Committed to meaningful cinema, Jitendra Mishra has been associated with socially relevant films for children and youth. He has been involved in the production, distribution and promotion of more than a hundred films. Many of them have garnered international recognition.
Hailing from Titlagarh, Jitendra is known films like I Am Kalam and Desires of the Heart, Aasma, Chausar, Kajarya, Goatspeak, Ishu, Maiya and Buried Seeds. He has also produced some short films and documentaries. In 2010, he received the Young Jury Award at IFFI, Goa. Apart from that, he has also designed a unique film festival and film forum called Smile International Film Festival for Children and Youth for Smile Foundation in India. The festival is attended by more than 18,000 children in seven days with more than 120 films and 15+ different workshops every year and is one of the most best-known festivals in its category. Recipient of awards like Son of Odisha, Youth Icon, Youth inspiration and many others, he recently walked the red carpet at Cannes. The first look of his feature film The Last Color was also released during the official opening event of Cannes Producers Network at the 71st Cannes Film Festival recently. In an interview with Orissa POST, he talks about his journey so far.
Apart from other achievements, for six years you have been a Member of the Producers Network, from 67th to 72nd Cannes Film Festival. How do you see your success?
I don’t think there is any definition for being successful; I believe this is just a state of mind. Of course, I am happy and satisfied that I have been able to achieve a few milestones I had dreamt of and I am more than happy that my family is happy and feels proud of whatever I am doing. I feel fortunate to be loved by the people of my state as well as country.
Tell us about a memorable incident in your childhood.
We didn’t have a TV in our home until I was 14, though I was crazy about watching TV/video and would do anything to watch them. The value of something is more when you don’t have it. So, I used to go to our neighbour’s house to watch serials and movies on Sundays. I used to wait the whole week for Sunday, and when Sunday morning came around, I would knock on our neighbour’s door at the dot of 9 but often they deliberately didn’t open the door. I used to wait for several hours and at the end come back disappointed. One day, they clearly told me not to come again. That day, I cried a lot but that incident inspired me, encouraged me and made me stronger. I always remember that moment. Had they not behaved with me like that, I wouldn’t have gained the motivation to do what I am doing today, of showing my own films and series to millions of people.
When did you make up your mind about a career in films and what were the major challenges you faced?
I wanted to do something in the film industry from my college days, but my father wanted me to be a lawyer or engineer or take up a government job to have a secure future. I could never tell my parents that I wanted to pursue a career in film studies. It was not easy at that time to take a decision on your own when you knew the situation of your family and their expectations from you. But my mom always knew what I wanted, and she did everything to make me happy. Finally, she asked me to follow my dream and my entire family endorsed that. But I didn’t have any qualification in film studies so nobody wanted to engage me. I joined a small production house as a spot boy and that’s how I started my journey in the industry. Life throws challenges at every step of our journey toward our goal but we have to accept them wholeheartedly and that’s what I have been doing so far.
Being a boy from a small town like Titlagarh, did you face harassment or rejections during the initial days of your career?
I didn’t have any exposure earlier nor did I have any qualification in film studies when I came to New Delhi for the first time to work in films. Ideally, I should have gone to Mumbai not Delhi to make a career in films. When I realised this, I didn’t have the resources to go to Mumbai from Delhi. So, I started searching for opportunities in Delhi. People not only rejected me, they used to make fun of me as I was not able to speak English fluently and would speak terrible Hindi.
Have you ever tried your hand at acting? Why have you focused only on producing and promoting films?
I have never tried acting, though I have done a couple of modelling assignments during my initial days to pay my bills. I started my career as a production assistant in a production house since I had no other options. But gradually, I started liking my job. I trained and equipped myself for full-fledged production work and started producing my own films. Secondly, I promote only independent, low-budget films, which have very good content, but the filmmakers don’t have extra resources to promote or release them. I try to give them free service in most of the cases and encourage them so that their stories should not be left untold. I like to do that because I have come through that stage too and I believe I can always share my knowledge and expertise if it helps.
Do you have any plans to produce Odia films?
I am looking for a good script and partners to make a film in Odisha, but I haven’t been able to collaborate with like-minded people though I have been working on this since long. I will do something good very soon.
Tell us about your first success story.
My first success story begins with the film I am Kalam directed by Nila Madhab Panda and produced by Santanu Mishra, in which I worked as the associate producer. It opened the doors of global exposure when the producer gave me the opportunity to present the film worldwide and I travelled to many film festivals with the film.
You walked the red carpet at Cannes wearing the traditional hand-woven Sambalpuri design from Odisha while others were wearing specially designed western outfits.
I am proud of my state Odisha and I am proud of our Sambalpuri designs. This way, I tried to show my respect towards my roots. I have emotional connections with this fabric as my mother always wears Sambalpuri sarees. I had walked the red carpet at Cannes earlier also but then I was not sure if they would allow me without a tuxedo. This time, I took a chance and entered wearing my Sambalpuri jacket and let everyone notice our unique and beautiful designs.
To whom would you attribute your success?
There are many people I would really like to dedicate my success to: my entire family including my late father Radha Madhab Mishra, my mother Saudamini Mishra, brother Umakant, wife Donna and three sisters Sujata, Anita, Sulata. Also Smile Foundation and its trustee Santanu Mishra who has played a big role in my career. Without all of them, my journey so far wouldn’t have been possible.
Tell us about your current and upcoming projects.
My current feature film production The Last Color directed by Vikas Khanna is making waves across the globe. It has been screened at many leading film festivals and we had a special screening at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival recently. We are now planning to release it by the end of this year. I am working on an international feature film which will be announced soon.
Do you agree that the number of films meant for children has been on the decline and they are attracting fewer number of viewers?
No, I don’t think so. I will say, time is changing across the globe for the better. More meaningful films for a young audience are being made all over the world, and in India. I have been travelling to many children’s film festivals as a member of the jury and am a member of many children’s film forums. I am happy to see the increasing number of children’s films year by year. This year, I have already seen at least twenty very good children’s films in various regional languages from India, which was not possible earlier. It is just that they have not been able to come into the limelight. We need to bring them into the mainstream and make them accessible to the masses.
RASHMI REKHA DAS, OP