the good, the enh, and the distressing: Om Shanti Om

The good: the parts of it that are funny are very funny, and the parts of it that are fun are very fun.

I'm going to let that sentence stand alone, because usually laughing and enjoying myself are what I want in a movie, and having those needs met in an interesting way is no small thing.

More on those parts: some of them are simple bits of snappy dialogue, some are courtesy of apt delivery, and some are visual (costumes, dance moves, details of the sets). You'll need to be quick to get all of the movie references, and it will be a very happy day when I get my hands on the DVD and park myself in front of the tv for hours to seek them out. (Someone should start a list at some centralized location where viewers all over can add what they find.) A few of my favorite funny bits: Shahrukh wearing what Jerry Seinfeld would call a puffy shirt; Shahrukh doing a Rajnikanth-style action sequence dressed as a cowboy in red (p)leather; everything Abhishek did at the Filmfare awards; a fake-pretend movie starring Akshay Kumar aping a European youtube video that apes Rajnikanth*; and fake-pretend movies called Phir Bhi Dil Hai NRI and Main Bhi Hoon Na starring Shahrukh spoofing his own work (and maybe even "Woh Ladki Hai Kahan" from Dil Chahta Hai, which of course itself plays off of...oh never mind).

The layers of making fun - and having fun - are many. And fantastic. Self-referential humor, when done with real understanding and affection, goes a long way with me, and when she's on task Farah is really good at it. The simply joyful scenes and touches are also wonderful, especially 1970s Om's heartfelt love of movies and unselfconscious emotion with his mother, friend, and dreamy girl (that's the character's, not Shahrukh's, please note). "Deewangi Deewangi" does not disappoint, and I had a blast hooting and hollering for Rani, Mithun, and Saif. In our theater, Salman got the most audience reaction, with Kajol and Mithun close behind. I'm interested to know how the celebrity cameos in that song and in the Filmfare awards scene were chosen - whither Aishwarya, for example? The stars are used to great effect, glittering around and saying funny things, which is one reason I like them in the first place. They are used with a perfectly light touch, allowed to do their thing for a few moments, and then they're gone - which is great, because at its strongest the movie is about their total effect on people, the joys and sorrows of the world they create, not about them as themselves.

Shahrukh is perfect for the role - of course - and even in the script's weak moments he is a joy to watch. A Shahrukhy joy, but for those of us who like him, that's a wonderful thing. There are so many styles of superstar bandied about that it's hard to imagine anyone else could have done it. Say what you will about the man, he sure seems comfortable in his (sometimes gold-dusted) skin and more than willing to joke about himself and those who made him famous, both colleagues and fans. Surely he had a good time making this movie, and that buoyant cheerfulness and cheek alone are enough for me to put up with the ridiculously dramatic moments and drawn-out ending. Shreyas Talpade is also excellent - and again "of course" should be added - and I like him very much as sweet, smart characters like Pappu.

Those ridiculously dramatic moments and the drawn-out ending are where the enh comes in. The earnestly filmi parts of the movie aren't handled right. I have no problem at all with earnestly filmi movie-making, but it needs to be done with a respectful, careful, interesting, or some kind of distinctive touch - and Om Shanti Om is inconsistent in this important area. Chestuts need something to make them special, and surely that was possible with the resources available for this movie. This problem was felt most in the revengey bits, which were mostly lazily straight-up and on far too long. They were, I'm sad to say, boring. I don't know how Farah managed to make them boring, but she did. It's like the things that didn't quite work in Main Hoon Na have been exaggerated. There were times when I wanted to pause the movie and say "Oh Farah. Seriously?" - but I think she would have answered, eyes wide, "Yes, absolutely." Shahrukh also overindulged in expressions and voices that oozed "I have a veeeeery secret plan. It is a symphony of comeuppance! Mwa ha ha!" It's an interesting trick, letting the hero get to be more menacing than the actual villain; it's in keeping with the plot but would have been more satisfying if the lines and actor had been kept in check.

And as for distressing, if a respected, powerful industry figure like Farah Khan won't make sure there are good roles for women in her movies, then who will? Shanti and Sandy have so little to do. Karisma's and Preity's cameo lines are more interesting. Poor Deepika. All I feel I can say about her is that she seems to be tall and that discovering that she works for Maybelline makes one scenee make a lot more sense. [spoilers ahead for the next ten lines or so] Forgive a little detour here for a minute. At least Sandy isn't swept into a happy romantic bow at the end - it wouldn't have fit the characters at all, especially because Sandy hardly shows a personality to love, and I'm glad Farah didn't take the sappy way out. And as other writers have pointed out, Deepika is literally half Shahrukh's age, and that's just ew. I'm glad the dreams that need more than one lifetime, or whatever the tag line is, are Om's stardom and Shanti's justice, not the romance of people who look like the couple in the unrequited romance from the 70s. Om and Shanti have a friendship, not a romance. So as slight as Sandy is, at least she's not just a romantic default. [spoilers over] Kirron Kher is great at the sort of role she has here, but why not give her something more challenging to do? She can handle it, I'm sure. And a far less important problem: in a movie with expansive sets and costumes and the massive tie-in of a cosmetics company, why is the age makeup shoddy? Kirron, Shreyas, and Arjun Rampal are all badly done in the present-day segments.

