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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Chhollywood calling

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

The dusky teenage girl in a dark green salwar kurta has a shy smile on her lips and a blue notebook in her hands. 

At a loss for words, as can happen in a deliriously happy moment, the 16-year-old maid stands reverently as Anuj Sharma, the 33-year-old superstar of Chhattisgarh cinema, writes an autograph. “We love your acting, your songs,” blurts out her effusive friend. The moment will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Over the next half-hour, fans pour in as news spreads in Shailendra Nagar, the locality where Sharma is shooting his latest film, Hero No 1. The overwhelming majority is young and female: housemaids, daily wage labourers, fruit sellers and other denizens of the city’s underclass.

“I am part of a small film industry. But with God’s grace, I have tasted genuine adulation. Once I was drinking fruit juice in a street corner shop when a rickshaw-puller suddenly fell at my feet. I was taken aback and asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ He got up and said, ‘Aapke darshan ho gaye. Bas ab jaa raha hoon’,” says the actor, reliving the moment with some relish.

The sun is shining brightly on Anuj Sharma and Chhattisgarhi films. Dialogue is in the local dialect. Giant posters are on massive roadside hoardings. Maya (Love, 2009), one of the first digital films in Chhattisgarhi, celebrated its silver jubilee late last year. It triggered the resurgence.

The Maoists may run the jungles of Dantewada but in Raipur and all around the state capital, it is Chhattisgarh’s film stars who rule. At least 10 films are on the floor.

“With the coming of cost-effective digital technology, the future is bright for a small industry like ours. We are enjoying a revival,” says leading director Satish Jain.

Bastar-born Jain has also written Bollywood actor Govinda’s well-known films such as Dulara, Pardesi Babu, Rajaji and Hadh Kar Di Apne.

The Chhattisgarhi film industry began with the 1965 release of Kahi Debe Sandesh, a story of intercaste love. A movie in the local dialect created a stir and it is said that even Indira Gandhi watched it. But, the film flopped. So did the next Chhattisgarhi film, Ghar Dwar (1971). Producers lost interest in the genre.

Then in 2000, Jain returned to Raipur after parting ways with Govinda and decided to make a Chhattisgarhi film Mor Chhaihan Bhuinya (My shadow and earth). Soon enough, he realized he had to produce, direct and finance the movie himself because nobody thought a Chhattisgarhi movie would work. “We had to sell off our family land near Bastar. My brother-in-law mortgaged his land. My brother Tiku sang a few songs because we couldn’t afford a playback singer,” he remembers.

No one else was willing, so the Jains distributed the movie themselves. Mor Chhaihan Bhuinya was released on October 27, 2000. Three days later, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced the creation of Chhattisgarh state. The crowds expressed their happiness by thronging the theatres. Produced at just Rs 20 lakh, the film grossed an eye-popping Rs 2.5 crore. It ran for 27 weeks in Raipur’s Babulal theatre. In the two cinema halls of Razim and Nawapara qasbah, it ran 24×7.

The movie’s stunning success propelled the rise of Chhattisgarhi film industry. Since 2001, at least 60 films have been made. Industry sources also attribute this trend to small-town India’s alienation from new-millennium Bollywood’s overtly westernized content and sensibility.

The audience wanted sights, sounds and themes it could identify with and local cinema filled this void. Similar conditions have prompted the resurgence of regional genres such as Bhojpuri in other parts of northern India.

But the success had a flipside. Producers with pocketfuls of cash but little idea of the trade jumped into filmmaking with one eye on the box office. Budgets trebled to Rs 60-70 lakh. When most films crashed, it was hard times for the industry all over again. Now, it has revived with the unexpected success of the digitally filmed Maya.

What does Chhattisgarh like to watch in its local cinema? Family dramas or romantic yarns with plenty of songs, action and tears. Many of the films are Bollywood re-makes. Maya was too obvious a copy of Swarg Se Sundar and had to answer the plagiarism charge in court. “We settled the matter with its producer after paying money,” says Jain.

A large part of Chhattisgarh under Maoist control. But its local cinema has not touched upon the topic.

“That’s because the script could end up offending the Maoists or the administration.

“So producers feel it is better to avoid the subject,” says Anuj, a postgraduate in history who gave up his job as a Godrej marketing executive to act in films.

Chhattisgarhi films are screened in roughly around 60 digital-friendly, single-screen theatres across the state.

“In towns like Bhilai, they are seen even by Oriyas, Sindhis, Biharis and Bengalis,” says Jain.
Nagpur, home to a sizeable population of Chhattisgarhis, accounts for about 5% to 7% of the total market. Films are also occasionally shown in places like Jammu and Jamshedpur, towns with plenty of migrant labour.

“The VCDs and audio CDs also do reasonably well. Of late, caller tunes of our songs are also being downloaded,” says Sharma, who has anchored a superhit show, Folk Jhamajham, on a local entertainment television channel and also acted in some Bhojpuri films.

The Chhattisgarhi film industry has rapidly set up its own infrastructure. Distributor M K Gupta says Raipur has its own editing and sound recording studio.

Jain adds that the industry has local cameramen, choreographers, editors and sound recordists.
Jain says, “We only borrow light designers and make-up artistes from Orissa. The entire film is made here. We send it to Mumbai only for the censor certificate.”

Ajeet Wagh, who was responsible for production for Hero No 1, points to a basic truth: “The industry has provided employment to many locals like us. I earn about Rs 15,000 per month.” He fervently hopes the show goes on.

So do the young men and women who queue up outside theatres in the 45-degrees heat to watch their homegrown heroes sing and dance on the silver screen.

story by Avijit Ghosh, May 16, 2010, 04.00am IST
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इंटरनेशनल फिल्म फेस्टिवल में छत्तीसगढ़

Posted on February 12, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

इंटरनेशनल फिल्म फेस्टिवल में छत्तीसगढ़

दिल्ली में आयोजित तीन दिवसीय इंटरनेशनल यूथ फिल्म फेस्टिवल में पहली बार छत्तीसगढ़ को प्रतिनिधित्व मिला. यहाँ के प्रसिद्ध रंगकर्मी अनूप रंजन पांड़े को निर्देशक और अभिनेता टीनू आनन्द, अभिनेत्री नफीसा अली के साथ जूरी में है. तीन दिनी फेस्टिवल का बुधवार को आखिरी दिन था. इसमें ऑस्ट्रेलिया और ईरान समेत कई देशों की 60 से ज्यादा शार्ट और फीचर फिल्में प्रदर्शित की गई. फिल्मों का प्रदर्शन जेएनयू के थियेटर और श्रीराम सेंटर में किया गया.

साभार-दैनिक भास्कर


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