When non-Indians think of Indian movies, I am guessing that masala movies are most likely to spring to mind. And, since I have not featured a masala movie in a while, I might as well feature one of the masala-est masalas ever.
Our story begins 30 years ago in 19…erm…1977.
And we are witnessing the filming of Karz…which would come out in 1980…what, did it take 3 years to produce? Well, anyways, they are filming the performance of the song Om Shanti Om and the star throws his jacket into the crowd of extras. A man catches it, but the woman next to him tries to take it. After a bit of a scuffle, the man gets it back and then fantasizes that he is on the stage as the lead.
Once the song is over, the woman wakes the man from his daydream, reminding him that it is Rishi Kapoor up on the stage, not him. He mocks her for acting like she is the film’s director and she replies that she would have him sacked if she were.
The actual director calls lunchbreak and the man tries to sneak off with the jacket, but a crew member spots him and takes it from him after lobbing a few insults his way. After the crew member leaves, the man’s friend walks up and tells him not to worry; what would drunkard costume man know about the worth of a future superstar? A future hero.
Om Prakash Makhija and Pappu Master are small-time actors. Om has dreams of becoming a Bollywood superstar, something that his small-time actor mother has encouraged. And Pappu Master…is his best friend, and enabler. Pappu says that Om has everything that it takes to be a superstar…except for an acceptable name. Makhija? That would never do. Maybe change it to Kapoor or Kiran or Kumar or Khanna.
Om is willing to change his name, but he knows that his mother would disapprove. Om stands for God. Prakash stands for light. And Makhija…stands for shooing the house flies away? Om tells her that he will never become a hero with Makhija as a name. Of course, she insists that her heart says he will, but he is certain that he will die as a junior artist if he keeps his name. Just like his father. And her.
Huh. Well, I checked IMDB and there are a total of three actors named Makhija on there. And Wikipedia gives me a fourth. And only one of them started acting before 2000. And are any of them heroes of the movies? I am siding with Om in this case. Anyways…
Om goes to the bridge to meet his girlfriend, Shanti. He tells her that he came back to her because she is his courage, his strength, his dream, his path, his destination. She knows that he is a good actor and he tells her that he wants to be a star only for her. Because, while she has millions of fans, no one can love her more than he does.
Yes, Om’s girlfriend is a billboard of a movie star and people are staring at him as he talks to it. But his mother and Pappu come around and…try not to make fun of him for it. Om and his mother make up, though they do not exactly settle the argument. Still, she ties a holy thread around his wrist, saying that it will fulfill his wish of meeting Shanti soon.
That night is the premiere of Shanti’s film Dreamy Girl. Om and Pappu manage to slip into the front of the crowd by the red carpet and see all of the stars walk into the theater. And here comes the girl of the moment, Shantipriya. Oh dear, she is not even looking in his general direction. But…a piece of her dress does get caught on the thread around his wrist, giving him the perfect excuse to follow her on the carpet. I am not sure how that happened or how he slipped past the security. Eventually, Shanti does turn around and, after briefly being surprised, separates the thread from her dress. It is only after she turns back around that security grabs Om. But she does turn around again to see him being dragged off. He smiles and she smiles back.
Pappu managed to snag a pair of tickets from actual actors, so he and Om manage to bluff their way inside the theater. But Om is not watching the movie at all, even when Shanti is on screen. He spends the time staring at the real Shanti up on the balcony. Is it even bright enough in there to see her well? In any case, Pappu notices him noticing her and tells him to stop lest they get noticed. So, Om actually watches the movie and is transfixed. And then he starts fantasizing about being in the movie.
And…eventually, Om cannot help himself. He starts dancing in the aisle. Pappu…joins him. The audience notices, including Shanti. And that is when security comes in. Om and Pappu try to evade them. All the while, Om is blowing kisses to Shanti, who finds it all amusing. Anyways, the two of them get thrown out.
Om and Pappu get drunk outside of the bungalow of Rajesh Kapoor, who is the star opposite Shanti in the movie. Om performs part of the movie in front of a group of kids, who seem impressed. He tells Pappu that he will buy this bungalow when he becomes a star, and live a life of indulgently decadent luxury. Them he…uh…gives an awards speech. Even the Bungalow guards are intrigued enough by his drunken rambling to sit down with Pappu and the kids. The only person not impressed was the guy trying to sleep outside the bungalow. It is he, not the security guards, who makes Om and Pappu run away.
Om tries to sneak back home, but his mother is awake. He apologizes for worrying her, saying that he will always return to her. So, she forgives him for coming back late…and drunk. But then she tells him to go to bed, as he has a shoot in the morning.
