Torch and Manayun – My Wonderland, produced by Santanu Mishra and directed by Pranab Aich – were the only two nominations from India for the Durban International Film Festival Audience Award. While Torch, an Odia-language documentary set in a remote village near India’s famous Konark Temple, is based on the life of a poor farmer’s son who is amazed at the advent of technology in their afterlife. arrival of a steel torch in their home, Manayun – My Wonderland is a documentary based on the journey of a young teacher in an Odisha village who takes on the challenge of taking children from the nearby tribal community to school. Smile Foundation, the power behind SMILE FILMS, has been producing good cinema for some time as a medium to sensitize and proactively involve the masses in the process of initiating social change. We spoke to Smile Foundation co-founder and executive trustee Sanatanu Mishra about his journey as a filmmaker and his future projects.

Many children have lost their parents during Covid-19, how is your organization trying to bring back those children’s smiles?

The ongoing pandemic, especially during the peaks, caused families not only to lose their livelihoods, but also to suffer. Due to the pressure in healthcare and the fear of infection, primary care was also difficult to access. Overall, children became one of the worst victims of the pandemic.

Our strategy for families and communities included specialized mobile healthcare for Covid care, distribution of protective and hygiene kits, support to hospitals in the form of oxygen concentrators and PPE kits, stimulating, preventive and curative services to the underprivileged population in remote rural and urban areas . slums in 14 states of India.

We launched an intense effort under ‘Shiksha Na Ruke’ drive and focused not only on children’s re-learning but also on enabling uninterrupted learning through gadgets, counseling, teacher retraining etc. We are committed to also keep children mentally strong and positive. We have helped more than 150,000 children during this most difficult time. In addition, 27.7 million meals were provided to 200,000 families in 23 states.

How did your journey as a filmmaker start, what was the inspiration behind it?

I have long believed in the power of responsible communication as an instrument, especially good cinema. Moreover, if we can properly sensitize the masses, bringing change becomes easier thanks to proactive participation.

In the past year and a half, in addition to a full-length feature film ‘I am Kalam’, we have successfully worked on numerous short films, documentaries, TV series and campaigns. This film alone traveled around the world and won 30 awards, in addition to a national award in India.

What do you think are the most important qualities a filmmaker and director should have?

Every filmmaker or storyteller has a unique way of working. However, one of its important qualities is to use entertainment as a medium to inculcate invaluable human emotions, such as empathy, caring, and sense of responsibility.

I believe that brevity, recognizability and credibility make a story attractive and effective.

What projects will you be working on next? What kind of movies will we see from you in the future?

After creating the iconic ‘I Am Kalam’, we have passed on the legacy by making numerous documentaries and short films, in addition to establishing an international film festival called SIFFCY (Smile International Film Festival for Children & Youth). SIFFCY completed its eighth year and is known for its carefully selected films for children and young people from all over the world. Our main focus is on sensitizing and inspiring youth, bringing out inspiring stories and channeling the energy and enthusiasm of children and young people in a positive direction. Our future projects may also include innovation and experimentation, focusing on children and young people.

It is said that films are the mirror of society, do you tell about your films that have to do with social importance?

We believe that films are the most powerful medium for representing reality and pursuing values. A single good film has the potential to stimulate discussion and contemplation among young people on personal, emotional, societal, moral and other pressing issues, enabling them to become better and stronger individuals. Our films are usually related to attracting their attention and provoking thought about social concerns, thereby influencing them to adopt the model of citizen-driven change in society. Our films are driven to make an impact on society for a good cause.

What is the story behind the names of your two films – Torch and Manayun? And what message do you want to convey through them?

‘Manayun’ and ‘Torch’ are both enactment documentaries filmed at Smile Foundation’s two separate education projects in rural Odisha. They capture the lifelike coming-of-age journeys of two ordinary but inspiring young men.

Manayun – My Wonderland depicts the journey of a young man who travels to faraway places in search of sustenance. His struggle makes him realize how important education is and he returns to his native village in Kalahandi to open a school for children of his tribe called Kutia Kondh.

The other film, Torch, chronicles the life of a teenager growing up in a village near Konark on the Odisha coast. Soumya suffers from a condition in his legs that prevents him from living a normal life, leaving him depressed. His interest in life is rekindled by a flashlight. Through his perseverance he completed his vocational training in electrical engineering, earned his living and became a source of inspiration in the area.

What should young people look for who want to pursue a career in film production or documentary making?

Filmmaking is a challenging career, but a very creative pursuit to pursue.

One must learn about the basics of the trade, evolving techniques, challenges involved and the rewards one can get. During SIFFCY, a special section is dedicated to supporting aspiring and emerging filmmakers, bringing industry pioneers and leaders and bringing different perspectives of world cinema. It is suitable for young people (aged 6-25) with just about any level of interest in film, whether they want to watch and enjoy themselves, create their work or take it a step further and learn more about a career in film or television industry.

When making movies, how small is less important than how well made. Further, how big is misleading, but how best efforts are made is all important.

Like any other field, passion also paves the way for filmmaking.

Do you want to take your films to international film festivals in the future?

Yes, we want to bring our work, our stories and our inspiration to a wider audience and show it to the world. I believe in the power of good cinema as a medium to reach and raise awareness among the masses, especially the young. These films are a step forward in inspiring an entire generation of diverse yet globalized youth.


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