I was a folk singer: Nattha

Posted on December 26, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Omkar Das plays the lead role of a depressed farmer in the movie Peepli Live

Omkar Das plays the lead role of a depressed farmer in the movie Peepli Live
Times of India
Theater actor Omkar Das has come a long way from Bhilai to Mumbai bringing raw folk talent to the fore.

Omkar Das, aka Nattha, brings his raw and rustic charm to the Mumbai screens, courtesy Peepli Live. Given his pedigree in theatre, he almost sets the tone of his first feature film.

How did you start out in theatre?
I started theatre full-time in the year 2000. Until then, I was a folk singer and used to travel with my troupe of 30-odd singers in Chattisgarh. I always enjoyed entertaining, so theatre came naturally.

How did Peepli Live happen?
I was auditioning for another project in Bhopal when the writer and director saw me and wanted me to audition for Natha. I got the lead role immediately. I never expected it.

How did it feel being on a film set, with untrained actors and a big crew?
Oh, that was something! From street performances and folk songs to big lights, cameras, etc; I was very intimidated. But the director was very helpful.

She asked me to ignore the cameras and be as natural as possible. After the first day, I concentrated on everything else except the camera and soon got over the hesitation.

How popular is theatre in villages now? How much has Bollywood managed to influence its style and subject?
People usually enjoy the song and dance routines much more than staged drama.

Even though the issues may be relevant, naatak is expected to have more entertainment than anything else. There are a few mainstream songs and actors that are popular, but regional artistes and cinema have a much wider appeal.

You have been associated with Habib Tanvir, whose work has been politically charged. Are the subjects of your plays also similarly influenced?
We draw from very basic subjects: droughts, famine, dowry, infanticide, low yield of crops, poor sale of seed….just about anything that impacts a farmer’s life.

But like I said, if we don’t balance it with folk songs and dance, people won’t watch. So we balance it out with Dadariya, shringar and cheda-chadi songs.

There is an upsurge of naxals in Chattisgarh. Does the issue influence your content in any way?
Fortunately, their activity in our state is restricted to the very interiors, deep in jungles and remote villages. So while political issues are a large part of our content, we try and stay away from this subject. It’s easy for villagers to get scared and worried.

Naya Theater focuses on encouraging the use of local dialects and styles… tell us a little about them.
Yes, we have been using Urdu since Habib saab’s time and Chhatisgarhi as our medium. We prefer using the local language and train youngsters in getting the dialect and tenor right. It always has maximum impact when one communicates with the audience in their own language and tone.

We usually have people coming in from Lucknow, Delhi, other big and small towns and cities in addition to regional folk artists who we work with. Our theater performs throughout Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.

What was your experience of working with Habib saab?
He was a brilliant writer and teacher. He understood that people who come into this profession, regardless of age, are bound by the same passion. We learnt by improvising. He gave each artist their own space and pace to learn and perform. We learnt a lot by just watching each other.

What do you have to say about the treatment of farmers’ suicide in Peepli Live? Do you think it’ll resonate with the masses?
I was very happy with the end product. It looks like people will be able to associate with the story. It’s simple, honest and innocent. The subject is serious and touching; and the city audiences will be educated, I feel.

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