laxman Mishra)
    • Ka (Kanhucharan Mohanty)
    • Kanakalata (Nandakishore Bal)
    • Kanamamu (Laxmikanta Mohapatra)
    • Karanjia Diary (Santanu Kumar Acharya)
    • Nakata Chitrakara (Faturananda)
    • Nilasaila (Surendra Mohanty)
    • Odisha O Odia (Chittaranjan Das)
    • Paraja (Gopinath Mohanty)
    • Bhratruhari Shrungara Shataka (Tr: Janaki Ballav Pattnaik)
    • Utkala Gaunli Gita (Chakradhar Mohapatra)
    • Yajnaseni (Pratibha Ray)

This list is, of course, not perfect—like any other subjective list. But there is no other way to measure. When I ran the search in each of the three sites, I found comparable results; I could find 10 in Odisha Estore; 9 in Odiabook Bazar and 8 in Odikart. Purely from comparison point of view, I must point out that if a month old Odikart with just 157 books in its catalog, could almost match the others with significantly higher range, it illustrates that it is fairly well curated.

But the bigger point that I want to highlight is not who is better in what aspect. It is this. Despite all the considerations—they are all new; publishers are not yet excited; many books are out of print etc etc—I believe it is a low score in general, especially as I tried mostly popular books.

What explains absence of Barnabodha from the catalog? Lack of availability is surely not the reason. Similarly, Kanakalata was a milestone in Odia literature.  There was a time when there was hardly any middle class households that did not have its copy of Ghara Baida (Tutuka Chikitsa) by Laxman Kishra. Also, two of them did not have Yajnaseni. Need I say more?

If non-residents are a serious target segment, there is no way that they can ignore serious curation. I expect far better results next time.

  • Pricing: By and large, pricing is comparable.
  • Site user experience: Though most of them are better than many e-commerce sites, in terms of look and feel, I think all of them have to significantly improve navigation. Books are searched by name, author name, category, and publisher—usually in that order. None of them are complete in that respect. Odiabook Bazaar provides category-based, publisher-based as well as author-based browsing but its title search is really bad, with not even an error message showing that the book is not available. The rest two do not provide author-based browsing—a big gap.  Navigation is something that is usually thought through in the beginning; it is not a function of time, considering there are thousands of online bookstores in the world to look for a template. For example, one can well understand that a new site like Odikart has a lesser range of books, but that is no reason for not having an author filter (or any filter for that matter). This is one area I hope everyone will improve on.

Some of the areas of improvement notwithstanding, I see a great start to this wave. I have tried just one site and the delivery has been quite prompt. If others have similar quality when it comes to fulfillment, I think it is just a matter of time before the orders get flowing in, in large numbers.

Now, they just need some effective marketing.

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Filed under Books, Odisha & Odia

The New, New Festivals of Odisha

Bara masare tera jaata (literally meaning thirteen festivals in twelve months, in Odia) is how Odias refer proudly to the abundancy of festivals in the state throughout the year. Whether it is the more pan-Indian festivals like Holi, Diwali, and Maha Shivratri; Eastern Indian festivals like Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja; Pan-Odisha festivals such as Rath Yatra, Raja and Kartik Purnima, or even more regional festivals within Odisha like Dhanujatra of Sambalpur or Thakurani Jatra of Berhampur—you will never have a period in a year without a generous amount of occasssions to celebrate. If there is nothing else, you have the 12 Samkrantis in a year, many of which have some extra add-ons: Dhanu Samkranti with the dhanu muan (a sweet preapared mostly but not only in South Odisha), Pana Samkranti with the pana (a special drink) and Makara Samkranti with the makara chaula (a special rice) and so on.

The modern day manifestation of that love is a series of new age cultural festivals (mostly music and dance) some of which have become sought after events by the culture loving crowd from India and abroad. The oldest and most popular in this genre is the Konark Festival. Originally started as Konark Dance Festival in 1989, this is the oldest annual pan-Indian classical dance festival in India. This is organized between 1 to 5 December every year jointly by the Guru Kelucharam Mohapatra Odissi Research Centre (GKCM-ORC) Bhubaneswar, along with Departments of Tourism and Culture, Government of Odisha. Artistes from India and abrod paricipate in this festival and perform all classical styles such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Chhau, and Mohiniattam. The 2011 festival also has the International Sand Arts Festival going along with it.