The next morning, Om and Pappu are made up as…erm…anyways, Om worries that the mustache was put on so tight that it might mess with his ability to say the dialogue. What is his dialogue anyways? Wouldn’t he have gotten the dialogue beforehand? Well, he goes up the assistant…director (or…I don’t know) to ask what the scene is and what his dialogues are. Oh, dialogues plural, now. The assistant director tells him that the field is on fire and Om’s dialogue is Run! Then the assistant director leaves, and Om is somehow in shock that that is all he gets. So, the two go after him and try to convince him to let Om say more. The assistant director says that the hero dialogue goes to the hero, Ricky Sandhu, not some rando extra.
Uh oh. There is a problem. Shanti (oh, she is on this movie) refuses to do the shoot until producer Mukesh Mehra arrives, and director Partho Roy is fuming. This makes sense to Om and Pappu, for Mukesh is the one who gave Shanti her first break when she was only sixteen. And how old is she no, oh Mukesh is here.
Om and Pappu are impressed. Om…says that they agreed to this movie only because Mukesh was involved. Sure. Anyways, Mukesh talks with Shanti and then tells Partho that the shoot can begin in ten minutes. Just finish the scene today. And then he leaves.
Shooting starts and Om is mugging like everyone’s business.
It is time for Ricky Sandhu’s Sanjoo to jump into the fire, but…he doesn’t want to. Meanwhile, the fire around Shanti is getting worse. And Partho refuses to cut. Both the assistant director and Om plead with Ricky to jump in, but he still refuses. He asks Om why he doesn’t do it if he is so concerned. So, he does.
Pappu is not particularly happy that Om was the one to go in to rescue Shanti. Surely someone else could have done it. But Om went and burned his back and what would Pappu have had to say to his mother had things been worse? Like…what if Om had got burns on that superstar face of his? Om says he doesn’t care if he had died in that fire. All he could think of at the time was that Shanti was in danger. And he would have jumped into the fire a thousand times because his dreams are nothing compared to Shanti’s life. He says all of this before realizing that Shanti is behind him. He eventually turns around and is in such shock that he cannot speak.
Shanti thanks him and tries to talk to him, but all of his totally romantic responses are all in his head as he just sputters in real life. Pappu has to save him, even holding is arm out to shake her hand. She says that Om looks familiar. Om is about to remind her about the movie premiere, but Pappu interrupts him and says that Om is a rising star of the South, and is destined to break into Bollywood as well. Shanti says that he has a fan up here already. Not a fan, Om says, a friend. Hey, that was almost a complete sentence. She thanks him again, but he tells her the rule of friendship: no sorry, no thank you. He just made that up, didn’t he? Did he?
Wait…what the hell is going on here? Did Om and Pappu really rope in a bunch of other people to PRETEND to be shooting a film with Om as the protagonist just when Shanti comes around to check? How were they able to do this when Om has a debt with the local café? Or is this a real film and he was just holding up shooting until she showed up?
Also, he wrestles a giant stuffed animal tiger and says in English naughty pussy naughty pussy naughty pussy who’s your daddy now.
After the “shooting” is done, Shanti comes over to Om and playfully asks for an autograph. And Om pretends that he had no idea that she was there. She tells him that he was really good. But Om says that this was nothing compared to his death scene…or scenes, as he dies four times in this film. He plays twins who both die before the intermission, are reborn afterwards, kill the villain, and then both die again. Shanti says that she has never heard someone speak so happily about dying, but Om says that he loves everything about shooting movies. He briefly worries that she is getting bored (he did this with her billboard as well), but she says that she isn’t.
Om asks Shanti what she likes about shooting and she says…pack up. And like that, the whole “crew” scrambles to pack up for the next shooting. They even take his vest. Okay, I think that I get it now. Om is just a bit player in a movie, but somehow held up shooting this scene so that he could pretend to be the star in front of Shanti. Or…something like that. Whatever the case, Om has to admit that he is just a junior artist. Shanti seems unphased by…whatever happened here, and reminds him that he jumped into the fire for her. That makes him a hero. She says that she will do anything for him…except for jump in a fire. So, he asks for…uh…oh, scene change.
That evening, Om and Pappu wait for Shanti to arrive…wait, did he ask for a date? Om worries that he had scared her off, but Pappu is certain that she will come. A woman in a burqa arrives to tell Om that Shanti is not coming. Om says that he is heartbroken and asks the woman to tell Shanti not to hurt anyone like this again. Oh, surprise, surprise. The woman is Shanti herself. Who could have guessed?
