Janaki Viswanathan tells Gowri Ramnarayan how her forthcoming film “Om Obama” came about, the reason behind its title and its link to international events
Every word he spoke or didn't speak, every gesture he made or didn't make, has become exhaustive, even frenzied fodder for newscasters, reporters and political analysts — experts or otherwise. With his masterly oratory, American President Barack Obama sports a messianic halo in India.
“Om Obama”, a yet-to-be-released feature by Chennai filmmaker Janaki Viswanathan, maker of the award-winning “Kutti” and “Kanavu Meipada Vendum”, creates a situation where the man's obvious charisma has a whole village in Tamil Nadu spellbound. So much has this generic hamlet identified itself with Obama that its dwellers believe they have contributed significantly to his success in the presidential election. “Obama enga veettu pillai!” they boast. No, the village has had no direct contact with the man. But the sense of kinship, even ownership, is of people who have done him some signal service, a major favour! As they go through difficult times in the film, they are convinced that Obama, and only Obama, can bail them out.
Why Obama at all? Says Janaki, “I had already worked out the script based on a tiny, remote village when I felt I should give it a bigger orientation, a larger background. Everyone talked about Obama as the solver of all problems, the saviour of America, and of the world. Meanwhile, the economic recession made me realise the importance of international finance and global harmony. Business in places like Tiruppur was badly affected by it and this article I read insisted that prosperity would return when Obama became President!” Someone remarked, “Instead of Om laabham (profit), we should say Om Obama!” And that is how she found her title, and the link to international events.
Reel and real
The medium-budget film was launched much before she had any inkling of Obama's India visit. But surprisingly, Janaki saw some strange parallels between her conceptualisation and the actual happenings — as in Obama's teleconference with a village panchayat, or his dancing to Koli and Bollywood style beats. One of the songs in “Om Obama” features Obama in visuals, as villagers urge him to shake a leg with them.
Paul Jacob's music makes a vivid contribution to the film. “He infuses a bubbling folk effervescence in the celebratory sequence with terukoothu, puliyattam and poikkal kudirai,” Janaki smiles. The film has a first — an Urdu song in a Tamil movie. The actors are drawn from theatre, terukoothu, and the real inhabitants of the village where the film unit camped, roughing it out, but enjoying the experience of soaking in the ambience captured in the film. By the time shooting finished, Obama became a boy in the hood for the people.
Says Janaki, who has written the story and dialogues, “Rather than focus on a single character, I have introduced multi-level sub-plots to make it interesting.” She has also departed from her usual serious style. As the title promises, “Om Obama” has lots of light touches, jokes, fun, repartee, as it moves through pastoral romance and village bonds, grassroots politics and slices of life.