Friday, November 09, 2007

The Diwali Biggies 

Om Shanti Om

Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om is an affectionate tribute to the cheesy cinema of the seventies—a Bollywood buff’s movie, in which you have a blast laughing at all the throwaway inside jokes, snigger at the awful fashion of the period and marvel at the cheeky use of special effects that allows today’s heroine dance with the heroes of the seventies – the Caravan and Humjoli take-offs alone are worth the price of a ticket.

Farah spares no one—not Subhash Ghai whose Karz is the reference point for Om Shanti Om-- not Manoj Kumar, Sooraj Barjatya, Yash Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Rajesh Khanna, Mithun Chakraborty, Rajnikant or Shah Rukh Khan himself. (He looks short in real life, comments an auto-graph hunting fan). But the spoofing is like a gang of buddies ribbing each other, not at all mean-spirited.

Om (Shah Rukh Khan) is a junior artiste in 70s Bollywood, the son of junior artist parents, who dreams of being a hero—but as his best pal Pappu (Shreyas Talpade) reasons, his name Om Prakash Makhija comes in the way of stardom. (Will Govind Ahuja do? Asks a brightly-clad struggler? And Govinda is born!)

Om is in love with reigning movie queen Shantipriya (Deepika Padukone), and befriends her after saving her from a studio fire (a la Mother India). After a beautiful dance sequence on a shooting floor, he discovers that she is secretly married to film producer Mukesh Mehra (Arjun Rampal), who sees his big movie dreams go down the tube when she gets pregnant. So he cruelly locks her up on a set and burns it. In trying to save her, Om dies too and is reborn as Om Kapoor, the son of a star Rajesh Kapoor and, 30 years later, a successful superstar.

Like Rakhee of Karan Arjun, like a real life character in Shah Rukh Khan’s life the dead Om’s mother (Kirron Kher) beats on his car window claiming him as her son, but it’s an awards speech that makes Om remember his past life, and plan an elaborate revenge against Mehra, who is now “Mike”, a Hollywood producer.

The first half of the film is laugh out loud comedy, the second gets a bit serious, but Farah sprinkles it with enough light moments, though the revenge portion could have done with a bit of trimming.

Still, OSO has a clever screenplay, witty dialogue and an all-stops-pulled-out costume and set design, plus a fabulous dance sequence (like Naseeb) in which top stars of the industry today turn up to celebrate.

It goes without saying that only Shah Rukh Khan could have fulfilled the myriad demands of a film like this— the sweetness of the 70’s Om, the media-fuelled arrogance of the present-day Om, the pointless Dard-e-Disco item number, and the complete OTT-ness of the corny scenes we so loved in the old movies, that we never stopped to question how and why. OSO requires that same suspension of disbelief, that same acceptance of luridness and the same sense of wonder that we had as kids at the weekly movie treat.

And finally, Deepika Padukone is a find—she has a radiance that reminds us of an early Hema Malini.


Sanjay Leela Bhansali with his overblown aesthetic sense must have thought if Baz Luhrmann could make Moulin Rouge, inspired by Broadway musicals, why can’t he make Saawariya? Luhrmann pulled it off, Bhansali couldn’t.

He sets his Saawariya in a town that exists in a whore’s imagination—Gulabji (Rani Mukherji—trying too hard to be cute!) is the narrator of the story—so it’s all blue with huge neon-lit signs, ornate street lamps, a Venetian canal with fake lotus pads floating in water, Moghul style murals on the wall, cobbled streets winding around a quaint bridge and a glitzy bar called RK—all this solemnly watched over by a huge Buddha head. Omung and Vinita Kumar have designed the sets, but the look must have come out of Bhansali’s fevered imagination and some vaguely remembered adolescent idea of what a fantasy world ought to look like.

The movie dotted with Bhansali’s tributes to the greats – the RK is obvious, there’s Mughal-e-Azam, the cinema of V. Shantaram and some neon signs that will baffle the viewer—like Windermere, Gulgulshan, Capitol or Lillianji’s. There are also his pet images—of pretty, pining women darting through narrow lanes with lehenga and dupatta flying in slow motion. And yes, the umbrella motif recurs, so does snow, rain and billowing curtains.

All this operatic excess is the backdrop for a simple love triangle. Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) loves Sakina (Sonam Kapoor) who loves Iman (Salman Khan). There’s also Gulabji and the ancient landlady Lillian (Zohra Segal), who also love and mollycoddle Raj, as he dances around the town (forgettable music) in oddly assembled costumes, twice with the town’s garish hookers, and once in a flimsy towel— for a song so homoerotic, it’s no wonder Ranbir Kapoor is already reported to be a gay icon!

Sonam Kapoor has a giggly blandness of dozens of touch-me-not “Hai Allah” kind of Bollywood heroines, swooning and pining for lost love. Bhansali credits Dostoevsky’s story White Nights as his source, but other filmmakers have done more justice to the gentle romance and tragedy of the story—which is about a young man who meets a woman on a bridge and falls in love with her, but she is waiting for the man who promised to meet her there a year later. For four nights, she waits, the lonely young man entertains her and cares for her, and then sadly watches her go.

Bhansali is so busy building up his imaginary town, and trying to self-consciously inject poetry into the Ravi K Chandran-shot visuals, that he cannot wring an iota of poignancy out of the story, or get the bored viewer to shed a single tear.

You feel sorry for the two newcomers, Ranbir madly overdoing the charm, Sonam frozen wide-eyed. They are star kids, their stardom is a given, but their talents (if any) might possibly have been visible in a ‘normal’ movie.


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