Yeh hai Bollywood, meri jaan

In true Bollywood style Farah Khan gave birth to triplets this week and no doubt has already written the script around them. Two girls and a boy so will she call them Shanti, Shanti and Om? It was with the same productive inventiveness that she has become India's most successful female director, ever. In fact, right now out of all the Khans (mostly male) she is the reigning monarch. As Om Shanti Om (OSO) wows German fans, I have to confess that I have also fallen for its dubious charms and Queen Khan's determined exploitation of logic-defying Bollywoodese.

It was not easy to fall in love with OSO. To begin with, when I saw it in London I was appalled at how much hype can distort your sensibilities. The film had none of the criteria that I associated with good cinema (first mistake): it had a completely wild plot, Karz meets Madhumati, and the latter film was not even acknowledged; terrible acting (second mistake), Shah Rukh does not make the slightest effort; and very little research (third mistake) nothing about the so-called '70s in the film struck a chord within me. After all, in the '70s, while Farah was still a very young school girl, I was in a Delhi college, and my memory of the era is completely different. In fact, Deepika looked nothing like the heroines whom we all adored in the '70s pert voluptuous Mumtaz, large-eyed abundant Asha Parekh, sexy long-legged Saira Banu the list went on and on. I could not understand why India had been bowled over by OSO, when nothing in it looked or felt authentic or even re-created a nostalgia. I walked out of a nearly empty auditorium on Shaftesbury Avenue perplexed and bemused.

Cut to PVR, Delhi. I am watching the film in a packed cinema hall a month later because my husband had not seen the film. I felt he must watch it because it is such a huge hit and I just could not figure out why. At the end of it, he too shared my Shaftesbury Avenue feelings this was like a middle-level West End musical which leaves you entertained but does not grip you or allow room for thought. But I have to confess, on second viewing I had completely changed my mind . I discovered that while Farah did not want us to trouble our pretty little heads, she had whipped up a very clever film which touched all the right chords, and insidiously I had been converted into a die-hard OSO fan. It meant a total mental re-orientation and a repudiation of 'good cinema' norms but hey, wasn't Bollywood meant to offer complete escapism? Besides, what other way can we can get justice in this cruel world than if we all got reincarnated and bashed up the baddies? Thank God OSO offers hope to the hopeless, and happiness in large doses.

This is feel-good cinema for a resurgent India. No more weepies, or the angry-young-man genre. Now there are only two types of Indians: those who are happy-happy or those who are even more happy-happy. The stock market is booming and the BCCI has flexed its muscle. OSO captures a confident India which can laugh at itself and its icons. And the amazing thing is that the icons don't mind being ripped off either! And so instead of raising temperatures it raises spirits and the film becomes a 'tribute'. The biggest contribution of OSO is its aura of co-operation the 31-star song, for example, speaks of a teamwork and celebration, and of a Bollywood which has arrived it is no longer nervous or faltering and has dumped its crab mentality. Neither Subhash Ghai nor Bimal Roy's descendants raise Sholay-like objections, and actors such as Abhishek agree to walk-on parts where they spoof themselves. This is a new generation of filmmakers and artistes who follow their dreams and are super-successful there is no room here for Guru Dutt's angst.

Farah has also meticulously layered the film in a way that even when Om discovers that his Shanti actually loves the evil Mukesh Mehra there is no attempt to make the audience cry. In fact as Shah Rukh walks down the street, broken-hearted and desolate, in the wind and the rain, the camera pulls back to show that actually the atmospheric wind and rain are being created artificially through large fans, collections of leaves and giant hosepipes. Similarly, in the wonderful South Indian film spoof, while Shah Rukh flies through the air, again the camera zooms out to reveal the trolley he is precariously balanced on. All this helps to keep the audience in its 'happy' imbalance. Even the death of the hero and the heroine (unlike in the original Karz, or in Madhumati where the deaths were spine-chilling) appears to be doused in tomato ketchup and special effects so that while you 'buy' into their deaths, you know that through the easy and simple trans-migration of souls you will see them both again after the interval.

The highlight for me remains the completely insane Dard-e-Disco song. The rationale for the song apparently was a conversation that Farah had with Gulshan Kumar in which he told her that only two types of songs sell dard bhare gaane and disco. And Farah immediately wanted a combination of both a dard bhara disco number. Javed Akhtar's brilliantly audacious lyrics in which he rhymes all sorts of meaningless words (including 'pichchle maheene ki chabbis ko' with disco) captures the manic essence of the film, as does the 'item boy' performance by the six-ab Shah Rukh and the careful unbuttoning of his shirt.

In a film where even the extras and junior artistes have been instructed to 'look happy' OSO is a post-realism experience. So when my daughter comes to India and hasn't seen OSO, I am the first to queue up for the tickets. And this time round I know this is going to be a long love affair. Not only am I planning a book about it I cannot wait to see it again.

Desai is author of 'Darlingji: The True Love Story Of Nargis & Sunil Dutt'

  • Tags:
Please read our terms of use before posting comments
TERMS OF USE: The views, opinions and comments posted are your, and are not endorsed by this website. You shall be solely responsible for the comment posted here. The website reserves the right to delete, reject, or otherwise remove any views, opinions and comments posted or part thereof. You shall ensure that the comment is not inflammatory, abusive, derogatory, defamatory &/or obscene, or contain pornographic matter and/or does not constitute hate mail, or violate privacy of any person (s) or breach confidentiality or otherwise is illegal, immoral or contrary to public policy. Nor should it contain anything infringing copyright &/or intellectual property rights of any person(s).
comments powered by Disqus