Friday Review

It's still young

THE FILM HASN’T AGED And Shivanna hasn’t too. Photo: G. P. Sampath Kumar  

‘Om’ never fails to bring back fond memories of my dear friend, the late cinematographer, BC Gowrishanker. He always valued my opinion and I’ve had the pleasure of watching many a film with him much before its release during what was known as ‘copy checking’. It was the process of the cinematographer or his assistants watching each copy of the film before it was despatched to various places for release. Technology has changed all that. Having watched it several times he could never be objective. We’d watch the film in solitude, the Rajkumar starrers at Gemini Studios, Madras, which was the only processing lab and played host to even stalwarts like Satyajit Ray. Later in the nineties it was Prasad studios, Bangalore. We missed the din fans made but had fun guessing which scene or dialogues would be drowned by whistles and claps.

Gowri was excited about ‘Om’. He’d used a warm, yellow tone throughout the film like PC Sreeram had in ‘Nayakan’. It sort of diffused the violence and the colour of blood. We watched it at Prasad lab and probably because I was going to be away for a month I confidently told him it would be a blockbuster. I can still remember Gowri beaming when I told him his work would be one of the highlights. When I called him on my return, he was on cloud nine. His phone hadn’t stopped ringing and the film was breaking records. I later predicted ‘Janumadha Jodi’ would be a disaster because I thought Shivanna’s character was weak and his fans would be disappointed. That film too broke box-office records! Gowri was happy I was wrong.

It’s twenty years and the Rajkumar family will never regret having produced this film. It still fills their coffers whenever released. They were initially reluctant about backing the project. It was the sharp Vardanna, ‘Annavru’s’ brother who insisted. Some interesting trivia is that the film was made at a budget of 68 lakh rupees. It was sold at a meagre margin. H.D Kumraswamy bought the rights to distribute the film for the Mysore area and made a small fortune. There’s one man who’s prefixed his name with ‘Om’ because he’s built a bungalow distributing the film. The family got back the rights after three years. The digitally restored version was released last week when most producers have postponed their films because it’s exam time and the World Cup has reached the knockout stage. Exams did I say? The maximum crowd at a multiplex on a weekday morning was for ‘Om’ and most of them were backpack bearing college kids. “I’m going to watch it for the first time. My girlfriend insisted,” I overheard a kid say. “I’ve watched it every single time it’s been released, at least fifteen times,” preened his proud pal as they streamed in. One of the main advantages is that the television and DVD rights of the film have not been sold. Now that doesn’t make it easier to lure fans into theatres. Two Kannada films released last week had to be removed from the same multiplex because of zero attendance. It’s always come in handy for distributors to lease out ‘Om’ when there are no releases or when films have to be forcefully withdrawn.

‘Om’ is the ‘Godfather’ of Kannada cinema. It’s a film about rowdyism and starred some real life goons, erstwhile and still active. It’s about an innocent youth, the son of a priest who’s lured by his lover to commit a crime and finds he’s hopelessly caught in a ‘chakravyuha’ of crime. There are various twists. The heroine realises her folly but the hero’s life is irreversible. It talks about the futility of senseless violence and the tumult the family undergoes. It talks about how difficult redemption and reformation is. Shivrajkumar underplayed the transformation which was more in attitude than appearance or behaviour. Prema was an ideal, volatile foil. The music by Hamsalekha who was still in form was helped by the soulful singing of Raj Kumar. It was the first time Shivanna picked up the ‘long’ (a crude cross between a sickle and a sword) and he’s still stuck with it. The same magic has not been recreated though. If today a film is being made about the rowdy ruling the streets, it’s all because of ‘Om’. Filmmakers are still trying to recapture the allure of that film. Gowrishanker would have been happy though and I can imagine him calling me and gushing in unbridled pride after collecting collection reports.

sshivu@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 4:04:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/its-still-young/article7011642.ece

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