A movie that gave "longs" (machetes) an identity in Kannada films. A movie that redefined the meaning of "realistic cinema". A movie that kept audiences coming back – for over 550 times to packed houses.
Om. Two letters. One syllable. And a movie that millions of Kannadigas swear by – even a quarter of a century after its release.
The Making of a Legacy
It is hard to define if the craze for Om originates from its unconventional story structure or from the fact that people didn't have access to the movie for the longest time. No DVDs. No video cassettes. No ripped copies on YouTube (if you don't count the grainy, skewed, bad quality theatre print that seemed to serve the purpose of documenting the reactions of the crowd more than the movie itself). For the longest time, the only way you could watch this movie was in the theatres. And what a treat it was. Every single time.
Like most movies by Upendra, the hero entry scene happens around the 20-minute mark. The scenes that preceded it only build up to that moment. And when the money shot happens, well, it satisfies you just right. I've watched Om many times over the years, but I still break into a smile every time I watch the scene where Satya, clad in a lungi, sitting on a metal chair brings the lighter to the cigarette dangling from his face with a purpose.
Structurally, Om sits right between the linear story structure of Upendra's earlier films like Tarle Nan Maga and Shhh…! And the non-linear format he would go on to adopt in films like A and Upendra. It was as if he was preparing his audience for the crazed psychedelic experience he was about to unleash on the celluloid in the coming years.
Redefining Realistic Portrayals
The movie featured several dreaded gangsters from the Bangalore Underground. Jedralli Krishnappa. Tanveer Ahmed. Korangu Krishna. Bekkinakannu Rajendra. Gangsters who were still active in the "field". No other director had done something so ridiculously risky before or after.
Even certain events that shaped the city's underworld were dramatised with painful accuracy. Dreaded don Jayaraj (K. Raj in the movie) was a victim of a shootout in the middle of the road. Oil Kumar (Oil Raja in the movie) was killed just outside his paramour's house. Both those killings were, "allegedly", masterminded and executed by Rai. Rai was the one who brought gun culture to the city's underworld scene. While the story is about Satya, the shadows of characters bigger than him continue to haunt us in the background.
When talking about Om, it would be a cardinal sin not to mention the enchanting music by Hamsalekha and the fantastic cinematography by B.C Gowrishankar. In a way, they also helped set the tone of the film and bring the chaos together in a cohesive mesh.
Morality of a Masterpiece
No discussion about Om is complete without the mention of the overt misogyny that is rampant throughout the movie. It's fair to say that films – or art forms of any kind – capture the sentiments and lifestyles of their generation. Holding it up to today's moral standards is rather pointless. But that doesn't absolve the film from its misgivings either. It's a rather fine balancing act that can muddle your mind when you're still trying to come to terms with it.