Nursery for Performing Arts
There was no electricity and no other source of entertainment. The 16m.m. film which he witnessed was probably shown through a projector run by a generator. Gramophone was a popular musical box and there were half a dozen radio sets in a village of 5000 population in 1953. Besides, Dharakote being the capital of a post-colonial estate, most of the folk theatre troupes performed their shows there and around thirty troupes of folk performers staged their shows on the Bada Danda Street, Dharakote. There was a Danda Nata folk theatre troupe in the Potters’ street situated at the beginning point of Dharakote, in front of the town hall. Rehearsals continued in the evening hours with hurricane lamps. One of the handsome potters played the harmonium and another from Majhi sahi played the dholki percussion. That was Ramesh Panigrahi’s nursery for performing arts.
Occasionally, his grandfather Natabara Sahu (1885-1953), his mother Mayavati’s (1915-1982) father visited Dharakote during festive days. He was the singer, director of a Keishna Lila Troupe from his village, Debabhumi near Aska. He learnt Krishna Lila from a Priest of a Vaishnavite monastery (Math) who was a South Indian diaspora Brahmin of Bharadwaja gotra. He was Natabara’s guru in Krishnalila. It was rendered in Karnataki musical style. Natabara used to put on golden wrist bands and huge golden rings on his ears. He would render a loud alaap in Karnataki style which was audible to the entire bazaar street. The south Indian Kumuti families used to flock around and relish his classical karnataki music. They touched Natabara’s feet for two reasons: he was the father-in-law of late Radhamohan Panigrahi(1905-1976), Ramesh Panigrahi’s father. He was one of the middle-class intelligentia, not only because a babu in the king’s revenue department who put on a khaki coloured hat made in England, but also a poet, lyricist and actor who wrote three plays: Dhruva, Prahallada and Biswabasu. The plays were staged on the palace stage during the second decade of 20th century, after the World War-1, by Raja Kishore Chandra Bhanja Deo’s Dramatic club functioning at Dharakote during the Court of Wards (When the old king was dead and his prince was a minor studying somewhere in Doon School, Dehradun. The Imperial Government appointed a Ward who officiated on behalf of the under-aged prince) The plays of Radhamohan Panigrahi could have been published, but the press owned by the Rajah Saheb was donated to late Kanichandra Kali charan Patnayak, who transported the heavy machineries to Puri and established a press there.
The Jagannatha temple of Dharakote belonging to the regional tradition is is a historical site. Dinanath Pathy in his The Temple of Jagannatha (Sundeep Prakashan, New Delhi, 2001) and Dr. Bimal Peasad Pattnayak, in his doctoral dissertation, captioned The History of Dharakote have written extensively on this temple. The Ratha Jatra festival is celebrated at Dharakote pompously to which a crowd of about 50,000 people gather evey year.
Ramesh Panigrahi along with his friend late Bipin bihary Pattnayak had founded an organization named Sisu Natya Sangha in 1954 and a play captioned Krishak and Mahajana was staged by them on the day of Dola Purnami ( March,1954). Ramesh compeered the play and scored back ground music. He was a ten year old kid by then.
Utkala Chalachitra Pratisthan was founded in 1957 in a nearby town called Aska and a film captioned Sri Mahalakshmi Puja was produced in Odia in 1958. Then U.C.C.Peatisthan produced films like Parinama and Dasyu Ratnakar (Prasanta Nanda made his debut entry in this film as child Ratnakar(1960). He was a minor school student of around 10 years old and his second film was Nuabou (1961)
Ramesh joined film as a career after matriculation in 1960 in Utkala Chalachitra Pratisthan, stationed at Aska in Ganjam district. He learned direction, camera movements, conflict building, screen-play writing and production management there. He was exposed to film directors like late Biswanath Nayak and Prabhat Mukherjee, Music directors like Balakrishna Dash and Nachiketa Ghosh, lyricists like Kavichandra Kali charan Pattnayak and Narasimha Mahapatra, actors like Sarat Chandra Pujari and Dhirendranath Biswal. Prasant Nanda was a student of standard Vii and worked with us as a child artist. Prasant worked as child Ratnakar in the film In 1961 Dhirendranath Biswal formed Pancha Sakha Pictures at Cuttack and produced a film captioned Nuabou (The sister-in-law) and Ramesh Panigrahi was deputed from Chalachitra Pratisthan, Aska to guide and help in production management since the producers of Panchasakha Pictures were new and Dhirendranath Biswal sought for technical assistance from Utkala Chalachitra Pratisthan for whom he worked as an actor, in Mahalakshmi Puja (1958).
