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‘Rachna & I knew each other inside out’

You won the Best Actor Award for Eka Eka. You have bagged this honour six times earlier, but for commercial films. Eka Eka comes under the parallel cinema genre. Is it sad that such films hardly release here?

Yes, it is very upsetting. I had been waiting for an art film to come my way, but it hasn’t been able to reach the audience. We are producing 30-odd films a year but not a single film is good enough to be sent to the national level.

What are the problem areas in Odia film industry?

We are releasing too many movies in a year. Right now, the supply is more than the demand, which is a bad sign. Recovery of money has been a problem. The industry must unite and pressurise the government for a film policy, so that we can have more theatres, perhaps in each block in public-private partnership mode. That will give the industry a boost.

Why did you sidestep into politics, which is famously dubbed as “the last resort of scoundrels”?

This is a wrong perception. I believe younger, sincere and educated people must come into this field. For me, politics is about implementing the best of policies. So, instead of labelling politicians as scoundrels, one should join this field and do some good work. I had never thought of contesting elections. I just wanted to campaign for the party alongside acting. Then suddenly, the BJD high command offered me a ticket to fight the Lok Sabha elections from Berhampur constituency.

Did you approach anyone for a party ticket?

No, because if my proposal had been rejected, I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate that. Every person has an ego, not always negative. I had decided that if the call came from the other side, I wouldn’t say no. The call from BJD finally came, though not personally from Naveen Patnaik.

Do you think acting helps in politics?

Films are an indirect way of connecting with people while politics involves direct interaction. Politics is more like theatre – you deliver a speech and get spontaneous reaction from your audience. But if you are a popular film personality-turned-politician, you will have no trouble mingling with people. That is the only advantage. Ultimately, what makes or breaks you is how much you have delivered in your five years as a political figure.

It is said that BJD makes it a point to involve you in most public meetings, apparently because of your stardom and the fact that you are a major crowd puller. Do you agree?

Absolutely not! I am one of the star campaigners of the party, but it is chief minister Naveen Patnaik who pulls the crowd. People come to meet him and bless him for all the good work he has been doing over the years.

Do you feel Naveen could have made a good actor?

Yes, he is an artist. The term actor doesn’t only mean playing a part in a film. Every human being is an artiste, born to play a distinct role in this world. If Siddhant Mohapatra can be an actor, so can everybody else.

You acted in Odia film Mukhya Mantri and epitomised an ideal chief minister who is committed to the welfare of his people. Do you find any similarity between that CM and Naveen?

Of course. He is well read, humble, principled and presentable. Political constraints are always there, but Odisha is fortunate to have a CM like Naveen.

We have also seen you as a Maoist in films like Swayamsiddha and Pahili Raja. How do you think the government should facilitate Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda’s release?

Maoists, terrorists and anti socials prevail in every society. But if one wants to return to the mainstream and lead a good life, it is always welcome. I think he, along with his colleagues, must surrender. Fighting for a cause is good. Violence isn’t acceptable.

You have been the numero uno actor in this industry for over a decade. Do you feel threatened by the new crop of actors?

Not at all! I have 20 years of experience behind me. If I feel threatened by a newcomer, what would be the value of all those 20 years? I am confident of my position in the industry. Besides, it is all about aging gracefully. So, I am exploring various roles and people are appreciating that.

Which of the current actors looks promising to you?

From a commercial point of view, Anubhav, Arindam and even Babushaan are okay. Their films work well and they ensure good returns to the producers. But as far as their acting and other skills are concerned, I am disappointed. They have a long way to go. Other actors like Sabyasachi, Akash and Buddhaditya are good but they don’t have that commercial value.

Of all the actresses you have worked with, who has been the best co-star?

Rachna Banerjee, of course. We acted in so many hit movies for almost a decade and shared great chemistry on screen. It’s like we never needed a director. We knew each other inside out.

Big screen to Lok Sabha

Siddhant Mohapatra, 46, is a top-notch actor of the Odia film industry and a Biju Janata Dal MP from Berhampur constituency

Born to a doctor couple in the small town of Balugaon of Khurda district, Siddhant completed his schooling from St Vincent’s Convent School, Berhampur

He did Plus Two and graduation in commerce from Dharanidhar College in Keonjhar district and went on to do master's degree from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi. He even played Ranji cricket for Odisha in the 80s

At the age of 27, he made his debut in the film industry on the request of a cousin, who was also trying his luck in Odia films

His first film, Shradhanjali, released in 1993 after which he never looked back. With nearly 150 films in his kitty, he made his mark by performing live stunts and revolutionising the dance and action aspects in films. He is also a fitness freak and dabbles in creative activities during his leisure

He dated co-star Rachna Banerjee before getting married to her in a secret ceremony. Later, they got divorced and Siddhant got married to Mama Mishra, also an Odia actress

He joined the BJD in 2009 and won the Lok Sabha seat from Berhampur by defeating Chandra Sekhar Sahu, who had roped in Siddhant’s estranged wife to campaign against him before the elections

He is also the brand ambassador of a leading jewellery house in Odisha. He has undertaken several social activities like AIDS awareness.

What would you have been had you not been an actor and politician?

I played Ranji, so I could have been a cricketer. Being an MBA holder, I had a good chance of jumping onto the corporate bandwagon or maybe become a businessman, if I had decided to trust my entrepreneurial skills. But I guess it was pre-destined that I would become an actor and a politician. I took up acting in the early 90s on the request of a cousin. After doing three or four movies, I was convinced that I could pursue acting as a profession. Then I joined politics because I wanted to do something worthwhile for the people of Odisha who have made me what I am today.