Sabyasachi Mohapatra’s Films A Portrait of Ethnic Odisha


At a time when the contemporary Odia filmmakers have been drawing sharp criticism for making copy-paste films from other languages and not portraying the Odia ethos in their films the filmmakers like Sabyasachi Mohapatra appear as a rare breed who are still grounded to Odisha. Mohapatra has proved socially relevant films featuring the people, places, culture, tradition and dialects of Odisha can still bring success at an age where others are in a mad rush for quick money at the box office.

In the contemporary Odia film fraternity, there is a belief that films on stories relevant to Odisha won’t bring commercial success. But the film director in Sabyasachi Mohapatra, in his career spanning over five decades, has shown how the audience still crave for films about their own people, places, tradition and culture. Though often sidelined as an art filmmaker, for his low budget socially relevant films, Mohapatra’s many films have been big box office grossers.  

Mohapatra’s debut film as a director Sabu Maya Re Baya in 1986 to Bahudibe Mo Jaga Balia (2003), Bou (1998), Jai Jagannath (2007)—all films based on Odia stories featuring the society and traditions of Odisha have been big commercial successes.

In 1998 Bou won state film award in five categories including best Director and screenplay. Jai Jagannath, a mega budget film involving many leading actors of Ollywood set a rare record of being simultaneously released in 15 Indian languages including Hindi.


Mohapatra is a true flag bearer of the tradition of finest ethnic Odia cinema, established by the great film makers like Biplab Ray Chaudhury, Apurb Kishore Bir, Manmohan Mahapatra and Nirada Mahapatra. Ever since his first film in Sambalpuri dialect ‘Bhukha’ in 1989 Mohapatra’s films have brought laurels for Odisha with many national and international awards. 

Bhukha, a story based on the struggle of the tribal drummers against the modern music and who perished to poverty and hunger, won the International Jury award at Gijon Film festival in Spain. Salabudha (2012) another film in Sambalpuri  based on a story of same name by Mohapatra’s father Kapileshwar Prasad Mohapatra won awards in seven categories at Odisha Sate Film Awards including best film and best director.


Mohapatra’s films Aadim Vichar based on Odisha’s Kondh tribe and their ancient justice system won the National Film Award in 2014 breaking a seven-year dud for Odisha. This film also won Best Actor and Best Director awards at the State Film Awards.  Pahada Ra Luha, a film on the fight of the Kondh tribe in the Niyamgiri hills of Odisha to save their land, jungle and culture against the industrialization, won National Award in 2015, thus bringing two consecutive National Awards for Odisha by Sabyasachi Mohapatra.

Salabudha was about a septuagenarian senior citizen protagonist who stood upto the mighty of the feudal king of Sonepur Maharaja Biramitradaya Singhdeo. The film set in the 20th Century Odisha, featured the unique rural folk tradition and life of the peasant community. The film was selected for International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2013.


Mohapatra, born on 27 August  1950 who belongs to a family of passionate professionals in different trades of film making has been associated with the art form since 1976. After his initial days in Mumbai and Kolkata Mohapatra returned to Odisha in the 1980s and have presented some finest socially relevant Odia films. His father Kapileshwar Prasad was a well known writer and five his brothers have earned a name for themselves in different branches of film making in Bollywood. Sabyasachi’s second brother Chintu, who joined the film fraternity in 1991, has worked with the legendary directors like Shyam Benegal, Mani Rathnam and Shankar. 

In contemporary Odia film industry content-oriented films based on Odia culture and tradition is considered as a big risk. The obvious outcome is the degrading standard of recent Odia films. In this cacophony film makers like Sabyasachi Mohapatra would still be held in high esteem for their films showcasing rich cultural heritage of Odisha. 
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