Captain Ashok Mahapatra (Producer of the movie Josef: Born in Grace, who has also played a small role in the film) is a Merchant Navy officer by profession who later went into the United Nations system. After retiring when he returned to India in 2018, he wanted to look at doing something creative. Let’s take a look at his journey from a wayfarer to a filmmaker.
Divya Jay: Do tell us something about your background and what got you interested in filmmaking?
Capt. Mahapatra: I come from a family of very creative people. My father (Mr. Umakanta Mahapatra) is a writer and my uncle (Mr. Ramakanth Rath) is a poet who won the Gyaanpeeth award. My father is a quintessential storyteller and wrote a lot of stories and short stories. As a tribute to him, I decided to produce the first film from a short story written by him. Most of his stories are written by his life experiences what he has observed and then converted them into stories. JOSEF: BORN IN GRACE also pertains to one of the incidents which he has seen.
As much as I had creative passion I had no clue that I would come into filmmaking right in the beginning. Only sometime in 2011 when I was reading my father’s books is when I decided I should pay a tribute to him by making one of his short stories into a full-fledged feature film. Incidentally, my father also decided to start writing only after his retirement! In a short span of 10 years, he wrote 11 books.
Divya Jay: How did you choose the Director of the film and the rest of the cast and crew?
Capt. Mahapatra: The Director (Mr. Susant Misra) I had no doubt about it. He is also a cousin of mine and he is very well known. His first film after he passed out of college was selected for Cannes Film Festival (1995 Nominee
Un Certain Regard Award for Indradhanura Chhai). He won awards in various prestigious festivals like Rotterdam and also National Awards. For reasons best known to him, he stopped making feature films and started concentrating on making documentaries. I literally had to sit on his head to make the film, Josef. I was after him since 2015, but then I was based out of London so the communication was not that good and so when I came back to India after retirement I went one day to his house and gave him an ultimatum (laughs)! It was funny because at the same time, there was another producer who wanted him to make a film; but he just couldn’t say No to me.
For the lead role, we decided to cast Mr. Victor Banerjee. However, Victor was initially very skeptic. I wrote him a 1 pager and gave him a synopsis, I told him that I was not getting money from anywhere else and I was doing this film as a Tribute to my father and it was made purely on my money. On my father’s death anniversary, I was going to announce about Josef come what may; that’s when I get a text from Victor saying that he is happy to be a part of the film and that we could officially announce it in our press meet too. We selected Victor even without meeting him!
For the rest of the cast, I gave a free hand to the Director to choose and do things his way.
Divya Jay: What kind of films do you normally watch?
Capt. Mahapatra: I really love watching art films. Also, view a lot of films based on reality and what happens around us. I am a huge fan of the older generation filmmakers like Mr. Satyajit Ray. People who show real life or the life of a common man are my favourite filmmakers. I love watching classic historical movies.
Divya Jay: With respect to your film, what has changed due to the pandemic?
Capt. Mahapatra: I have not been able to release my film due to the pandemic and I am finding it extremely difficult to get across to the distribution cartel to get across the film to the public at large. We have done fairly well at film festivals. We have won various awards at different prestigious film festivals. The pandemic has changed the way film festivals work. It has made it more open and more accessible to audience from around the world!
One of the best compliments my film received that it gives audience a chance to use their mind and get into different perspectives.