Back2Back Reviews: Om Shanti Om and Saawariya, Part 1

Another year has almost flown by and yet again two of the most hyped and expensive films of the year have fallen flat when it comes to being examples of good cinema. Although, much to the relief of director Farah Khan, Om Shanti Om is still a crowd-puller, while Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya seems to have melted into the dark, much like its protagonists.

But for a film to be a crowd-puller or a “good time-pass” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a well-done movie. And while Farah has done a good job of both spoofing and paying tribute to the 70s film industry in first half of OSO, it falls flat in the second half, relegated to being nothing more than a showcase of Bollywood’s biggest stars. The story becomes clichéd - the ubiquitous cine-maa spots her reincarnated, long-lost son, they find the villain and take revenge, and live happily ever after. Sometimes clichés do work, but not when the audience is subjected to it again and again! The film seems almost like a direct lift-off from Karz (and remember Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai?) The only difference is that the protagonist is an actor, not a singer, and the film ends without hero having to win the girl’s hand.

In fact, Khan’s debut film Main Hoon Na was a much better film. The story flowed smoothly despite the masala and music.

K-K-K-King Khan
OSO has the protagonist Om Prakash Makhija (Shah Rukh Khan), as a junior film artiste, whose mother Bela (Kirron Kher) was also in the same profession. Together with his best friend Pappu (Shreyas Talpade, whose talent merits a meatier role in a better film) he dreams of being a big star with big dialogues. But, as Pappu says, without a Khan or Kapoor to his name, Om cannot get anywhere. (A clever jab by Farah, here.)

Om is also infatuated with Bollywood superstar Shantipriya (Deepika Padukone, easily the best thing in the entire film) who looks like a stunning copy of yesteryear “dream girl” Hema Malini, complete with bouffant hair and electric smile. One day, on a set, Shantipriya refuses to shoot since she has not been paid. In comes good-looking producer Mukesh Mehra (Arjun Rampal), who convinces her to shoot. However, a fire on the sets, from which Shantipriya is supposed to be rescued by the hero, goes out of control. But the director (Satish Shah) refuses to cut for fear of escalating production costs, while everyone else either looks on or runs away, and finally Om rescues her without regard for his own safety. In a scenario that mirrors the romance between yesteryear superstars Nargis and Sunil Dutt, they both become fast friends.

From his talks with Shanti, Om is surprised to discover that, despite being such a popular and well-loved actress, she hates acting and is pining for love, but does not get too close to him despite his love for her. One day, she ignores him after a shot, and piqued, he follows her from a distance to a makeup room, where he listens and watches through a window. There, to his shock, he finds her meeting Mehra, to whom she has actually been married for two years, but cannot reveal so because no one would give a role to a married actress. All Shanti wants is to tell the world she is happily married to Mehra, but he will have none of it – all he cares about is his next project, a mega-budget film called Om Shanti Om that would collapse if news of Shanti’s marriage broke out. Then Shanti drops a bomb – she’s pregnant with Mehra’s child.

To her surprise, and to Om’s sorrow, Mehra seems delighted. Om walks away a dejected lover and throws himself back into his acting and tries to convince himself that he can find happiness in Shanti’s new-found bliss.

One night he is walking around the sets, when Mehra and Shanti drive up. He follows them out of curiosity, and Mehra takes Shanti inside a building to show her the opulent ballroom set that will be destroyed after a grand party to announce their marriage and pregnancy to the world. Then in a cruel twist, he tells Shanti that she shouldn’t have trusted him, and sets fire to the set – with her inside it. As he walks out, cold and detached, Om, who has been watching the scene with horror, tries to rescue her, but fails. Mehra's henchmen return to beat him up as well. Om is burnt but still manages to stay alive, but as he stumbles onto a road, he is fatally hit by a car – a car that belongs to Rajesh Kapoor, Bollywood’s biggest male superstar, who is rushing his wife to the hospital for the birth of their first child.

From here the reincarnation saga begins, and the film’s believability wanes. Kapoor names his son Om after the junior artiste whose death he had accidentally caused, and Om Kapoor (“Call me OK”) grows up to be an arrogant, spoiled Bollywood superstar brat who gets his way with scripts and films. But there are remnants of his past life – he has a pathological fear of fire, and nearly faints on a song-and-dance set which has pyrotechnics.

There is another problem - he is regularly pestered by the now-greying Bela, who insists that he is her long-lost son. (Another poke, this time at an incident in real life where a Hyderabadi woman insisted Shah Rukh was her long-lost son.) Of course, nobody believes her.

One day, Om goes for a shoot to a new place away from the city – a place, which, 30 years ago, was a grand film location, but which closed down and became abandoned – naturally, the same place where Om Prakash Makhija and Shanti worked and other yesteryear films were shot. It has been shut after what everyone thought was the unfortunate accidental death of Shanti. There, flashbacks follow quickly one after the other, and Om finally remembers who he was in his past life. He suddenly undergoes a change and becomes a humble, hardworking actor, and reunites with Bela and Pappu.

Meanwhile, Mukesh Mehra, now a Hollywood producer (“Call me Mike”) returns to India and re-enters Om’s life at his birthday party, in the midst of a thousand Bollywood stars. Om bristles on seeing him, and comes up with a plan to exact revenge on Mehra for Shanti’s murder. He convinces him to let him re-make Om Shanti Om, the expensive film that had been halted by Shanti’s pregnancy and which led to her murder.

