Saturday, January 18, 2014

Om Dar-B-Dar Review

This makes (no) sense!

Om Dar-B-Dar
Director: Kamal Swaroop
Cast: Aditya Lakhia, Lalit Tiwari, Gopi Desai, Manish Gupta
Ratings: “Out of course!”

“If one Om is 17 years, then how many Oms in one light year?”

Well, how do you rate a film on your conventional 5-star scale that is so unconventional in its form? How do you even review it (or well, at least start to) when even after seeing so much you are not sure of what you have seen? I don’t know. Or I would rather like to put what the protagonist says in answer to the above quoted dilemma: “Out of course!”

What I saw in this 2 hour long film was colourful pastiche of randomly shot scenes that could tantalize some part of your mind with its incongruous dialogues. Is there a story? Yes. Not one, but many, each intricately related to another and making its own point. Don’t ask me to deconstruct (or rather, construct) the entire plot. Do they make sense, individually or collectively? Umm, not sure.

“You can make out 10 different films from this,” claimed Swaroop while discussing the film after the press screening. I agree with him. Just when the film started, I started piling up plot points in my mind. Only few minutes later, I destructed that stack of points in both frustration and amusement. Because the moment I could somewhat make sense out of something, bam, it was gone. I then sat back, and allowed the film to take me on the trip that it was on to. (One reviewer has beautifully summed up this film as “The Great Indian LSD trip”). The cycle continues, of imagery and sequences complemented by superlative and highly original music (by Rajat Dholakia) from a brass-band roadshow to a psychedelic and haunting one about Rana Tigrina (a species of frogs) to a typical Vividh Bharti one that is requested by two of the characters in the film.

The arc of the two characters who request the same song on Vividh Bharti for years is the only part that I can claim to completely understand and could relate to realism. They are Gayatri (Om, titular character’s sister) and Jagdish, her good-for-nothing lover from Jhumri Talaiya. They were on a different LSD- Love, Sex and Dhokha (How original of me to say that!).

Their love involves talking about liberation. Jagdish teaches her cycling to be free and asks her to do a BA to become independent. She asks why women can’t climb Mt. Everest without the help of men? He answers, “Of course, they can. After all, Goddess Parvati did.” He is the one reluctant to have sex with her, as he is more focused on his career. He reasons, “Had Newton not eaten that apple, that rocket would have never been launched.” He bites an apple as he says this. This is witty and amusing. His fear is brilliantly manifested behind the rocket science of this gem of a line. All he meant was, Newton could have never discovered gravity, if he would have fallen for that forbidden fruit of sex, and humankind would have never seen an invention like the rocket.  

After this hilarious scene, he leaves her with some money and a sliced apple on the table. When he returns after years, he is surprised to see a baby in Gayatri’s home. On asking the identity of the baby, Gayatri replies, he’s a paying guest. This is humorous and chilling at the same time. They get married and later plans to commit suicide together by tasting potassium cyanide at a cliff where Jagdish reminds us of other space centres on earth from where rockets launch, one being that cliff now. This was liberation for Jagdish, to die in guilt. And with this, he tries to contribute towards science (He is also a B.Sc.) by letting the mankind know how cyanide actually tastes. It tastes like cow dung, Gayatri notes in a diary.

Meanwhile she drops the idea of dying (or was it ever on her plan?); she leaves on a bicycle with the diary. She betrayed him (or did she?), and maybe in repentance, she would let the world know of the taste of cyanide, not letting his sacrifice go worthless. She is now a free-spirited, independent and liberated woman that Jagdish desired.

Phew! This single aspect of the film alone was worth one film or a short. And let me remind you, there are still many different aspects left to be explored. They require more viewings to understand. They involve modern electronic equipment (whose sound ends like that of a frog, like computarr, motor), diamonds, superstition, marketing and advertising, satire on Nehru, and everything that makes India a diverse land.

“The recursive image of Nehru is to symbolise him as Lord Brahma (the creator), as India has got everything through him,” explained Swaroop sitting in the preview room of NFDC (that produced this film) in the building that is named after, well, Nehru. Towards the climax, the film moves to Pushkar where the only temple of Lord Brahma is believed to be situated. And we see people praying to the kid protagonist Om, superstitiously. The film is making yet another point here.

Swaroop puts bio (of biology) in bioscope. Watching cinema for him is a physiological process. So, being taken on a ride on acid hallucinations or in lucid dream of the character, director or yourself, you can either call this film high-art or anti-art. You can dismiss this film midway or can love it instantly, but as clich├ęd as it sounds, you cannot ignore this, if you are among those who get high on cinema.

This remains a special Hindi film. It is written in chaste Hindi (including the title credits). This film did rounds of film festivals across the globe but never saw theatrical release at home. But it did win the country’s oldest award, the Filmfare, for Best Film (Critics’ Choice). Om Dar-B-Dar is considered as one of the important films of the parallel movement of the ‘80s, and Kamal Swaroop as one of its pioneers. Officially releasing in India this week, this film is still relevant with the art-house scene of our cinema that is now majorly driven by indie films. Only difference is The Lunchbox is not even nominated for Best Film at Filmfare awards this year and Ship Of Theseus was not even considered for it. Maybe Nehru had something to do with it, or maybe things don’t have connections with each other at all.

The film has been released by PVR Directors' Rare on 17th January, 2013. For show timings, see:

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