Om and Pappu somehow get into an argument over who was certain that she would come, but Shanti says that she had to come for the sake of their friendship. She points out that while he did not want her to thank him, he said nothing about gifts. She gives him a…snowglobe. And…is that the theme to Westworld? How many times has Ramin Djawadi seen this movie? In any case, they go to a…friend date…through various movie sets.
It is very romantic, but there are hints that Shanti’s…desires…lie elsewhere, even if Om doesn’t notice.
Om leaves his movie shoot to see Shanti as she is leaving her movie shoot. But she is too wrapped up reading a magazine and walks right past him.
Om follows Shanti to another building, but a guard stops him outside. When the guard goes to greet someone else, Om sneaks inside and hides in some random room. And it just happens to be next to the room where Shanti is arguing with Mukesh…oh, hey, remember that guy? Yeah, well, Shanti shows him the magazine article showing that he is going to be getting married, and getting his father-in-law’s studios as dowry. Mukesh claims that these are rumors made possible by them being famous, and that this supposed father-in-law has invested four million rupees (transposing that into USD wouldn’t really help contextwise, but it is a lot of money for 1970s Indian movies) into his next movie where she is the star. The movie’s title is Om Shanti Om, by the way, just like that song from Karz.And he accuses her of holding up the shooting with her childish behavior. But Shanti asks Mukesh how he will be able to marry the investor’s daughter when he and Shanti have already been married for two years.
Shanti wants to make their marriage public and display the vermilion, like her character had said in Dreamy Girl. Mukesh tells her that no one will invest a penny in a film starring an actress who is married…well, not in 1977. It will ruin both of their careers. So…why did they get secretly married in the first place? In any case, Mukesh promises to publicize it after this movie is finished. But Shanti says that everyone will know by then…because she is pregnant. Mukesh is surprised…but overjoyed. The two embrace. Having heard all of this, Om is heartbroken.
After a bout of pouting, Om goes back to the Dreamy Girl billboard and tells her that she did the right thing by choosing her happiness and should not think that she broke his heart. He is happy because she is happy. Also, he spared Mukesh only for her sake, but he won’t be so merciful if the two meet in another life.
He will continue doing bit parts in various films, but his heart is not in it.
One night, Om is wandering around the set of Om Shanti Om when Mukesh and Shanti arrive. Om sneaks inside the building and hides. Mukesh brings Shanti inside and reveals what he calls the wedding venue.
Mukesh starts to give her a tour of the biggest set of the biggest film in India. But then he tells her that there will be no shooting here; that it will be dismantled in a few days. Mukesh tells her that he was making the film only for her. Before the dismantling, they will have their wedding party here. Shanti is overjoyed. A despondent Om slips away.
No, wait. It is all a lie. Shanti had awoken in him the dream of becoming the richest man in the industry, and now her behavior is threatening that dream. Unwilling to return the 4 million rupees, he has instead decided to burn down the set for the insurance…with Shanti trapped inside.
Mukesh drives off to meet two goons and tells them to make sure that Shanti does not escape. Jesus, so Mukesh has accessories to this murder? They arrive and beat on Om some so that he cannot break in…but then they leave, so he breaks in.
An explosion knocks Om back outside. Badly beaten and burned, he rolls down a hill and onto a road. He is able to stand up and see the set explode once again until he gets hit by a car. Oh shit. It is Rajesh Kapoor and his wife. They take him to the hospital, where they were already heading, as she is in labor. The doctors try to save his life, but…he…dies.
There is 98 minutes left in this movie. And the two leads a DEAD?
Erm…uh…meanwhile, the Kapoors have a son. That’s nice, but Rajesh learns that the man whom they brought has died. Rajesh’s secretary Nasser, assures him that it was an accident and the man was already badly hurt before Rajesh hit him. Rajesh wonders about the man’s family, but Nasser promises to take care of everything. Does that mean informing the family or covering this up? Erm…sounds like the latter.
Okay, so we are in present day…2007…and that little baby is celebrating his 30th birthday. Meet superstar actor Om “OK” Kapoor.
Huh…so…not only did that baby grow up to look just like Om Makhija, he grew up with an acceptable actor name and with the life that Om Makhija dreamed of…
Is this the dream of a dying man?
Well, birthday boy Om Kapoor seems to have pulled a Tom Hardy and arrived to set four hours late. The director (who I guess is the son of the producer) tries to explain the scene, but Om is only partially paying attention. The scene calls for him to be unable to speak to the heroine of the movie. Also, he cannot see her because he is blind. And he is also deaf. And in a wheelchair. And lost both of his hands.
