DURBAN : Torch and Manayun – My Wonderland, produced by Santanu Mishra and directed by Pranab Aich – were the only two nominations from India for Durban International Film Festival Audience Award.
While Torch, an Odia-language documentary set in a remote village near the famous Konark temple in India, is based on the life of a poor farmer’s son who is amazed by the advent of technology in their lives after the arrival of a steel torch in their home, Manayun – My Wonderland is a documentary based on the journey of a young teacher in an Odisha village who takes up the challenge to bring children of the nearby tribal community to school.
Smile Foundation, the force behind SMILE FILMS, has been, for some time now, producing good cinema as a medium to sensitize the masses, and engaging them proactively in the process of initiating social change. We talked to the co-founder and executive trustee of Smile Foundation, Sanatanu Mishra, about his journey as a filmmaker and his future projects, among other things.
Many children have lost their parents during Covid-19, how is your organization trying to bring back the smile of those children?
The enduring pandemic, especially during its peaks, caused families to lose not only livelihood but also members. Owing to strain in the healthcare system and the fear of infection, the primary healthcare was also hard to avail. Overall, children became one of the worst sufferers of the pandemic.
Our strategy for families and communities included specialized Covid-care mobile healthcare, distribution of protective and hygiene kits, support to hospitals in the form of oxygen concentrators and PPE kits, promotive, preventive and curative services to the underserved population in remote rural areas and urban slums across 14 states of India.
We launched an intense effort under ‘Shiksha Na Ruke’ drive and aimed not only at bringing children back to learning but also in enabling uninterrupted learning by providing gadgets, counseling, reskilling teachers etc. We put best efforts to keep children mentally strong and positive too. We helped over 150,000 children during this most difficult time. In addition, 27.7 million meals were provided to 200,000 families across 23 states.
How did your journey as a filmmaker begin, what was the inspiration behind it?
I have since long had a strong believe in the power of responsible communication as a tool, especially good cinema. Moreover, if we are able to sensitize the masses rightly, bringing change will become easier thanks to proactive participation.
In the last decade and a half, we have successfully worked on numerous short films, documentaries, TV series and campaigns besides a full-length feature film ‘I am Kalam’. This film alone travelled across the globe winning 30 awards, besides a national award in India.
What do you think are the most important qualities a filmmaker and director should have?
Every movie creator or storyteller has a unique way of working. However, one of the important qualities is to using entertainment as medium to inculcate invaluable human emotions such as empathy, giving and a sense of responsibility.
I believe brevity, relatability and believability make a story appealing and effective.
What projects are you working on next? What kind of films do we get to see made by you in the future?
After making the iconic ‘I Am Kalam’, we have carried forward the legacy by making numerous documentaries and short films, besides establishing an international film festival called SIFFCY (Smile International Film Festival for Children & Youth). SIFFCY completed its eighth year and is known for its curation of handpicked films for children and youth from across the world. Our major focus is on sensitising and inspiring the youth, bringing out inspirational stories and channelising the energy and enthusiasm of children and youth into a positive direction. Our future projects might also include innovation and experimentation, making children and youth take the centre-stage.
It is said that films are the mirror of society, tell about your films which are related to social concern?
We believe that films are the most powerful medium to depict reality and emulate values. A single good film has the potential to stimulate discussion and contemplation among young people about personal, emotional, societal, moral and other pressing issues enabling them to become better and stronger individuals. Our films are mostly related to catching their attention and making them consider social concerns thereby influencing them to adopt the model of civic-driven change in society. Our films are driven towards creating an impact on society for a good cause.
What is the story behind the names of your two films – Torch and Manayun? And what message do you want to convey through them?
‘Manayun’ and ‘Torch’ are both enactment documentaries filmed at Smile Foundation’s two separate education projects in rural Odisha. They capture the real-life coming-of-age journeys of two ordinary but inspiring young men.
Manayun – My Wonderland showcases the journey of a young man who travels to far-away places in search of livelihood. His struggle makes him realize the importance of education and he returns to his native village in Kalahandi to open a school for children of his tribe named kutia kondh.
The other film, Torch, captures the life of a teenager growing up in a village near Konark in the coastal Odisha. Soumya suffers from a condition in his legs that prevents him from leading a normal life, pushing him into depression. His interest in life is rekindled by a torch light. His perseverance made him complete his vocational training in electrical engineering, earning his livelihood and becoming an inspiration in the vicinity.
What should be kept in mind by the youth who want to make a career in the field of film production or documentary making?
Filmmaking is a challenging career but a very creative occupation to pursue.
One must learn about the basics of the trade, evolving techniques, challenges involved and the rewards one may get. During SIFFCY, a special section is devoted to support aspirants and emerging filmmakers, bringing pioneers and leaders of the industry and bring diverse perspectives of the world cinema. It caters to young people (aged 6 to 25) with just about every level of interest in film, whether to watch and enjoy, create their work or take things a stage further and find out more about a career in the film or television industry.
In filmmaking, how small is less important than how well something is made. Further, how big is misleading but how best efforts have been put is all important.
Like any other fields, passion paves the path in filmmaking too.
Do you want to take your films to International Film Festivals in future?
Yes, we want to take our work, stories and inspiration to a larger audience and showcase it to the world. I believe in the power of good cinema as a medium to reach out and sensitise the masses, especially the youngsters. These films are a step forward in inspiring a whole generation of diverse yet globalised youngsters.