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Omkara 'fire' is spreading

The quality of a film lies within it, not in external factors like mass appeal, writes Saibal Chatterjee. Omkara review

india Updated: Aug 05, 2006 13:01 IST

The way a section of the media has been going on and on this past week about the 'negatives' of Omkara - its unrelentingly dark ambience, its rustic setting and its shockingly foul lingo - it would seem that writer-director Vishal Bhardwaj is more an ice-cream vendor bound by his calling to cater to the emotional sweet tooth of the viewer than a filmmaker endowed with the natural talent to tackle narrative material that's edgy, earthy, provocative and stylised.

So what if families are staying away from Omkara. By no means should that be an indication of how good or bad the film is. The quality of a film lies within it, not in external factors like mass appeal and commercial performance.

Even on the latter score, Bhardwaj's wonderfully well-crafted film is an achievement that is way out of the ordinary, especially when compared to the welter of mediocrity that Bollywood usually wallows in.


 Omkara isn't for wimps. It isn't for the woolly-headed either. It's a full-on Shakespearean adaptation relocated to the badlands of UP with style and panache

In any case, why does every film made in Mumbai have to be a sugary clone of the maudlin romances, vapid comedies and bloated family dramas that predominantly pass for entertainment in this part of the world? Come on, cinema is surely a medium powerful enough to deliver more than mere mindless entertainment.

Let the piffle peddlers strut their stuff in pursuit of pecuniary profits - the movie industry does need them - but please do not stop those that have the courage to play the game at a different, higher level from going where their vision guides them.

Films like Omkara, with their crackling energy and their uncompromising approach, push the boundaries of popular Hindi cinema, and for that alone they deserve our wholehearted support. Omkara isn't for wimps. It isn't for the woolly-headed either. It's a full-on Shakespearean adaptation relocated to the badlands of Uttar Pradesh with style and panache and, for all its flaws, Omkara  celebrates as much the art of storytelling as it does the craft of moviemaking. Above all, it does not treat its audience like a bunch of morons.

Of course, support for good cinema does not only mean going out there and picking up tickets; it also means helping in creating and sustaining a climate in which films like Omkara, films that refuse to play safe and, fired the spirit of a maverick, venture into untested terrain, can thrive.

The heartening thing about all the media ballyhoo generated by Omkara is that it has helped an essentially off-mainstream film and its creators to appropriate a little corner the mass discourse space. That's a sign that Bollywood may be ready for growth in the right direction.

As the frequency of experiments within the mainstream format increases, it appears that a hitherto insular movie industry has slowly but steadily begun to see and understand the virtues of eschewing formula narrative constructs.

Page 3, Corporate, Yun Hota To Kya Hota, Omkara, the upcoming Kabul Express, these are all manifestations of a nascent movement that will grow stronger only if we learn to look beyond the bottomline.

The world has its attention trained on Bollywood, but all that the latter manages to churn out for the most part are sanitised confections embellished with high-strung drama and lowbrow escapism. It's time to move on and embrace the spirit that Omkara represents. There's smouldering fire in the film - let's not douse it with silly 'trade observer' theories. Let the fire rage - it has the potential to start a full-fledged inferno.

First it was the inner aag that spurred the youthful protagonists of Rang de Basanti. Now it's the scalding simmer in Bipasha's jigar (heart) in Omkara that has touched the nation. In a few weeks, it will hopefully mutate into crossfire in an all-out war zone in Kabul Express. This fire is indeed spreading and it can light more than just a beedi.