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Audiences cheer Hari Om

Arthur J Pais in Toronto | September 20, 2004 10:47 IST

The autorickshaw driver is puzzled by many things about his passenger, a young French woman.

She has told him she is a Christian. Isn't it true, he asks in halting English, that Christians believe in one god? How can one god single handedly manage the universe, he wonders loudly. In Hinduism, there are millions of gods, he mumbles.

Director Bharat Bala's first feature film Hari Om -- the quickie was made when his Imex venture Taj Mahal went into cold storage -- often comes alive with its quirky humour.

Bharat Bala is, of course, best known in India for his collaboration with A R Rahman, Vande Mataram, and the Jana Gana Mana album.

Audiences at the Toronto Film Festival gave the movie an encouraging response as they sympathised with the plight of autorickshaw driver Hari Om (Vijay Raaz) whose encounter with the French tourist (Camile Nata) lasts over four days of adventures and mishaps in Rajasthan.

Hari Om is taking her to meet her boyfriend traveling by the Palace on Wheels train. She had been separated from him due to unforeseen circumstances.

Hari Om is also running from gangsters who insist he owes them large amounts of gambling money. At one point he lands in prison in a small town.

When he is being bailed out, the policeman goes to the cell and announces: Hari Om.

Hari Om respond fellow prisoners.

Even though audiences in Toronto didn't get the full humour of the situation, they laughed heartily because it sounded and looked funny. Some were laughing even more after the show when desi friends told them that in northern India Hari Om is a common greeting in rural areas.

Hari Om, a visually pleasing road movie in English, has a bumpy ride from time to time. The script could have been tighter and there could have been better chemistry between Vijay Raaz and Camile Nata.

In several crucial scenes Raaz (Dubeyji in Monsoon Wedding) needed better direction so that his melancholic mood did not make him look morose. The movie could have been better edited, too. Yet Bharat Bala knows to invest a film with gentle humour, well-framed visual scenes, and a certain amount of sensuality.

One of the two Indian entries at the festival (the other one was Chased by Dreams, a Bengali film), Hari Om, like most of the 230 plus feature films screened at Toronto, was looking for buyers in many countries. The movie premiered at Toronto.

"Some films are snatched immediately, and some good ones will have to wait, I guess," said Bharatbala who also co-wrote the movie's script. At Toronto, the film was represented by Susan Norget, one of the best known names in handling independent films.

"Any distributor who has seen the film with audiences know how much they have appreciated it," Bharatbala said. Two extra screenings were held for it on Friday.

The film has a lively musical score by London-based composer Nitin Sawhney, renowned for his fusion music.

Bharat Bala, a close friend of A R Rahman who is composing the music for his Taj Mahal, readily says it would have been a natural thing for him to work with Rahman on Hari Om.

"But for this particular film, I felt I needed Nitin's kind of music," he said. "I have heard his songs and music for many years. And I felt that Hari Om, being conceived as an international project, needed a composer who is based abroad, has excellent Western sensibilities and yet has Indian music in his soul."

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