In early 1962 Ramesh scripted the first screenplay of his life, a film captioned Mana Bhanjan and Prabhat Mukherjee was commissioned from Calcutta to doctor the script. There were occasions when Ramesh had to argue and defend his stance when Prabhat Da’( He was around 50 years old and Ramesh Panigrahi was the youngest writer of Orissa (who wrote Mana-bhanjan, a story of Sri Radha,s pique and Srikrishna’s love, a mythological with modern social treatment) was an 18 years old boy.
He was fairly exposed to Telugu and Tamil films in which A. Nageswar Rao, N.T.Rama Rao, Shivaji Ganeshan and M.G. Ramachandran were the mega stars of the time. M.G.Ramachandran, who became the chief Minister of Tamilnadu later used to act in 30 films simultaneously. His daughter, Jayalalitha (the present chief minister) had already acted in 70 films by the time she was 30. Pradip kumar’s superhit film Nagin was very popular when Ramesh was a 9 years old boy at Dharakote. He was enamoured by the song “man dole, mera tan dole” which continued to be a super hit song for about a decade.
Mohammed Rafi, the greatest singer of India of those days came from Pakistan and had settled in Bombay in 1944, the year Ramesh Panigrahi was born. Mehboob Khan’s Mother India(1956?), Guru Dutt’s Kagaz ke Phool and K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam ( the first high budget film made in Panigrahi’s childhood days, in 1960, the year he passed his matriculation) were some of the good films that inspired him during his high school days. Bibidh Bharati as a radio station was opened during this period and we used to listen to the Odia singer Raghunath Panigrahi’s Telugu, Tamil and Kannada songs from Bibidh Bharati and Radio Celone, very popular during the 1950s wh Pyar kiya to darna kya was a hit song from this film and it was the first bold romantic lyrical utterance in Mughal-e-Azam that inspired the youngsters of post-colonial India, who were in mid 1940s.
He had passed the High school certificate examination and was able to read English, Bengali and Hindi in addition to everything that was published in Odia. His poems, lyrics and short fiction were published in Aruna and Nabeena, popular literary magazines printed from Berhampur in which Sachi Routray made his debut publication. Besides, he wrote a novel captioned, Chhinna Veenara Tarey(On the broken strings of the Veena,a string musical instrument) Ramesh was established as a lyric writer around 1974 by Akashvani, Cuttack.
Prabhat Mukherjee(The senior director from Calcutta), in one of the story sessions was harsh: “E gulo cholbe na- tomake porte hobe- at least Ingreji-te M.A.-ta korte hobe” (These comments in Bengali meant: You’ve to study English literature… you must at least have a post graduation degree in English literature. That is compulsory for screenplay writers. It’d be better if you learn French”).
Eight years later, in November, 1969, Ramesh Panigrahi joined as a lecturer in English literature in D.A.V.College, Titilagarh and he was the author of 10 full-length plays by that time. His play Mu-Ambhe-O-Ambhemane adjudged as the second best script in a theatre festival organized in Annapurna Theatres, Buxi bazaar, Cuttack in 1968 was very favorably reviewed in all the News papers of Orissa and critics hailed it as a mile stone in Odia Theatre Avant-garde. The play was prescribed in Berhampur University as a course book for graduate students
Dr. Panigrahi was selected by the Ministry of Culture, Delhi as the Delegated Board Member of the Central Board of Film Certification, Mumbai from 2002-2005 and worked under the central board headed by Ms. Asha Parikh, Chetan Anand and Mr. H.Tivedy(who enacted the role of Ravana in the Hindi serial, Ramayana, produced by Ramanand Sagar).
Dr. Panigrahi teaches screenplay writing, creative visualization and creative writing in Institute of Mass Communication, Bhubaneswar, B.F.T.A, Engineering school, Jobra, Cuttack and in KIIT School of Film and Media Sciences, Bhubaneswar.