The second most popular festival outside Odisha, is the Mukteshwar Dance Festival, which along with Rajarani Music Festival, is known locally as Ekamra: The Temple City Festival and is organized in mid-January. Unlike Konark Festival, the focus of Mukteshwar Dance Festival is Odissi dance. Odissi performers–both groups and solo–from across the world participate in the this. Rajarani Music Festival, which does include non-Odissi classical music as well, is, however, not that well-known outside Odisha, even though it features well-known vocalists and instrumentalists from across India belonging to Odissi, Hindustani and Carnatic traditions. This year (2012), it featured Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra (Hindustani) and Pandit O S Arun (Carnatic), apart from Pandit Damodar Hota, an accomplished singer in both Hindustani and Odissi traditions.

A Dance Sequence in Mukteshwar Dance Festival 2012

I had the opportunity to attend the Mukteshwar Dance Festival this year on the first day. The performances were magnificent. But the attendance was thin. Apart from locals and some foreigners, there were hardly any Indian tourists from outside Odisha—ironic considering that it is primarily organized by the state Department of Tourism, with help from (GKCM-ORC).

Orissa Tourism is involved in organizing most of these events—including the Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav. The Dhauli Mahotsave is organized by Orissa Dance Academy and is an Odissi dance festival. The Kalinga Mahotsav, on the other hand, is a martial dance festival and is organized by Department of Tourism.

The Department, in association with GKCM Odissi Research Centre and the Department of Culture, Govt of India, organizes annual International Festival of Odissi Dance in the last week of December. The 2011 festival was held between  23 to 30 December 2011.  It made to headlines for getting into the Guinnes Book of World Records for the largest number of dancers (555) dancing for close to  8 minutes. Otherwise, this is one of the prestigious festivals for the performers.

The other music and dance festivals include Gotipua Dance Festival in November, organized jointly by GKCM ORC and the Department of Tourism (this year’s edition is slated for 15 to 17  November 2012), Odissi Music Festival (organized this year between 8-10 January 2012), and  Konark Dance & Music Festival organized by the State Tourism Deaprtment, along with Sangeet Natak Academy, organized between 19 and 23 February 2012.

While this sudden flurry of activity in the state on the festival front has got some visibility for the state, so many festivals with similar focus and similar names has created a lot of confusion as well. The festivals are not marketed well which explains the thin attendance. For example, one fails to understand the rational of two festivals, Mukteswar Dance Festival and Dhauli Mahotsav, in a span of one month. Similarly, the February Konark Dance & Music Festival has created a lot of confusion, as the website for the festival is konarkfestival.com, which actually is the name of the December festival at Konark, the oldest classical dance festival in India with the temple as a backdrop.

Finding information at the website of the concerned organizers is an adventure in itself. You never know whether you land up in 2008 page or 2011 page. In short, despite organizing so many festivals–and organizing fairly well, to be fair to the organizers–the lack of coordination among the organizers (that is despite a common entity, Department of Tourism being involved in most) and the complete lack of long-term marketing, has not yielded results the way it should have. With so many Odias and Odisha-focused groups active in the social media, the organizers need to use them more effectively. Combining a few of these events together to create a fewer, larger events would actually make the marketing easier. Ideally, some spacing could help, as all these events are between November to February. But that is easier said than done, as in summer and rainy sessions,  it is next to impossible to do any mass events. They too are not tourist seasons in Odisha.

While there are too many dance and music festivals, Odisha Tourism has started to other initiatives–the Sand Arts Festival in Dec-Jan (9 Dec 2011 to 29 Jan 2012) this time and the Toshali National Crafts Mela, which was held between 15 to 27 December 2011.

But what is really heartening to note that there are efforts now, albeit among private groups and individuals, to shed Odisha’s image as a place of traditional culture alone. Two events are noteworthy on this account. The first, called India Surf Festival was organized between February 7-9 this year near the Konark-Puri Marine drive and saw participation of surfers from across the world and was a great success. The second, an avante-garde festival of films called, the Bring Your Own Film Festival (BYOFF) which was held between 21 and 25 February 2012.