Om and Pappu embark on a hunt to find the perfect replacement for Shanti. In walks Sandy (Deepika Padukone again, naturally), a bumbling, bubblegum-chewing fangirl from Bangalore who wants nothing more than to work with her idol, Om Kapoor. They also select another girl, Dolly, to play Shanti’s role in the film and use her to lure the lecherous Mehra into their plan. (Dolly’s mother Kamini is played by Bindu, who once again is a vampish older woman who cannot speak proper English. It’s as if Farah lifted her straight out of Main Hoon Na and placed her in this film!)

The plan goes smoothly in the beginning. Om and Pappu manage to freak Mukesh out by planting Sandy with ghost make-up in a place where he expects to find Dolly alone, placing her shots in the reels of OSO, and finally at the grand premiere of the film, where Om even recreates that night when Shanti was murdered, much to Mehra’s consternation.

However, Mehra is not so easily fooled – he has already discovered that the reel has been duplicated and that a very real Shanti is seen on the film, giving him doubts about her phantom-ness. Sandy again slips up when she drops a mask at the party, and in trying to get away, scratches herself against a candlestand.

A furious Mukesh calls the bluff on Om, and knowing his fear of fire, sets fire to the set. Meanwhile, Sandy is once again dressed as Shanti on the night of her death, and goes off to scare Mehra, but it is only after she leaves the makeup room that Pappu finds out that Mehra knows the truth. It’s too late to call her back, and Sandy appears in the midst of Mehra and Om as planned.

Or does she?

Turns out, it’s not Sandy – who’s actually far from the scene - but Shanti herself, or rather, her ghost. She tells the truth, to Mehra’s and Om’s shock – she was still alive, but Mehra returned and killed her. So Mukesh, faced with this blast from the past, dies a horrible death under the weight of the glass chandelier – the same spot where he killed Shanti. Om gets over his fear of fire, justice is served and everyone lives happily ever after (though Om and Sandy, thankfully, do not hook up.)

OSO gets flawed in the second half when Om’s remembrance of his past life is done away too soon, The fear of fire seems like a good start, but the faint “Om” mark on Om’s wrist is a bit forced. The unraveling of Om’s past life could have proceeded more believably, considering reincarnation is already something unbelievable! His reunion with Bela and Pappu too happens in rushed manner, as if to make space for that “mother of all item numbers” in which several Bollywood stars make a special appearance at Om’s birthday party. Perhaps the director wanted to finish the film as soon as possible, knowing that there isn’t much substance left!

To be frank, the item number by itself is quite enjoyable despite the bad music and silly lyrics, only because it’s a sort of nostalgia trip for 80s babies like me who watched people like Kajol, Rani Mukherjee, Urmila Matondkar, Juhi Chawla and Karisma Kapoor over so many years and in so many films. Their transition on-screen is so well-known to us that we can’t help but reminisce about their early days and films and how they’ve evolved since then (or disappeared altogether.)

The problem is that even though the stars are supposed to playing themselves, it’s completely out of place in THIS film. It’s as if Farah got bored of filming and said “Screw it, let’s have a big party!” The guest stars perform numbers very specific to them – Urmila Matondkar performs her Rangeela moves, Shilpa Shetty performs her moves from Khiladi (was that the film in which she made her debut? I can’t remember now) It gets even more complicated when Kajol and Shah Rukh perform the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai nose-touching gesture, because it was Shah Rukh, not Om Kapoor, who acted in that film! Finally, we even have three Khans – Saif, Salman, and Saif (with Aamir conspicuously missing) along with Sanjay Dutt, performing a bar dance. That’s a casting coup, right there. Farah needn’t even have made the rest of the film – releasing the item number itself in theatres would have raked in a lot of moolah!

Of course, OSO has its highlights too. It’s technically flawless, for one. The starting scene, where a white-clad Rishi Kapoor sings “Om Shanti Om” from Karz has been blended well with the scenes of the audience watching, though the addition of Farah herself and director Subhash Ghai looks too contrived. Was Farah trying to prove a point by deliberately inserting that scene from Karz, and naming her film after it, knowing the audience will instantly connect? Very clever move – unlike Ram Gopal Varma, who nearly committed blasphemy by remaking Sholay in the most miserable manner possible, she knows that we as a nation thrive on reminiscing, and so chose to make a film that is a tribute, spoof and remake all at the same time.

Also noteworthy is the song Dhoom Tana where Deepika Padukone’s scenes have been blended very well with songs from old films (except for some scenes where she performs alone.) The whole 70s look in the former half is quite authentic, thanks to Sabu Cyril.

In the latter half, the nostalgia trip works. The scene where Om receives a Filmfare awards is hilarious, with Abhishek Bachchan supposedly being a nominee for Dhoom 5 and Akshay Kumar a nominee for The Return of Khiladi! Even Rishi Kapoor and Rakesh Roshan do not spare themselves. It’s a refreshing change to see these stars poking fun at their own cinematic histories.

The song Main Agar Kahoon stands out from the rest of the soundtrack. Set to a waltz-y beat, it perfectly invokes a ballroom romance. Sonu Nigam is in his element.

Dreamgirl indeed
But the one reason that makes OSO worth watching - the one thing that totally salvaged the film, for me - was the willowy, luminous Deepika Padukone. Irresistible smile, dancing dark eyes, and with a truckload of talent to match her looks, she easily outshines everyone else in the film, including King Khan himself. Whether it’s as the graceful Shanti, or the cute but clumsy Sandy, Deepika shows a refreshing versatility and potential. I look forward to seeing more of her in the future.

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