Cinematographer Ravi Varman recently donned the director’s hat to capture the wonders of Odisha in a tourism music video. The first time Varman explored the state was in 2018 when he collaborated with AR Rahman to make the hockey anthem. “During my stay in the state, I explored several places and was very impressed. Not many have discovered Odisha like that,” Varman tells us.
Interested to know more, he then travelled across the state and captured many moments. The following year Varman compiled the clips he shot and made a video titled Odisha on The Rise, which was received with so much love as it instilled hope after the catastrophic cyclone hit the state. So, five years later, when Varman was approached to make a tourism video for Odisha, he also happily chose to direct and co-produce it. Titled Bande Utkala Janani Anthem, the video has music by Pritam. Speaking about the anthem, the director-cinematographer says, “There is so much more to the state than we all think. They have several modern infrastructures and have still retained their cultures. You can see many tribal people residing there. They have also renovated several temples beautifully. Normally, when someone makes a tourism video, they capture scenic wonders and dance forms. But for me, along with these, I wanted to capture the people’s emotions as well.”
While the DOP in him was busy capturing the state’s beautiful cultures, the director in him wanted to also pack some philosophies into the anthem. “The wheel at the beginning of the video establishes the circle of life and that’s why we start there. Both the visuals and the music begin with dark images and silence but slowly take off and you get to see the stories. I always wanted the visuals and music to be in sync,” he says. Immediately after you start watching the video, an image catches your eye — an inverted still of a few Odisha people along with their musical instruments. That too has a philosophy, Varman remarks. “In that image, the people are upside down but the leaves are falling in the right direction, I wanted to tell life can also go in the reverse direction.”
While making the video, he did not want to rope in any dancers or singers to act on screen. He says, “The video features only Odisha people who are going about their daily routine. If you notice, most people don’t move for the video. Even the tribal community people stand still. It is the camera that is moving. The camera tells the story, while the music and light bring life to it.”
Although the production was scheduled only for four days, Varman went on to shoot for almost 15 days. “I can’t discover and document the entire state in just four days. I am the director, cinematographer and co-producer; so with more than 12 cameras, we explored different places every day, rehearsed the shots and filmed them.” Since he had already visited the state a few times and had shot several other clips, it was easier to film the anthem. “Luckily, I shot interesting activities like the Odisha Hockey games back in 2018 and was able to use those as well. You can’t discover a place in a single visit. Only when you explore the state multiple times, you can find its culture and treasures.”
The lyrics in the music video are from the Odisha anthem ‘Bande Utkala Janani’, written by the late Odia poet and freedom fighter, Kantakabi Laxmikanta Mohapatra. “Those lyrics were our first choice. It was written by a classic poet and is very patriotic. I wanted to use that and talk about the state’s tourism. In general, we don’t want to tell the story, we want the lyrics to do that. In this video too, the lyrics drive the narrative.”