Even considering the long history of alternative Indian cinemas that have emerged under the shadow of Bollywood—the insistent auteurism of Guru Dutt, the humanist realism of Satyajit Ray, the Marxist interventions of Mrinal Sen—the subcontinent has produced nothing else like Kamal Swaroop’s utterly sui generis feature debut, Om Dar Ba Dar.
Upon its completion in 1988, Swaroop’s periphrastic coming-of-age tale baffled national film censors, who damned it to obscurity with an “adults only” rating. Nevertheless, it garnered critical acclaim and almost mythic notoriety through decades of festival screenings, eventually achieving an unparalleled cult status among Indian cinephiles, largely on the basis of murky file-shared video dubs. Now newly-restored, it was released to theaters in India for the first time only this year.
Swaroop’s film begins in a fictional village in Rajasthan, where Om, the son of an eccentric astrologer, grows from boyhood to adolescence alongside his sister Gayatri, a small-town feminist who insists on sitting in the men’s section at the local movie house. The fever dream plot that spins around these two characters defies easy recounting: a mysterious woman arrives as if from the pages of a pulp Hindi novel; festive Diwali firecrackers transform into actual bombs; frogs steal a black-market stash of diamonds; a local businessman attempts to avert the next World War; Om discovers how to breathe underwater and becomes a tourist attraction. Unlike the often strident rejections of popular film form espoused by parallel cinema, Om Dar Ba Dar embraces the Bollywood conventions of romance and musical numbers, but delivers these pleasures through dialog peppered with arch non-sequiturs, sly references to mythology and politics, psychedelic sequences that may be fantasies or dreams, and off-kilter filmi songs larded with weird synths and vocoder. As one New Delhi-based critic put it: “Welcome to the trippiest film made in Indian cinema.”
Om Dar Ba Dar, Kamal Swaroop, 1988, digital projection, 101 mins
I am micro, Shumona Goel and Shai Heredia, 2012, digital projection, 15 mins
Om Dar Ba Dar is shown with Shumona Goel and Shai Heredia’s I am micro, a powerfully allusive essay on the fugitive nature of Indian independent film, shot in an abandoned optics factory and on the set of Ashim Ahluwahlia’s recent feature Miss Lovely. Critic and curator Shanay Jhaveri observed that “I am micro initiates a conversation about the people who are forgotten and absent, and the fact that they are missing often goes unrecorded. These bit actors, lab technicians, uncompromising directors, committed producers fade from history, and often their disappearance also fades with time. It seems dedicated against such forgetting.”
Followed by a conversation with Goel.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm
Tuesday, June 17
7:30pm at Light Industry, $7, tickets at door
155 Freeman Street, Greenpoint