Growing up in times of government monopoly over broadcasting which meant there was almost never anything good on the telly, one of the attractions we looked forward to was the madari and his two monkey-act. This act consisted of one of the monkeys dressed as the hero (usually called Dharmendra) wearing a hat and a small dress (a tattered version of the one SRK is wearing to the left) being made to walk and dance around a second monkey, the female character (usually called Hema Malini) who was trained to take a lipstick and daub it on “her” Narasimha Rao lips.
There was no story, no coherence, the music was simple (the “dugdugi”), the script (as spoken by the madari as he simulated the wooing of the simians) as profound as “Mujse shaadi karegi Hema ” and the directorial touches as subtle as smacks to the monkey’s bottoms whenever their histrionic abilities or artistic enthusiasm was found to be less-than-Oscar worthy.
And we loved it. It was not art. But boy was it pure entertainment.
“Om Shanti Om” is a multi-crore, hyper-dramatic celluloid venture that is, at its heart , a big budget version of this monkey-act, where plot, originality, character and almost every other thing that defines cinema pales into insignificance in the presence by one master simian—-Shahrukh Khan. For the past fifteen years or so, Shahrukh Khan has developed a singularly effective bag of near monkey-like “tricks” —the lip-curling, the hamming, the hair adjusting, the petulant baby-expressioning which he unleashes, movie after movie, regardless of the character he is playing. And while for a few this may compromise their cinematic experience (the fact that SRK plays a college kid and Samrat Ashok in exactly the same way), for most of the paying public the “acting continuity” is exactly what they come to see—everything else can take a hike.
A fact attested to by the middle-aged aunty sitting in front of me at the Laurel theatre who in a gasp that was halfway between a giggle and an orgasmic whimper told her friend—“Main to aayi hoon sirf mere Shahrukh ke liye”.
Farah Khan is one of India’s smartest commercial film-makers. She simply gives the audience the thing that they most adore—-Shahrukh Khan, erect nipples, exposed navel, butt-cleavage, six-packs — the whole package. The rest of the movie she then constructs as a gigantic prop to transition Shahrukh from one “trick” to another as fast as possible. However if she had just done this and left it at that, “Om Shanti Om” would have been an “Aap ka Suroor”, where Himesh tries to do a Shahrukh with unintentionally hilarious consequences.
What Farah Khan adds to “Om Shanti Om” making it such a mega-powerful product (note I do not use the word “film” here) is the visually extravagant, often gaudily spectacular sets, the whacky self-referential humor that is sometimes genuinely laugh-out-loud funny (alas only too brief in comparison to its running time) and the full unleashing of Bollywood’s awe-inspiring star-power as crystallized in the 31-star item number, reminiscent of “John Johnny Janardhan” of “Naseeb” (to be truthful, the 31 while including supernovae like Mithun-da and Dharam-paaji and Jumping Jeetu and a blouse-slipping-off-the-shoulder Rekha Aunty, also had in its roster some asteroid belt debris like Zayed Khan and Aftab Shivdasani who I am sure had to wash all the plates for the after-shoot dinner so as to justify their presence in the song).
Add to this the canny peddling of “Om Shanti Om” CDs during the Twenty20 World Cup by vampire lord, Count Drarukh Khan, the marketing tactic of having Deepika Padukone and SRK attend the India-Australia 2020 game and the free pre-release buzz that it gave “Om Shanti Om” and you have to bow your head to the genius of the Farah Khan team.
Cause make no mistake. Om Shanti Om is less a movie and more a product, directed at entertaining a powerful demographic, adroitly marketed and packaged and guaranteed to provide handsome profits to all its investors.
So did Om Shanti Om entertain me—- a heterosexual male who derives no unnatural pleasure from looking at SRK’s peekaboo low riders and his almost-alien torso ?
Suffice to say that given a choice between Shahrukh Khan’s “butt cracking” “Dard-e-disco” and the simple innocence of the male monkey from days gone by shaking his red bottom and turning cartwheels to the madari’s “I am a Disco dancer” in front of his pouting mate, I would gladly plump for the latter.
[This review should not be taken as an endorsement of cruelty to animals. Monkey picture courtesy here.