Saturday, September 29, 2012

Oh My God 

Define the Divine

The play Kanji Viruddh Kanji by Bhavesh Mandalia in Gujarati (Sachin Khedekar starred in the original) was adapted into Hindi as Krishan Versus Kanhaiya and Paresh Rawal’s appearance on stage turned the play into a craze.

It was inevitable that this kind of success would attract Bollywood—and the play was converted into a film Oh My God, with due credit given to the original source, a lesser known Australian film called The Man Who Sued God.

The idea is provocative—a man who is denied an insurance claim because the destruction of his property was an act of God, decides to sue God.

In the very well adapted play which is the template for the film, Kanji (Rawal) is an antiques dealer, who merrily cons gullible customers and does not believe in God. His shop is wrecked in an earthquake that seemed to have targeted only his property.  His house is mortgaged and his savings wiped out; when the insurance company rejects his claim, he drags to court godmen (and one woman) as representatives of God. If he can prove God exists, he can claim damages from them, and if he proves God does not exist, then the insurance company would be liable to pay up.

The case becomes big news, there are as many people out there wanting to kill the heretic as there are supporters lauding his courage. Then Krishna Vasudev Yadav (Akshay Kumar), a biker dude lands up twirling a keychain and claims to be God, who has come down to help Kanji.

The play had some terrific lines that made fun of phony religious leaders and questioned the notion of religion as a series of unthinking rituals.  They are retained in the film  (Mithun Chakraborty plays a strange, androgynous godman, and Govind Namdeo the stereotyped fiery mahant), but the same director, Umesh Shukla, is not able to get rid of the staginess and use the medium of cinema more effectively to tell his story.  In the play there was ambiguity about the existence of God and irony in the way the crooked Godmen turn their defeat into victory.  The film insists on showing and telling everything, and then underlining it for good measure, so that the humour, the points of debate and smartly worded insights into the business of faith, are flattened.  And then the poor production design and loud TV style acting ruins things further.

But there is intrinsic merit in the script, there’s the superb Paresh Rawal to hold things together, and Akshay Kumar playing a cool Lord Krishna. However, it’s not very often that one can say—the play was better.  In fact, the stage production had been filmed (like  NT Live and Met Live do), it would probably have worked better..


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