A movie that was made with great difficulty, lay forgotten in a warehouse for years and was found in a poor condition – Maya Miriga by renowned Odia director Nirad Mohapatra is destined to be a case study in courses about film preservation.

The 1984 production was restored by the Film Heritage Foundation after a three-year effort. Maya Miriga (Mirage) will be premiered at Il Cinema Ritrovato (June 24-30), the festival in Bologna, Italy, which showcases newly restored classics. For Mohapatra’s family as well as FHF founder Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Maya Miriga’s resurrection is nothing short of miraculous.

Nirad Mohapatra died in 2015, his dream of restoring his solo feature unfulfilled. “Maya Miriga was made on a shoestring budget and in dire circumstances,” Nirad Mohapatra’s son, Sandeep, told Scroll. “I can’t wait to watch it on a big screen.”

Dungarpur, whose organisation has recently restored Aravindan Govindan’s Kummatty and Thamp, Aribam Syam Sharma’s Ishanou and Shyam Benegal’s Manthan, added, “Maya Miriga was the toughest film to restore. There were times when we wondered if we could carry it off at all.”

The back stories about Maya Miriga are as dramatic as the film itself is quiet. Mohapatra’s screenplay captures the gradual changes that cause a joint family to implode.

Nirad Mohapatra.

Three generations live in a rambling house in Puri. “Here we are, so many and with so many demands,” a character says.

The eldest son and his wife, who are expecting a child, have come to resent the pressure of educating four more siblings. When one of the children becomes an Indian Administrative Service officer, material conditions improve but the bonds fray. The restlessness is most vividly expressed in the competing ambitions of the women, especially the household’s eldest daughter-in-law.

Made in the realist tradition of the Indian New Wave movement, Maya Miriga explores its themes subtly, without being judgmental. The cast is largely non-professional, with the filmmaker’s brother, future NDTV journalist Sampad Mahapatra, playing the IAS officer.

Maya Miriga drew heavily from Mohapatra’s own life, his son said. In a director’s note that was made available by his family, Nirad Mohapatra wrote: “I intended the film to be long and compassionate look at its characters, watching the members of a family inexorably progress towards their break-up. I belong there, to the small-town middle class joint family and have been fascinated by its dreams and agonising nightmares. In it, I see a lot of warmth, fellow-feeling, sharing of experiences and a sense of responsibility. But I also see the tight-rope walking of the married sons, the bitterness of its locked-up daughters-in-law, their need for freedom, economic or otherwise, the maladjustment in marriages and above all, selfishness that can damage its very fibre.”

Maya Miriga is ultimately about “certain emotional bonds which make up a way of life and the painful realisation that they cannot last”, Mohapatra added.

Maya Miriga (1984). Courtesy Lotus Film International/Film Heritage Foundation.

Mohapatra had directed a few documentaries before embarking on his fiction project. With barely any money at his disposal, the Film and Television Institute of India alumnus made Maya Miriga with 16mm film cobbled together from leftover stock at processing laboratories, Dungarpur said.

Mohapatra was a man of determination as well as high ideals, his son recalled. “My father was primarily a film educator and wasn’t commercial-minded,” Sandeep Mohapatra said. “He led a life of humility and high standards. He had two pairs of sandals and four kurta-pyjamas. The day he got a fifth pair, he would donate one of the older pairs.”

The family owned a Maruti Omni van for years that Nirad Mohapatra claimed was rented. “My father felt that if his children sat six inches above the ground, they might get a false of superiority,” said Sandeep Mohapatra, who has two siblings.

Production on Maya Miriga dragged out for nearly a year. The movie is dedicated to the brilliant production designer Bansi Chandragupta, who had worked extensively with Satyajit Ray. Chandragupta was all set to work on the film when he died suddenly during a trip to New York in 1981.

There were other hurdles. Shooting had to be halted when one of the actresses had to attend to an urgent family matter. A cheque for funds released by the government-run National Film Development Corporation was gobbled up by a hungry cow after the postman left his bag unattended for a few minutes, Sandeep Mohapatra said.

Maya Miriga (1984). Courtesy Lotus Film International/Film Heritage Foundation.

After finally being completed, Maya Miriga was selected for the Critics Week sidebar event at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984. Having send seed money for the production, the NFDC didn’t cover Mohapatra’s plane ticket to Cannes, Sandeep Mohapatra said.

A delay by the NFDC in sending a French subtitled print along with the English print meant that Mohapatra had to recite his dialogue for jury members. An incensed Mohapatra complained about the callousness to journalists after he returned to India, which got him into trouble with NFDC officials, his son said.

After Maya Miriga, Mohapatra continued to make documentaries. He also lectured widely on cinema and served on the juries of several film festivals. But he never directed another feature. The one that he did make largely disappeared from view.

“I remember having seen a poor-quality version at home,” Sandeep Mohapatra said. “When my father was alive, he couldn’t afford to have the film restored. I felt I needed to preserve his legacy.”

Sandeep Mohapatra began contacting whoever he thought could help him, including his father’s friend and former FTII director Surender Chawdhary. Meanwhile, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur had also been on the trail of Maya Miriga.

Dungarpur had watched Maya Miriga as a directing student at FTII. When Dungarpur was making Celluloid Man, his 2012 documentary on the pioneering National Film Archive of India director PK Nair, he had attempted to include Mohapatra in the film.

“I wanted to interview Nirad for Celluloid Man, especially because he knew PK Nair very well,” Dungarpur said. “Nair saab would often talk about Maya Miriga, and what a beautiful film it was. But I never got to interview Nirad.” In 2020, Chawdhary referred Mohapatra to Dungarpur.

Nirad Mohapatra and cinematographer Rajgopal Mishra at the location of Maya Miriga. Courtesy Lotus Film International/Film Heritage Foundation.

But where was the original Maya Miriga camera negative? There were two 35mm prints at NFAI in Pune, both in poor condition, Dungarpur said.

In 2021, Sandeep Mohapatra managed to trace the negative to Prasad Lab in Chennai, where his father had stored it. After Mohapatra’s death, the laboratory had not been paid for the negative’s upkeep. As per its policy, the laboratory transferred the negative to a warehouse, where it began to deteriorate.

By the time conservators got their hands on the Maya Miriga negative, it already appeared to be too late.

“We didn’t even know how and where to begin,” Dungarpur recalled. “The emulsion had come off. The colour had faded. We didn’t have a reference for the colour grading since the cinematographer [Rajgopal Mishra] had passed away. There were portions missing. We had to do a process of dehydration since the negative had moisture.”

Three different elements were used to reconstruct the original movie’s colours and sound. “We used the best of the 16mm negative and the 35mm prints at NFAI,” Dungarpur said. While the restoration was funded by Film Heritage Foundation, the process was completed by the L’Immagine Ritrovata archive in Bologna.

Maya Miriga (1984). Courtesy Lotus Film International/Film Heritage Foundation.

“I can’t thank Shivendra enough – I am indebted to him,” Sandeep Mohapatra said. He pitched in too, providing the teams with a shooting script that belonged to his father. Mohapatra, who heads a bank’s digital division in Mauritius, even trained himself to work on the subtitles for the new version in hi spare time.

“The whole family got involved – I consulted my mother as well as my siblings,” Mohapatra said. “The credits were damaged too, so a friend of mine from the National Institute of Design helped recreate them.”

He is gearing up to attend the film’s screening in Bologna. His mother Sabita Mohanty, who lives in Bhubaneswar, was unable to get a visa in time, Mohapatra said. “The beauty of the film is that it is timeless. Everyone can relate to it.”

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