I am sure I am not aware of many more such initiative that must be happening and are in preparation. While all these festivals have the potential to make Odisha a hot tourist destination, there are gaps that need to be closed. Use of social media, good coordination among different bodies, a more effective use of the Odia diaspora and a good long-term marketing initiative can make Odisha a place where the old and new traditions meet seamlessly!

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Filed under Culture, Dance, Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia, Odissi Dance

Heartening News: Experimentation is Back in Odia Music

Some time back, I had read an essay by Sarat Kumar Mohanty, one of the most prominent essayists of Odisha, about the crisis of talent in contemporary Odisha (this was most probably in late 90s or early 200s). He had argued how there has been a gradual decline in talent and experimentation from the 60s and 70s in all the areas of creativity—citing explicitly the example of a young Akshaya Mohanty cycling around Cuttack with new tunes on his lips.

For at least three decades—60s to 80s—Akshaya Mohanty stood for all that was new in Odia music. While there were other popular singers and composers—such as Prafulla kar and Bhikari Bal—anything that was innovative and experimentative emanated from the mind of Khoka Bhai, the way Mohanty was popularly called. His music combined the nativeness of Odissa in all its forms—folk, classical, or the newly emerging urban culture of Odisha—with inspiration from across the world—in form, style, and content. While Harry Belafonte’s There’s a hole in the bucket  became a highly odia-ized Mathiare gote kana, Bachchan’s poem Laao laao piya nadiya se son machhari became Dhibara re anide anide mote suna Ilishi. In some others, he used khanti (pure) Odia content to try new forms. Such an experimentation is Odisha’s all time favorite Kanchi Abhijaaana.

For a long time, that experimentation has been missing. It is heartening to see there is some effort, of late. And not surprisingly, leading it from the front is Devdas Chhotray, one of the most prominent lyricists of the Akshaya era, whose other identities include a noted civil servant, educationist and writer. To most Odias, though, it would suffice to say that he wrote songs such as  Paradesi bandhu tume, Thik tori pari jhiatie, Mate Saila Saila Nakara Guna, and Rupa Shagadire Suna Kania

I first picked up an album called Maya Darpan a little more than a year back from Time N Sound in Bapuji Nagar, Bhubaneswar, a shop I religiously visit on each of my trip to Odisha. When I picked up the CD, what impressed me were both the idea and the guts. It was the poetry of Mayadhar Mansing, something that exhilarated (and to be honest, scandalized) us in our school days. No other poet who was considered a great by our parents generation had anything close to what Mansingh offered. I also felt the experimentation was particularly adventurous, as both the composer, Om Prakash Mohanty and singer, Susmita Das were unknown names to me, though I must admit that I have hardly kept up with Odia music in the last two decades. “Devdas Chhotray presents” on the top of the cover was  reassuring, though. But when I listened to it, I knew here was a classic. Unfortunately, none of my friends who listen to Odia music had heard about the album, let alone listening to it. I too could not find much in the usual places on the Internet to forward a link.

So, while I was appreciative, I was sceptical too about the continuation of that experimentation. That is, till a few months back, I picked up two more by the same trio—this time the lyricist being Devdas Chhotray himself. One called Hati Saja Kara, was taken from the name of a poem (and a book which I had happened to read) by Chhotray. The other, called Nua Luha Puruna Luha decribed itself as a collection of songs that were introspective and nostalgic—and which claimed that it was inspired by Ghazal and sufi poetry. And both these albums impressed again, though I would confess that I found the Nua Luha…to be a little heavier in terms of lyrics, with melody failing to catch up. That apart, all the three were great experimentation, largely successful. This time, I could get some info on the web about the composer and the artiste.

All the three are released by a label, Mitu’s Music, owned by singer Susmita. I wrote to her and got a prompt reply. The good news is that the songs are available in her website, susmitadas.in, and anyone can listen to these. By the way, some of them are available in Youtube as well such as Dekha hela kimpa from Maya Darpana and Hati saja kara from Hati Saja Kara. 