Farah Khan makes such fun movies, with such affection for and good humor about movies and stars and audiences, that I can happily forgive the film's problems. Main Hoon Na had set my bar really, really high, and while parts of Om Shanti Om sailed over it easily its total effect disappointed me. But not by much, and I had to remind myself that my expectations were unrealistic. (When will I learn?) If you could see my hands while I say this, you'd see that being disappointed by Om Shanti Om isn't nearly as bad as it sounds - most movies are down here [gestures a few feet off the ground] but Main Hoon Na was up here [gestures above head], so when Om Shanti Om came in about here [waves hand somewhere in bewteen], even though it didn't live up to its potential, it wasn't bad at all. I just hope next time - and pleeeeease let there be a next time - there is just as much joy but everything is tighter and more thought out. I can imagine that's not easy to do, but I have faith. In the meantime, though, I am remain delighted by the finest moments of Om Shanti Om and (95% of Main Hoon Na).

Many thanks and giggles to Aspi and his family for being my movie-going companions and providers of yummy pre- and post-film snacks. In his fine review, he hits on such important points as the mistake of casting Arjun Rampal, Farah's adept handling of the spooky, and the tragically inescapable Curse of the Second Half. I also like Ultrabrown's discussions.

* At least, that's where I know that segment - perhaps Akshay's movie in Om Shanti Om and "American Rajnikanth" (which is obviously not American, but whatever) are both parodies of a real Rajnikanth (or actor who stars in similar action sequences) scene.


AD said…
Beth your reviews are as excellent as your company. Mind Rush left this comment on my blog for you:

ust read on Beth Loves Bollywood that she's wondering why Ash Rai did not make an appearance on OSO.
Here's my guess, Beth: SRK once threw Ash out of one of his films, Chalte Chalte, because of her turbulent relationship with Salmaan Khan. Well, Salmaan and SRK made up with each other at Farah Khan's wedding. But Ash and King Khan do not speak to each other.
bird's eye view said…
Really enjoy your blog and your thoughts on Bollywood movies. I'm a huge fan, so if you don't mind recommendations, watch the golden oldies:

Chori chori ( the old one with raj kapoor and nargis - remake of it happened one night)
Half ticket - a madcap comedy a la Bringing up Baby ( in the madcap part, not the plot)
Chalti ka naam gaadi ( another madcap comedy)
Dil hai ke maanta nahin ( aamir khan - need i say more)
and Sarfarosh ( aamir khan - need I say even more?)
bird's eye view said…
Just wondering how come you haven't reviewed Lagaan - would love to hear your POV
Aramita: said…
Nice blog.

Liked your take on Om Shanti Om.

I agree on what you said about SRK. I really can't see anyone else playing both characters. He just fits perfectly.

I enjoyed the movie and have already seen it twice now.
Aswin said…
Having read your review and the ones on ultrabrown, I might just skip this and wait for the DVD to come out.
norallav said…

Once again I totally agree with your review. The jokes in OSO were well done and hilarious, and -- oh my! -- I hope the trend of male item numbers catches on. But the film floundered when it started taking its revenge plot too seriously.

An aside: the youtube video you link to is not made-for-youtube, but an excerpt from a Swedish film called Kopps. I see it as a joke about plagiarism in Bollywood to have Akshay Kumar play this exact scene in the bogus 'The Return of Khiladi' (his uniform even said 'Polizei', clearly referencing the European origin). I just hope Farah proved more of a classy lady than traditional Bollywood directors and asked for permission to ape the scene first. As far as I know, it does not feature in a Rajnikanth film.
yves said…
Ooo, Beth, I don't know that I'm going to need to watch Om shanti Om after all... If it has to be compared to Main Hoon na... (sad face)
cheers anyway,
Alan said…
Good review. We're anxiously awaiting to see this one.
umananda said…
oooh, I agree espacially with "Phir Bhi Dil Hai NRI" and
"Shahrukh doing Rajnikanth-style action". My fav scenes. i was just rofl. cheers from vienna :D
Desimusicclub said…
I just loved the first part of this movie having grown up on Bollywood through the 70's & 80's - if only the 2nd half could have continued the energy & fun of the movie until the item number :(

