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DAMaN caters to the deprived Odia film audiences’ cravings

Bhubaneswar: Odia film DAMaN is currently the talk of the town. This much-hyped movie is said to be inspired by the real-life story of a doctor who with his sheer determination and love for his duty turned his initial reluctance to serve in an inaccessible area into becoming a godly figure for the deprived denizens of that locality.

The movie was released on November 4 across the state with limited screens everywhere. Unlike regular Odia movies that hardly survive 3 days in theatres, it has garnered so much love and word-of-mouth publicity in the first weekend that the exhibitors in Bhubaneswar are forced to increase the number of shows to 22 per day from Monday onwards. That speaks volumes about the cravings among movie-goers in the state for good content irrespective of language.

The film starts with a dreamy-eyed, young, fresh-out of-medical college, Dr. Siddharth Mohanty’s (Babushan Mohanty) dreams getting disarrayed when his aspiration of opening a multi-specialty health facility near the airport in Bhubaneswar crash-lands in the most inaccessible region in Odisha. What follows after that is a 2-hour long show of the natural and scenic beauties of the region, a display of visual anthropology, an exhibition of the tireless efforts of a doctor and his small but dedicated team to sustain a health service that’s already in shambles, and a superb manifestation of successful implementation of government interventions through convergence.

It’s no doubt one of the best-acted movies of Babushan. Actor Dipanwit Dasmohapatra has given a stellar performance as usual while the local casts have done wonders on screen with their superlative acting. Kudos to the director duo Vishal Mourya and Debi Prasad Lenka for not only picking up content that is copy-paste free but also unique and relatable in many ways. It is relatable for me as I had an opportunity to visit that part of the state and gauge the lives from close proximity.

DAMaN has given what Odia audience have been craving for a long time. The story, acting, direction, cinematography, music, and portrayal of tribal life, everything seems to be perfectly placed. However, there remain some minor glitches that could have been taken care of.

DAMaN’s release was preceded by the multi-award-winning Odia film Adieu Godard directed by Amartya Bhattacharyya in September which ran in one multiplex in Bhubaneswar for 4 weeks giving hope for other content-driven films. Though DAMaN had failed twice to get ample screens during the Raja festival and Dussehra due to big banner releases, its current success just proves that a good film doesn’t need a festival window to attract viewers to theatres.

What I also liked is the film’s cast and crew making their presence felt at theatres for getting audience feedback post-screening. Even though they can go to 2-3 screenings or theatres in the city, it makes a great impact on movie-goers.

Coming to the background of the story that inspired the makers of DAMaN, a lot has changed in the cut-off area now. But the film’s timeline is set 7 years back.

What we know as Swabhiman Anchal in Malkangiri district since 2018 was once known as the Cut Off area or BichchinnaAnchal for over half a century. Deprived of all the facilities of a normal civilized society, it had become a hotbed for left-wing extremist activities. If you know, you know how tough it was for the government machinery to engage with the inhabitants of that region. Odisha government’s compulsory rural posting of doctors post their MBBS brought doctor Omkar Hota to the only PHC operating in this area, where common people had lost faith in modern health service and were forced to believe in traditional healers. Then started the persistent efforts of Dr. Hota who later became a legend among the locals.

DAMaN brings hope for other filmmakers in the state while it poses a strong challenge for time-passers whether to bring good content or get chided by the ever-evolving audience. Ollywood needs to learn from the current buzz and set out on a course correction instead of making rubbish duplications and vehemently defending its mediocrity through some non-performing assets.

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