Om Shanti Om

paisa vasooladj. money’s worth, value for money. See also: Om Shanti Om.

Just when you thinks he’s out, he muscles his way back in. Literally. I’m referring of course to the star of Farah Khan’s magnificent opus, Shahrukh Khan, who makes short shrift of the supposed competition from every Tom, Dick and Hrithik with designs on his crown by pulling a quasi-Salman Khan on his now-very camera-friendly physique. The result is impressive to be sure and has been the hot topic of water cooler conferences and aunty parties ever since the promos for the film first started airing, but to reduce Om Shanti Om to the moment when Shahrukh’s six-packs make their shirtless debut would be a grave sin. For the film is a much bigger critter than simply a vehicle for its star’s washboard torso (as opposed to, say, Dhoom 2). Indeed, director Khan’s follow-up to the so-so Main Hoon Na is nothing less than a virtual smorgasbord of zingy self-referential humour, spot-on filmi emotion, eye-popping visuals, dazzling star cameos, eminently catchy music, and a thoroughly infectious nostalgia for 1970s Bollywood that also results in one of the most inspired opening sequences ever committed to celluloid.

With its affectionate homage to Subhash Ghai’s much-loved reincarnation caper Karz, OSO leads us into the weird and wonderful Bombay film world circa 1977, where Om Prakash Makhija (SRK), a ‘junior artist’ with stars in his eyes, dreams of being a star and winning the heart of ‘Dreamy Girl’, superstar Shantipriya (Padukone). Evil producer Mukesh Mehra (Rampal) gets in the way of both his plans and Om ends up dead. But this is a Hindi movie, and death is easily overcome, like indigestion. Om Prakash is reborn as spoilt, brattish Om Kapoor, or OK, who grows up to be India’s biggest film star. Slowly but surely, memories of his past life come back to him and he sets out to turn over a new leaf, and also to give his former self’s nemesis his just desserts.

The 70s segment of the film is lovingly created, with many a nod to the mainstays of that era, 
including a reference to Manoj Kumar and his driving license that is nothing short of genius (and the real-life Mr. Bharat is a real sour puss for getting all huffy over it). There are sideburns and flared trousers and large check prints galore; the industry in-jokes come thick and fast (poor Raj Kiran and Rohan Kapoor!), and our very own Javed Sheikh makes a sly and hilariously be-wigged appearance as a Rajesh Khanna-like star.

Quite unexpectedly, the film not only sustains the humour into the post-reincarnation half, it actually ups the ante, with SRK obviously taking great pleasure in essaying the hot shot asshead OK, and even taking a knowing swipe at his own reputation as a no-risk taker. The highlight of this segment is of course the much discussed oddball number ‘Dard-e-Disco’, which, when viewed out of context on TV, seems smarmy as hell, but when seen within the film, is a gleefully absurdist gem that is just so right (and damn near impossible to get out of your head).

In Main Hoon Na, Farah Khan emerged as a confident filmmaker but a mediocre writer; in OSO she excels on both counts. With co-writer Abbas Tyrewala, Khan has penned and executed a taut, self-aware and supremely witty screenplay, whose best quality is that, despite myriad loopholes, it never loses sight of what it set out to be: a masala film through and through, and it stays true to that goal from start to finish. It has its weightier moments, but they are always superbly undercut by Khan’s killer instinct as an entertainer. Never a dull moment as they say, and that seems to be the director’s mantra.

The film boasts an able supporting cast, with Talpade a standout as Om’s best pal in the mould of Jalal Agha or Asrani. Debutante Padukone doesn’t have all that much to do, but she definitely has a spark, making her one to watch closely.

In the end though, there is only one name which looms large over the film. You can dismiss him all you want, as someone who plays it too safe too often, as someone who is too commercial, as being OTT, as a one-trick pony – fact remains, SRK is a performer like no other, whose gut instinct for what the audience wants hits the bullseye again and again. Every few years he is written off by his naysayers, only to bounce back like an India Rubber ball. After the debacle of Paheli and the critical drubbing given to Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, Shahrukh was again eagerly being shown the exit. Well, ladies and germs, here he is again, the joker, entertainer, the Badshah of Bollywood. It’s best we bow in servitude, and all hail the return of the King.

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