Review: Oh My God

Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal
Cast: Paresh Rawal, Akshay Kumar, Om Puri, Mithun Chakraborty, Govind Namdeo

Director: Umesh Shukla

Indian Express Rating:***

Oh. My.God. I said this aloud when the film began, my reaction one of blank surprise and then delight. In the current atmosphere of rising conservatism and religious extremism, was it really possible to have a film which would talk up the ills attached to religious practices? Could a filmmaker be brave enough, and that's the only word that comes to mind, to take on all those thousands of outraged souls who'd be shown up for what they indulge in daily: doing all sorts of immoral things and then demanding expiation from their deities? 'Oh My God' does this, and we commend the film, adapted from the popular Gujarati play, "Krishan vs Kanhaiya', for its subject and treatment.

Kanjilal Mehta (Rawal) is a self-proclaimed atheist. He is a man who doesn't believe there is a God. Much to all-round horror, he drags his family off from a function which is bursting with 'bhakts' and saffron-clad 'swamis' and political hangers-on. In what is seen an act of divine retribution, his shop is destroyed, leaving him facing near ruin. Tsk, says everyone, it an 'act of god', serve the heathen right. But Kanjibhai decides to make a fight of it, and demands divine justice, and that's what the rest of it is about.

The way the film pans out is mostly a lot of fun. And almost all the credit for that goes to the terrific Paresh Rawal who single-handedly makes us gloss over the weaker parts. His character could have been heavy and pedantic but Rawal who also stars in the theatrical version, makes sure that he invests it with a steady lightness of touch. He needed to have done that to offset Akshay's likeable but bland playing of Krishna Vasudev Yadav, who steals 'makhan' and plays the flute just in case we didn't get it. Some of the lines hammer it in : "Bhaiya bhi keh sakte ho, Kanhaiya bhi", says this modern-day Kaanha. But it's all right, there are enough smiles to keep us going even when things get a tad repetitive and start bowing to cliched representations of greedy godmen (Namdeo), effiminate swamis (Chakraborty) and sultry sadhvis.

One way to keep the occasional dullness at bay is to trying twigging on to who these filmi characters are imitating. Not too hard to do if you've been following the news for the last year or so, full as it has been with rich religious trusts, globe-trotting 'swamis', and the kind of under-the-table stuff that goes on in the name of religion. 'Oh My God' gets a tad schmaltzy towards the end, but I suppose that was the only way this piece of mildly irreverent tongue-in-cheek look at` ishwar-paigambar-isaah masih' could close. But it also stays the course with Kanjibhai making a significant shift on the` naastik-aastik' scale : he couldn't have been left the same sort of disbeliever he was right in the beginning of the film, could he? And learning the profound lesson that makes this film worth your time : God is everywhere.

Good stuff.

shubhra.gupta@expressindia.com

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