When I first came to Bhubaneswar, I was like Alice in Wonderland. It was a city that people associated with dreams, deception, beauty, greenery, snobbery, culture, movies and the so-called elite.
But for me, it was just a thriving capital: ‘Maximum city with maximum dreams’. I was the perennial outsider, someone who was the “other”. As my father was a college professor, word would go around that I was not a classworm.
Streets were narrow and dimly lit with lamp posts far apart. All the houses were single storied with large open spaces for gardening. Unlike today, Bhubaneswar then had a mild and salubrious climate. Evenings were pleasant as balmy breeze used to gently sway the few plant fronts around.
One needed a small bed to cover one’s body in early hours of the morning during summer also. Apart from the majestic Lingaraj temple, Kedargouri was a popular spot for pilgrims and visitors. To make matters worse, I would read more of Jane Austen, J.D. Salinger, Diary of Anne Frank, Shakespeare and Gandhi than my textbooks. I found the “khatti” (gossip session with friends) under the tree more comforting than attending classes. My friends would bring new ideas. We were young. We were hungry. We were angry. We were restless. We were the MTV generation. Lindsay Lohan was our spokesperson. Shakira was our expression.
Rebellion was the new religion. Being a nonconformist was the ‘in’ thing. Like Wordsworth says in Tintern Abbey, “I was frisking and frolicking as a deer.” We cared more for the present than the future tense. The dandia dance in the evening would carry us to the night during the Dusshera days.
In a way, Bhubaneswar and we were growing together. I was secretly dancing in our college functions and the floor was on fire. One day the famed Oriya actor Bijay Mohanty, while attending the annual function in my college, in which I was the anchor, asked me to try my hand at Oriya movies. The very idea seemed to have hijacked me from literature.
Just in a mood of adventure, I attended a youth conference held in Mumbai, representing Bhubaneswar.
However, I would feel low when, youth from other states would ask, where Orissa is, if it is all about Kalahandi, cyclones and floods. That was it. I decided to give them a feel of Orissa. I participated in all events holding Orissa’s placard high.
With my rendition of Odissi classical dance and speech about Oriya culture, I emerged a winner. Soon enough, the buzz was that Orissa was an invincible force to reckon with. That was the beginning. After that I attended a ramp show held in Mumbai, and then another beauty pageant in Vizag. To my friends’ delight, I was adjudged the Fresh Face for 2005. That instilled in me a new confidence to pursue acting not only in Bollywood, but Ollywood, because it pretty much had the same ethics, glamour as any other movie industry.
There was some magical charm about Bhubaneshwar that kept serenading me like Pied Piper and kept throwing opportunities that got me glued to Bhubaneshwar: the new cultural capital of India.
Ollywood superstar Bobby Mishra once told me that the noted Bollywood director N Chandra was looking for a young girl to cast in his Hollywood movie A woman from Georgia.
With butterflies in my stomach, I appeared for the audition. To my utter amazement, I was selected. I felt as if I had become a fairy in the fairyland. I stood before lights and camera.
It was a new experience.
Soon my phone started ringing incessantly, flooding me with offers to act in music videos, movies, commercials and others. That was not the end.
There were ribbon cutting ceremonies, awards, travelling, photo-shoots, fan mails, adulations, college functions in which I was invited as a guest. It was an honour indeed, because I was also a student then, and I felt blessed and privileged to attend and address students my age.
It was putting demands on me and I was slowly going far away from my father’s world of books and academic vision. Maximum city offered maximum dreams. There was no looking back. I was no more the “other”. I was sucked by “dream”. I became the dream. That was the beginning of the “Album Revolution” in Orissa. I must have participated in endless television debates justifying people’s album-mania.
Our ossified intellectuals clung to the past. They seemed to be in limbo. For a while, every college-going boy and girl would dream of becoming an album star.
Every marriage procession rocked to our beat. For a while the album songs had eclipsed the film songs, and albums had even eclipsed the movies with their sheer novelty and spontaneity. I am proud today I was a part of it. I liked that line by Arthur O Shaughnessy, “We are the dreamers. We are the musicmakers”.