25 years after it was made, Om Darbadar, Kamal Swaroop's cult underground film, is being restored for theatrical and home release
In the 1950 French epistle La Mémoire Collective, philosopher sociologist Maurice Halbwachs talks of how collective memory can be shared, passed on and constructed by groups both small and large. He also adds, that in many ways, collective memory parallels individual memory, especially as it has better recall of pictures than of words. Filmmaker Kamal Swaroop was an assistant director working on Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) when he came across Halbwachs’ account. It influenced him so greatly that Swaroop wondered how he could take it to a home-grown audience. The answer was, obviously, films. Swaroop wrote a script that treaded the thin line between surreal and abstract. “We had just wrapped up Gandhi’s shoot and I wanted to make a film that would resonate with the viewer,” says Swaroop.
It took him another six years to make Om Darbadar (1988), a post-modernist multi-layered non-linear narrative on the coming-of-age of a boy, Om (Aditya Lakhia), in an idyllic town in Rajasthan. The film, however, got mired in controversies and never got a theatrical release. Animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi protested against the killing of frogs (frogs were used as a metaphor through the film) for a dissection scene in the film following a comment made by Swaroop, while the Censor Board had issues with a few scenes in it. “There were four cuts suggested by the Board. There was a scene in which Om wears a locket with a book inside it. They wanted the scene removed because they thought that it was the Quran,” says Swaroop. Even after these scenes were edited, eventually, the film found no distributors. “Everyone started calling it a ‘mad film’ or a ‘film that should have never even been made’,” he says in a matter-of-fact way.
Now, almost 25 years later, the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), also the primary financier of the film, is restoring it and planning to release it for home entertainment and theatres. “We received a mandate from the government of India (ministry