Directed, screenplay, and story by Farrah Khan
Isn’t it fun to hang out with a friend and talk entirely in in-joke-speak? And isn’t it equally as not-fun to hang out with two other friends that spend the whole conversation making inside jokes in another language?
These are the two experiences available to you when viewing Om Shanti Om. Rife with in-the-know references, throw-away name-droppings, and Easter-egg type film trivia in the background (such as a billboard advertising Sholay in its umpteenth-week of release), Om Shanti Om is great fun for the Bollywood enthusiast but only a glittery, bewildering, rollicking ride for the uninitiated. Even the genre is a spoof—being of the reincarnation plot type. As the film begins sometime in the Bombay film industry in the 1970’s, a sense of place is set by referencing directors and actors of the day. The character meant to be a famous actress (with more than a few shades of Dimple Kapadia) even has a movie-within-the-movie scene where she has been inserted (in an unfortunately untidy fashion) digitally into video with Dilap Kumar. Tension builds slowly, especially towards the death of the main character—which you know must happen because the movie is marketed as a reincarnation film. After the reincarnation, the pace picks up and I was surprised to be drawn in. As ridiculous as the plot was (even compared to other Bollywoods), there was something more earnest and earthy about it than I am used to.
Another fascinating aspect of the film is its de-emphasis on romance. There is love in the pre-reincarnation scenes, but it is what you could call courtly love. Don’t be fooled that that makes it paltry, though–it is one of the most convincing portrayals of strong human bonds that I have seen in any film. In the post-incarnation characters, the remnants of the bond still thread throughout, but no hint of chemistry between the two leads is given. It’s refreshing for a movie to embrace this kind of story without falling into gooey romance.
One of my main critiques of the film is just a general critique of the times. Bollywood actresses used to have distinct features. They were beautiful, but they didn’t all look like Hindi Barbie—this was true even into the 90’s (Madhuri, Karisma, Kajol, even Aishwarya is distinct). They hadn’t bought into the twiggy ideal of the West. Now, though, I could hardly tell one star cameo-ing at a party scene from another.
Source: Eros Entertainment’s released promo for the film
The music director team of Vishal-Shekhar received high critical praise for their work on this film, and it’s obvious why. They capture the spirit of Bollywood music while spoofing its main characteristics. Most songs are memorable, but the highlights are “Dard-e-Disco” and “Deewangi Deewangi.” In “Dard-e-Disco,” Shahrukh Khan, by whom I always must wait to be enchanted (putting me in a great minority of Bollywood fans), reveals his newly chiseled physique while dancing with a bevy of anorexic white girls (and one anorexic black girl). This is not Bollywood as I know it, but it plays on the self-centered quality of stars (perhaps giving a little poke to Salman Khan?) while at the same time pandering to the star-crazed fans by having Shahrukh shirtless and doused with water. “Deewangi Deewangi” is the most in-joke scene of the film, as star after star enters a party for the main character. This made me feel old but wise, since I didn’t recognize most of the current Bollywood stars but I knew Dharmendra and Govinda. It was lovely to see Shahrukh dance with Karisma and Kolja, and it seemed there was a special spark with those leading ladies of “old” which the new girls could never achieve (but how much more fun if Madhuri and Ash had stopped by!).
Tidbits: Speaking of Salman Khan, I wish he had gone on the same workout training as Shahrukh did to prepare for this film–but to bulk-down instead of up. When Salman appeared in his cameo, I cheered, but my cheering quickly turned to blanching at how overgrown he is—and his incessant neediness to have others notice.
Library Collection: There are equally good “current” examples of Bollywood that don’t require a crash course in Bollywood history (on the other hand, it may spur you on to expand your knowledge). For the Bollywood fans, though, this is an absolute must.