Better news is that their experimentation continues and in the offing are two more albums: one, Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyam, and two, some old radio songs of Akshaya Mohanty, which are no longer available.

I will surely post more on the topic, if I manage to speak to the trio in near future.

While with three albums out and two more in pipeline, this trio lead the experimentation wave, there are some other notable efforts as well. One is an album of Akshaya Mohanty’s unsung lyrics sung by an artiste Namrata Mohanty, called Deepa Jale Deepa Libhe, released again by the artiste’s own label, set to music by the same composer, Om Prakash Mohanty.

Another is recital of Sriradha, arguably the best long poem written in Odia in the last 50 years, by Rabi Satapathy, again released by some unknown label. This is an even bolder experimentation. And while Satapathy does a fairly good job, I would recommend it only to someone who has no other way of reading the poem. The voice is uniform throughout and surely the poem is not. Nevertheless, here I am talking of experimentation and am not into reviewing the work.

One last example I would like to cite would probably not fall in this category—as it is not really a creative experimentation but a commercial one—but nevertheless made me hopeful. It was a collection of children songs such as Jhool re hati jhool, Chaka chaka bhaunri, Dho re baya dho, Itikili mitikili, and Aa aa re bai chadhei. The songs were accompanied by some below average animation, but nevertheless, this is the only Odia CD that I have bought for my five year old son so far, though he has more than 100 CDs of Hindi and English cartoom movies, songs and so on. This, too was released by an unknown label with a Mumbai address. And since then, in each of my visit, I have inquired if there is a second one but unfortunately I have always heard a no.

On one hand, the wave of experimentation makes one hopeful and reassured. On the other, the fact that very little is known about these albums to people who would have loved to lap them up, makes one a little apprehensive. None of them are released by any of the major labels—neither the Saregamas and the Sonys, nor even the JEs and the Sarthaks. In case of Susmita, she admitted that their marketing has been anything but extraordinary.

I just hope that increasingly the new medium of web would be used creatively and effectively by both the artistes and the fans to reach out to the market that may just be waiting in San Francisco, Dallas, London, Bangalore or New Delhi. I promise to keep a watch.

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Filed under Culture, Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia, Uncategorized

New Indo-Chinese Movie Around Odissi: Appreciations & Apprehensions

Finally, we have a Bollywood movie centred around Odissi. Desire: The Journey of a Woman, is a new Indo-Chinese movie that revolves around Gautami, an Odissi dancer, portrayed by Shila Shetty. The male lead role is played by a Chinese actor Xia Yu who falls in love with the dancer during one of her visits to Malaysia for a program. The movie stars Om Puri, Jaya Prada, and a host of other Indian actors. Produced by Shilpa’s mother, the movie has been directed by R Sarath, with music by Shankar-Ehsan-Loy and background score by Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the classical guitar maestro.

The Odisha connection comes in form of an Odissi dance sequence enacted by Shilpa Shetty and Jaya Prada, to the Odissi song,  Shyama lagi mu pagali,  penned by noted Odia poet Gopalakrushna Pattnaik; and also, one of the two choreographers for the movie being Ratikanta Mohaptra, noted Odissi dancer and the son of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.

I am happy that finally Odissi has caught the imagination of filmakers. But I am also apprehensive that like some other such efforts in the past, most notably, the movie Asoka, it does not do a wrong portrayal of Odisha, Odias and their culture. The reason for my apprehension is that the no Odissi musician is involved in the music of the movie. While I have all the respect for both the S-E-L team and Pt Bhatt, Odissi music has its own distinct characteristics and to try it out on a global scene without the involvement of an accomplished Odissi musician may be a litte too much of an adventurous experimentation.

Also—it is my personal opinion, though—putting Odissi in the centre stage without that extremely endearing face of Kalia (Lord Jagannath)–is not a great sign. The movie has not been shot in Odisha at all. And that is okay. Our art should not be restricted to the geographic boundaries of the state, but to dissociate Lord Jagannath from Odissi is inexcusable. I did not notice it anywhere in the promo and website of the movie. I just hope that it is there in the actual movie.

I am sincerely hoping that my apprehensions are proved wrong and the world sees Odissi in all its glory, especially that it has been choreographed by no other than Ratikanta.

 

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