If you're any fan of Bollywood, OM SHANTI OM is sure to entertain the bejeesus out of you. This movie is joyful and extravagant and at times very funny. It tells of love and revenge, and of reincarnation and redemption. There's also a bit of film industry spoofing going on. This is only Farah Khan's second turn at directing (after Main Hoon Na, yet another must-see cinema), but she already shows signs of becoming a great director. Certainly she knows how to tell a story, although, to be honest, in this instance, the story is overshadowed by the spectacle. Despite some tragic and somber moments in the plot, OM SHANTI OM remains overwhelmingly a display of sheer, rowdy exuberance. It's a party caught on film.
Plot SPOILERS now.
It's Bollywood in the 1970s. Om Prakash Makhija (Shahrukh Khan) is a lowly, aspiring actor (or "junior artist"), whose resume, at this stage, consists of taking on gigs as an extra in films. He is seriously crushing on reigning Bollywood queen Shantipriya (Deepika Padukone), with whose billboard image he often converses. Om's dream comes true one day when he gets to meet Shanti, and even ends up saving her life. But Om then stumbles on a secret which makes any notion of romance with Shanti an impossibility.
Things take a turn to the sinister when Shanti perishes in a fire deliberately caused by a shady movie producer (Arjun Rampal), and Om, in a desperate bid to rescue her, soon after passes away from grievious wounds. But, nearby, in fact in the same hospital, as Om takes his last breath, the baby son of a famous actor is born. And the baby's name happens to be Om. You see where this is going, right?
30 years later, Om Kapoor (again Shahrukh Khan) has followed in his father's footsteps and has himself become a celluloid superstar. But his priveleged status has gone to his head, making him into a spoiled and selfish brat. Om also loses some street cred with his underwhelming brand of cussing, which mostly consists of "Oh, fish!" And, mysteriously, he's had a fear of fire all his life. Events unfold to at last make Om recall his past life even as he prepares to make a film, under the patronage of a shady movie producer (yes, that same one from 30 years ago). Then a bubblegum chewing girl named Sandy enters Om's life. Sandy is a huge fan of his and bears a striking resemblance to Shanti. And, suddenly, Om sees a way in which his beloved Shanti's death can be avenged...
Bow down to this blockbuster picture if you, in any shape or form, are hooked into Bollywood, and, specifically, into the 1970s Indian film industry. OM SHANTI OM is simultaneously a fond sendup and a wry homage of that wild and wooly era. For one thing, if you go way back to those days, then you'll enjoy that bit of fun with 1970s actor Manoj Kumar (although, reportedly, Kumar himself wasn't too enthused with all the ribbing). If you pay attention, you might even learn how Govinda might possibly have gotten his screen name. Myself, since I've started watching Bollywood only about two years ago, I'm sure many inside jokes flew by unrecognized, over my head and unappreciated.
OM SHANTI OM reunites Shahrukh Khan and director Farah Khan (MAIN HOON NA and other films), and these two are undeniably the wellspring of the film's energy, enthusiasm, and vision. The general feel here is one of good-natured boisterousness, yet Shahrukh and Farah keep this ship steady and on course. The feel-good nostalgia is tempered by enough contemporary touches in the second half of the film, so that even the younger generations are kept engaged. Fair warning, though, if you haven't seen any (or a lot) of Bollywood cinema, OM SHANTI OM just may overload your senses and sensibilities.
It's near 3 hours long, and packed with many wonderful moments. As when Om first gets a chance to talk to Shanti but is so flabbergasted he can only make weird faces and funny noises; this, even as his voice-over reflects his elegant but unsaid responses to Shanti's questions. Then there's Om pretending to be a big movie star and then having to put on an act when Shanti comes to visit his set. And those are just two in a busload of memorable scenes. The film does tend to bog down post-intermission, but, still, the second half has its share of highlight bits. Unmissable is the whole Filmfare Awards sequence, which had me rolling on the floor and revealed what good sports Abhishek Bachchan and Akshay Kumar truly are. This is followed by an all-star afterparty as Om's pals in the movie biz show up to help him celebrate (this is the portion of the film where you play "Spot that Bollywood Star!"). Shahrukh pokes fun at himself with the two suspiciously similar "movies" he's nominated for in Filmfare. And, for the ladies, the musical number "Dard-e-Disco" showcases Shahrukh's rockhard abs, which, rumor has it, he'd worked on for 3 months. Me, being a manly man, I shrugged at the newly buff Shahrukh (while bitterly drowning in envy, of course).
