With the passage of Bijay Mohanty, Odisha’s film industry is close to losing a generation of actors passionate about cinema. His departure after film and theatre personality Bijay Mishra is a great loss also to theatre, which has been on revival path in recent times. His later day filmography may have been rather uninspiring by his own exalted standards, but amid the general decline of quality in Odia cinema, people like him offered hope of a turnaround. Seventy years young, he still had a lot to offer.
In the first interaction with him more than 20 years ago, when a young breed of lead actors had started making their presence felt, he appeared a bit frustrated with the lack of passion for films around. The newer lot was more in the mould of stars than actors. They scored in the glamour quotient and brought in the audiences alright, but somewhere missed the earthy, rooted in the soil appeal of the trio of Prasanta Nanda, Uttam Mohanty and Bijay Mohanty — Sriram Panda had withdrawn from the scene for reasons not known. They also came short on the nuances of acting, which set the latter particularly apart. Perhaps it was a skill learnt at the National School of Drama and honed in the theatre circuit in Delhi later, but it equipped him for a variety of roles he essayed in his career. He held his own over the years.
The awards — one national and six state film awards — he won in a career spanning more than four decades spoke volumes about his talent, but his talent was so obvious that it didn’t need to be measured in awards after a point. One cannot help feeling that the film industry did not do justice to someone of his range and versatility. He was trapped in the overall mediocrity that has come to define Odia cinema for more than a decade. Imagine him in some less creatively barren film industry. He could have easily matched the stature of his NSD batchmates Naseeruddin Shah and late Om Puri. An actor requires new challenges to keep growing. Our industry simply didn’t offer him those.
He loved Odisha with all his heart. In one of his interviews, he said if he were to be born again, he would like to be born in the state, be an actor and bask in the affection of people once more. If only the industry he was part of shared a bit of his passion some more! He had no regrets about his work. But as a diehard fan, one feels disappointed that his potential remained underutilised.
The promise of a full interview in that brief meeting never materialised. Now there’s a sense of emptiness inside.