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  Om Dar-B-Dar Strange India
Year: 1988
Director: Kamal Swaroop
Stars: Gopi Desai, Manish Gupta, Anita Kanwar, Aditya Lakhia, Lakshminarayan Shastri, Lalit Tiwari
Genre: WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Om (Aditya Lakhia) is the son of an astrologer (Lakshminarayan Shastri) who is regularly consulted by the people of their Indian town, but has a liking for making ominous pronouncements about what the heavens are telling him. Om has a special talent, which makes him akin to a frog, which is an ability to hold his breath underwater for a long time, and there are manipulative folks who would wish to use this talent for their own ends. But he has needs like any young man, and after a young lady sits next to him in the cinema, he finds himself falling in love, just as his life grows ever weirder and more impenetrable as the inherent mysticism he is existing through that is part of the Indian landscape becomes inseparable from his experiences...

Or at least, that's what seems to be happening, but working out what exactly was going on in Om Dar-B-Dar was, to say the least, something of a challenge. Although it fast became a cult movie in the late nineteen-eighties, it was as much for its hallucinogenic qualities, if not more, than its ability to tell a coherent story. It instigator was Kamal Swaroop, a director who subsequently turned to documentaries for most of the rest of his career, and what he was conjuring up here came across as so personal to him and the time and place it was made that it was almost akin to eavesdropping on someone's private thoughts. But not thoughts about what to have for dinner or anything mundane, more a stream of consciousness triggered by either daydreams or something stronger.

Not that Swaroop was off his face when he made this, there was certainly an intelligence behind it that was constructing what we were watching in a manner suggesting the material had not gotten away from him and was turning out precisely the way he wanted it to. Really, it settled into what resembled a series of sketches that were gradually intercut with one another to pull together a montage of wild ideas, near-documentary footage of the town it was set, and more blatantly surreal bits of business that were given narration to indicate they were of a mystical, even cosmic, nature. But always, at nearly every point, there was the sense the film was questioning so much about Indian society and going farther to the point it was questioning the very nature of the universe: a piece with quite a lot on its planet-sized plate, then.

Although there were songs, and what you could loosely describe as musical numbers, this was not a Bollywood movie in a musical vein as you might have popularly anticipated from Indian cinema, yet neither was it a Satyajit Ray-style social document that discerned the profound in the everyday. It was its own thing, and while it featured the undeniable flavour of its origins, you could compare it to Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain or Souleymani Cissé's Yeelen, that sort of way out of the mainstream, far from the Western tradition work that regarded the globe like something unknowable yet understandable at the same time. Naturally, it was easy to get pretentious about Om Dar-B-Dar, and the fact remained almost everyone who saw it would have no idea of what they were seeing and shrug their shoulders at the concept of tadpole terrorists or shitting diamonds, never mind actually attempting to make sense of it all. But that feeling it did mean something, and it would all be clear if you contemplated it long enough as a shaman contemplated their navel, nagged away at you as you watched its dreamlike absurdities parade across the screen. That and trying to identify the noises liberally applied from a BBC sound effects record.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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