Oh, man, the sets, the sets, the opulent sets. I don't know how much it cost to finance this film, but it was well worth it. The set designs are spectacular, especially the 1970s film studios, before and after the devastating fire. The awesomely garish costumes and hair styles simply evoke that era, even as you grin at the kitschiness of it all. Most of the songs rock, from the sweet "Ajab Si" to the hauntingly melodious "Main Agar Kahoon." The wonderful "Dhoom Taana" is evocative of the tunes churned out back in the day (the song's set pieces incorporate pirates, the cabaret, tennis and also, thru special effects, 1970s stars Amrapali, Jay Vijay, and Saccha Jhoota). "Dard-e-Disco" is an item number, with Shahrukh himself, abs and all, as the "item girl" on display (Farah Khan calls him that). The showstopper, of course, is "Deewangi Deewangi" in which 30 Bollywood big names pop in and boogie down with Shahrukh ("All the hot girls put your hands up and say Om Shanti Om...").
It's almost impossible not to have fun when you make a movie like this. The actors must've had a blast. More importantly, they were good. Deepika Padukone is a star in the making. This is the former model's debut film in Bollywood, and she's tall and gorgeous and is engaging as the sad Shanti and, later, as the klutzy Sandy. Also a former model, Arjun Rampal's acting hasn't impressed me in the past. But, here, as the conniving movie director Mukesh Mehra, he lands possibly his best role. He's surprisingly effective as the villain, in spite of that tacky little foo-foo mustache. Kirron Kher is also memorable as the melodramatic mom. As for Shahrukh Khan - reliably over-the-top yet magnificent and poignant for all that - the guy owns this movie. Even in his goofiest moments, he never loses that charm. There's a reason Shahrukh is one of the (if not THE) most sought after actor in Bollywood.
Eros International pulled out the stops with this dvd packaging, too. There are two dvds in this set, and they come in this oversized, very cool protective box. The first disc has the movie, the song selections, and the Director's Commentary (taped while Farah Khan was lying in bed, 6 or 7 months pregnant). The second disc has 2 and a half hours of extravagant bonus features: the pretty thorough Making of OSO; the Making of the Songs (sorry, I always find this segment boring); the not-very-serious (and occasionally annoying) interview with SRK, Arjun Rampal, Deepika Padukone & Farah Khan; Bloopers; Visual Effects (interesting for the "Dhoom Taana" segment); OSO Events - worth watching for the Music Launch, the Fashion Show, the London Premiere, and the Special Screening (where you get other actors' reactions); and an OSO Trivia Game. The best part (for me, anyway) is that most of this stuff is sub-titled in English. There's also a booklet with Cast & Crew bios and a poster of Shahrukh and his abs and his autograph.
Bollywood hasn't been exactly shy about producing movies with a reincarnation theme. But OM SHANTI OM may be the most buoyant and feel-good of them all, despite the dark supernatural element which creeps in. The plot, admittedly, is mediocre and rehashed, so we're pretty much on automatic when it comes to the storyline. The fun, instead, lies in soaking in the nostalgia and the gentle lampooning, the glorious absurdity and even the friendly self-indulgence of the film. Then there's also the tons of cameo appearances. Inspired by a warmth for the past and crafted with skill and heart and imagination, it's very hard not to be swayed over. OM SHANTI OM is a celebration of Bollywood. And, really, why even fight it? Wallow in the film, man, wallow!