What the fish? Om tells the director) that this movie might get critical acclaim and awards, but this film will flop. Unless…there is a dance number to express the character’s pain. A disco dream sequence.
Uh…and the sequence stops when the fire in one of the scenes gets too high. Om gets a panic attack and takes a tumble. Om’s assistant Anwar yells at the director for having the bright idea of including fire in the first place. No matter, Om just asks to be taken home. Pack up!
Om is being escorted past the crowd to his car when an elderly woman grabs him, yelling that he is her long-lost son.
Om calls for security to take her away and he gets into the car, but she chases after the car. Apparently, she has done this a lot. Anwar tells him that she thinks he is her son. Om says that every mother in India thinks that he is her son. That is fine, but this is not. He tells the driver to speed up. Eventually, she cannot run anymore and almost falls to the ground until someone catches her.
So…this is a movie, yes, but it is above all a celebration of Bollywood, both past and 2007. It is both reverent salute and lighthearted parody. And just references all over the place. I cannot say that I got even a tenth of the references, but Karz was a real movie in 1980, there was a movie released in 1977 called Dream Girl, the field fire debacle was based on an accident that took place during the filming of 1957’s Mother India where the two actors involved got married soon after, and the tiger fight was inspired by 1971’s Tarzan 303. All sorts of other things as well, including celebrity impersonations. There is even the occasional CGI-ing of old actors being younger. It is not exactly Forrest Gump convincing, but it is not meant to be.
The movie also seems to be a bit of a commentary of the lead actor and his relationship with the industry. I do not really talk all that much about the individual actors in this series, but I feel like there would be no Om Shanti Om without Shah Rukh Khan. Yeah, sure, he is probably at least 12 years too old for the role, so what? This is all him. His charm. His extreme emotional physicality. And even though I had not really featured a movie starring him for four years, believe me when I say that he is a huge superstar. Or, at least he was until 2018, when his only movie of that year flopped and then he went on a semi-hiatus. He still has made cameos and guest appearances and is prepping for a comeback in 2023. We shall see. They do not call him “King Khan” for nothing.
Anyways, Shah Rukh Khan was huge in 2007. He had had the acting bug when he was young and started his career in TV in 1988, started his transition to movies in 1992 playing villains, and somehow transitioned to romantic roles in 1995. All without having any connection to the industry.
Farah Khan was born into a Bollywood family of sorts. Her mother’s two sisters were pretty famous actors. Meanwhile, her father was a producer who was pretty successful until he wasn’t…and he died broke. So, she knew that life in the industry is not always great. She also has a brother who is in the industry as well and…ahem…In any case, she started working as a movie choreographer in 1992, occasionally taking bit parts in the films. I am not sure if she and Shah Rukh met on a film in 1993 or earlier, but they became friends. Anyways, they worked on several movies together after that until 2004, when Farah wrote and directed a movie called Main Hoon Na. Shah Rukh Khan was cast as the lead and his wife Gauri was the producer of the movie. That movie made nearly six times its budget, so there was no way that he was not going to star in her next film. This one. She would make a couple of other movies later that were received okay, but she remained primarily a choreographer.
This movie is also the Bollywood debut of Deepika Padukone, who had been in a Kannada-language film the year before and…nothing else. A 33-year-old actor named Malaika Arora had been initially considered for the role of Shanti, but…something happened, and Farah Khan chose the 21-year-old Deepika to act opposite the near-42-year-old Shah Rukh. Farah Khan wanted the audience to see Shanti, not another superstar playing Shanti. If it makes you feel any better, Farah married the editor of Main Hoon Na who is 8 years young than her. Anyways, Deepika had the look, but apparently, her grasp of Hindi was atrocious. I guess that that is what happens when one is raised in the southern state of Karnataka. So, parts of her lines were dubbed over. And she still got criticized. But she has gotten better and has become a very outspoken celebrity. Huh…so maybe the story of Om is foreshadowing the future of Deepika Padukone herself.
I…cannot really talk about the story. I mean, there is a story there, but it is sort of window dressing. The two halves of it are like two sides of coin, with a bunch of obvious foreshadowing in the first part and overt callbacks in the second part. Now, it is easy to do that movie theory that the post-interval segment is merely the dream of dead man, but let’s say that it is as legitimate as everything else in the movie, which is not very. Om Makhija has big dreams, but his name is holding him back. Om Kapoor is living the life that Om Makhija had dreamed of, but his arrogance sometimes is a cover for his fear that his success is only due to being the son of a celebrity. Apparently, Farah came up with the idea for this movie while working on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams in 2004 and thought that the only way that this story of a boy from the slums could become a superstar was if he were reincarnated into the wealthy family.