2 subtle homages that just stood above the rest in a movie full of great homages - the unmistakable disco beats you hear in the item number when Mithun shows up to give him props for 'Disco Dancer'. And the plethora of Manmohan Desai (the great masala director) references - the whole item number reminds me of Desai's movie 'Naseeb' in which the item number had - you guessed it - a host of Bollywood legends and AB was the one providing the lead.
NidaMarie said…
Hey Beth! I love your blog, this is my first time checking it out...great job!
Totally agree with OSO review. The movie was funny and really good in patches but they were the parts I was really excited about anyways so it didn't feel like a letdown.
I also enjoyed seeing Gauri Khan all glammed out and looking like she was enjoying herself in the end credits. Was nice to see her doing her own thing and not just on Shahrukh's arm(although I would be ok with being on SRK's arm anyday if I were his wife)...
Funny, Salman got the most reaction from my audience too, but was followed by Shilpa Shetty hoots and hollers from the guys, which I just don't get... then again, I don't really get the whole Salman Khan thing either. But I digress. I've never seen Main Hoon Na, but hear so many great things about it--it will be on my list to watch!
mike e said…
I followed a link to your blog from FilmiGeek and I really loved your review of OSO. Although a wide NYC opening is very unusual for a Hindi picture -- most Bollywood flicks only play uptown -- we saw it in Manhattan's East Village with a mostly NRI crowd. There was a tremendous reaction, especially to the Deewangi number. As one cameo after another hit the screen the audience was going crazy. I have not seen an in-theatre reaction like this since I was a kid and watched The Music Man -- the movie and not the play -- get a standing ovation.

I cannot wait until I can get my hands on the DVD and go through that scene frame-by-frame. Even though I'm a huge fan of Bollywood I felt bad not knowing many of the actors. I wish there were a page I could see where each one was clearly identified. I'm hoping Farah Khan's commentary track on the DVD will do that. (Her commentary on Main Hoon Na was almost as entertaining as the film!)

I also felt a real cultural disadvantage (I'm an Irish Catholic from Ohio who never saw a Hindi film until I was 50) knowing that I was missing most of the references. After OSO we picked up copies of Naseeb and Karz but I know there are hundreds of other things that went over my head.

What an incredible movie!
menright - I've followed a link from FG to your site! It's nice to meet you - and I love your Bollywood pages. And pictures.

I can only imagine the fun of seeing OSO - or anything, really, but especially OSO - in a crowded downtown theater. There really something magical about the experience of seeing this in the theater. Although, as you say, the DVD is going to be great for joke-catching. I'll make you that page once I get the DVD and then post it for others to add to, how's that? I could never get all of them by myself, I'm sure.

Most importantly: how frighted were you of Rekha in "Deewangee"?
mike e said…
Actually I got a huge rush when I saw Rekha. Umrao Jaan is one of my favorite movies, and I just watched Muqaddar Ka Sikandar for the second time last night (showing it to my 8-year-old daughter). Silsila is great, one of the first Amitabh films I ever saw, and I also like Lajja a lot, though it's not exactly an entertainer.

She can be kind of scary-looking these days -- unless you are talking about Bhoot, which just put me to sleep. She's just gotten older, like we all do.

For me it was seeing royalty onscreen, like when Raj Kapoor walks in for his cameo in Naseeb. Or like when I saw Amitabh in person at Lincoln Center in NYC. The real deal!

I'm watching the Choli Ke Peeche number from Khal Nayak in one corner of my screen as I type.

(Thanks for the kind words on my site!)
Everyone! I'm so sorry I haven't responded to any of your awesome comments! Somehow I lost track of them completely. Better late than never I hope...

bird's eye view - thank you! I am always delighted to get recommendations, particularly older films, which I know less about generally. And describing a movie as like Bringing up Baby is a perfect way to get me to see it! :) As for Lagaan, that's a good question. I've seen it twice but never wrote it up! Next time I watch it, I'll definitely say something about it :)

Aramita - thank you! I wonder if you've gone more than twice by now ;)

norallav - fabulous observation about the male item dancers. It seems that Jodhaa Akbar has at least embraced the sword practice? Excellent information about the Swedish film. I'm sure you're right about the plagiarism comment - at least I hope so. Somebody needs to start making pointed comments about that in the industry.

sanket - clearly I must see Naseeb! And any time Mithun appears with disco beats, I consider myself lucky. :)

Isannida - we've been in touch since this comment, but I still wanted to reply :) I'd be interested to know what you think of Gauri's look in other settings - she was featured in some fashion magazines lately, I believe, and to me she looked very plasticy. Totally her right, but not to my taste. And I agree about Shilpa - no idea why people like her. I'll look forward to your thoughts on Main Hoon Na - my favorite!
menright - did you? I thought she looked so scary! I haven't seen many of her films, though, and she holds no special place for me. I looove Muqaddar ka Sikandar; Rakhee and Vinod have become two of my favorite 70s stars.

I totally know what you mean about the royalty rush. Despite all the buzz before the movie came out, it was such a thrill to see them all on the big screen dancing away!

I still haven't seen Khal Nayak...someday! That song was one of the first things I ever used youtube, for - it's proved an indispensable tool in movie research (even though I'm conflicted about the ethics of posting videos that one does not have the right to distribute and for which the means of distribution do not compensate the makers, stars, etc. Sigh...).
Hans Meier said…
nicely written! Especially i like the para with the various levels of your hands.

If there is a list (or video) deciphering all the cameos and hints at other movies in OSO, i'd like to know (something that goes even beyond the Ultrabrown list).

Oh, also generally agreed with your assessments. OSO is a film i like to zap through for it's scattered highlights, skipping the lows in between. Unfortunately, i don't like zapping through films at all, i prefer to quietly enjoy the whole thing - *if* the whole thing is enjoyable.

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