Film making, family, and festivals

Ishan Mahapatra (MBA, 2013) is a filmmaker whose screen adaptation of his grandfather’s story won Best Set Design at the Madrid International Film Festival this year. We thought it was only fitting to give him the opportunity to share his story and also a few snaps of his award-winning film!

Can you tell me about your time at City?

The MBA was a fantastic experience. I would like to credit Professor Joseph Lampel for planting the seed of making movies in my mind. During our strategy classes, his admiration for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career was something that really made me think about working in the film and entertainment industry once I graduated. The other really strong memory I have is of our strategy projects – both of which encouraged me to go out and try novel approaches in my work.

What happened after you graduated?

After I graduated, I decided to move back to India after having spent several years overseas. I worked in marketing for a few years. In 2018, we had decided to make the film, and I had just started work at a new company. Realising that this was the opportunity that I had been waiting for, and I jumped at it.

How did the story for Josef – Born in Grace come about?

My grandfather, Umakanta Mahapatra, became a writer after his retirement. Josef was one of the stories that he wrote based on his experiences on being posted in the Northeast of India. It’s also a story that has stuck with everyone who has read it. It had always been a dream of my father’s to see this story adapted to the screen. Once he retired in 2018, we started work on making the dream come true in earnest.

How did it feel to win Best Set Design at the Madrid International Film Festival?

We were absolutely ecstatic when we saw our film named the winner. We jumped out of our seats and ran around shouting in joy. It was really gratifying to see the work of our entire team rewarded.

Taken from the set of Josef – Born in Grace


Aside from the award, what has been the most rewarding experience?

Just seeing the completed film on screen. It’s been a pretty long journey to get my grandfather’s words on screen, and through its ups and downs, I haven’t wanted to be anywhere else. We’ve had a few screenings for the crew, and it’s always fantastic to see all that hard work on screen.

What were some of the challenges?

It’s been quite a tough year to release a film, much less a non-commercial art film. Many of the festivals that we were hoping to attend have been postponed or moved online. That’s reduced our marketing and networking opportunities very significantly. Navigating this new normal of virtual events and meetings is quite challenging, especially in an industry that prizes face-to-face and in-person interactions to sell ideas and completed projects.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

If this is something that you’re considering, and you have a relatively high appetite for risk and uncertainty, go for it. There’s nothing quite as magical as watching something that you’ve helped create come to life on the big screen in a darkened cinema (current climate notwithstanding). It’s important to remember that it’s still a business, and you can keep pursuing a dream only as long as it’s financially viable. It’s hard to dream when you can’t keep the lights on.

There are many different ways to pursue something that you’re passionate about. The common advice that you might receive is valuable, but it will only get you to the same place as everyone else.