Eesh. That seems like some gloomy cynicism. And, perhaps underneath the nostalgia and the loving odes is an undercurrent of anger and bitterness. An anger that that even death cannot kill. Om is reincarnated to fulfill the destiny that he deserved. Like Nux, he lives, he dies, he lives again.
How does Shah Rukh fit into this story? He had no connections to the industry, but his name is pretty common in Bollywood. That 1957 movie Mother India, for example, was directed by someone named Mehboob Khan, who had been in the industry since 1931.
And what about Farah Khan? She has memories of both success and failure in Bollywood, but has forged her own path. She is not just the director, but was integral to the writing. So, she was in charge of depicting directors ambiguously. They tend to be either full of themselves or completely over their heads. One of them is the son of the producer. Ahem. Speaking of producers, there had to be some reason for having Mukesh be such a villain (who goes off to Hollywood in the 1980s) who is married to the star.
Wait, who is the producer of this movie? Oh, right, Shah Rukh’s wife Gauri, who had been married to him since 1991.
Perhaps maybe feeling intimidated by younger rising stars, Shah Rukh Khan took pains to tone his body for this movie, particularly that “disco” scene. Farah Khan was…erm…not necessarily impressed. Every time she saw him with his shirt off, she got sick. Granted, the writer-director-choreographer was pregnant with triplets at the time, but every time?
Now…the story is nonsensical. It is not supposed to make sense in terms of logic. It is pure fantastical emotion. This movie is meta, this movie is unapologetically silly, this movie is romantic despite its romantic plot being completely undermined. If you are trying to find any sort of deeper insight into the movie industry in the past or the present, you won’t. And why would you expect to? It takes you on a ride that goes in somewhat unexpected directions, and you just go with it until the very much unexpected ending.
Most of all, this movie is a means to flex. If you read anything about this movie, then the main thing that you will read about is an eighteen-minute stretch of the movie that could theoretically have been excised. And you would have lost nothing from the story, but everything from the movie. And, perhaps the draw that both made it so expensive as well as so profitable. The first part of this segment is an awards ceremony that starts out with red carpet interviews of random Bollywood celebrities, then a ceremony where a couple of actors make fun of their personas and movies, and then…the afterparty. Oh, the afterparty. If you know nothing of Bollywood, you would still probably understand which of the people at this party are famous. This sequence, which includes a nearly nine-minute song and dance number, features THIRTY-ONE cameos from Bollywood stars. Some of whom had professional history with Shah Rukh Khan. Some…didn’t. Oh, and Malaika Arora was there as well. It is a lot.
Granted, there were limits to this flexing, which Farah Khan was pretty candid about later on. A few people whom she had wanted to take part did not take part for various reasons. Most notable to me was Aamir Khan. Farah had wanted him and Salman Khan to share the screen together so that the three superstar Khans would be there all at once. Salman has had a friendly rivalry with both of them, but Aamir’s relationship with Shah Rukh has been…a little prickly. Aamir claimed that he was too busy working on his own movie at the time, but would admit later on that he did not want to do it. Oh well. His movie did pretty good too, and on a much smaller budget. At least Farah Khan got…Salman…and…Sanjay Dutt? Sigh…fine…At least Fararh’s brother is not in the movie. Egads. In any case, I am not providing a screen shot of these sequences, as none can do them justice. It kind of portrays the Bollywood superstar community as a happy family. And maybe it was…if only for those nine minutes.
One thing that really did surprise me was the end credits. Most of it is actually kind of a sketch where the crew of the movie attends a red carpet ceremony for it. Limousines, bright lights, cheering crowds, for the entire crew. It is rather nice. Kind of the reverse of the ones with all of the actor cameos.
Then the sequence ends with director Farah Khan arriving on an autorickshaw and the whole thing is over. It is a slightly amusing gag, but is it supposed to say anything? Or is it merely the punchline to a 162-minute-long joke that starts where Farah plays the extra who tells Om that she would have sacked him had she been the director of Karz? Hmmm…
Anyways…this movie is silly fun and, if you have the time, you may have some silly fun as well.
WTF ASIA 222: Hers (Mongolia: 2017, approx. 83 minutes)
WTF ASIA 223: K’na, The Dreamweaver (The Philippines: 2014, approx. 86 minutes)