Directed by: Farah Khan || Produced by: Shahrukh Khan, Gauri Khan
Screenplay by: Farah Khan, Mayur Puri, Mushtaq Sheikh || Starring: Shahrukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Arjun Rampal, Kirron Kher, Shreyas Talpade, Yuvika Chaudhary, Bindu Desai, Nitesh Pandey
Music by: Vishal-Shekhar, Sandeep Chowta || Cinematography: V. Manikandan || Edited by: Shirish Kunder || Country: India || Language: Hindi
Running Time: 169 minutes
Though current Bollywood pop culture is dominated by Aamir Khan (e.g Lagaan  Ghajini , 3 Idiots , Dhoom 3 , etc), whose films consistently sweep the South Asian box office with at least one megahit every year, it’s important to remember he’s not the only King Khan out there. Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) remains in the commercial spotlight with a never-ending string of cornball but irreverently fun sing-along fests that are hard to dislike.
Om Shanti Om is notable among other recent Shah Rhuhk Khan flicks for its director, its self-awareness, and its box office success upon release. Om Shanti Om was the highest grossing Hindi film of all time (not adjusted for inflation) until Aamir Khan’s Ghajini came out the next year (which was then further displaced by Aamir’s 3 Idiots in 2009), further emphasizing the increasing box office power of these Bollywood hits as they become bigger in scope, their budgets expand, and their content and cinematography become more Westernized. Om Shanti Om (OSO) was also directed by female filmmaker Farah Khan, which is notable no matter where you are in the global movie business; her screenplay, which endows this film with both cinematic and cultural self-awareness, is unique for a mainstream Hindi film. To be sure, OSO is still hopelessly silly, over-acted, and melodramatic to a fault like most Bollywood hits; the main difference here that makes OSO more of an interesting enigma is its level of introspection toward its parent Bollywood film industry.
Much like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) or Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963), Om Shanti Om is one of those movies about movies. It follows the path of a young aspiring actor (or “junior level artist,” as the script calls him) who dreams of one day becoming a Bollywood superstar. Our hero is called Om Prakash Makhija, played by SRK in what is probably the most ironic casting choice of the decade. SRK is one of the definitive international icons of Bollywood, and has arguably had more of a hand in shaping modern Hindi cinema than any other Indian superstar; having him act as one of his countless wannabe-fans is as awesome a self-aware wink to the audience as one can get. However, the real charm of SRK’s star persona in this role is how he fits into this larger narrative analysis of Bollywood and South Asian celebrity. The film makes countless satirical references to other mainstream Hindi blockbusters, pokes fun at ridiculous Bollywood cliches and romantic genre tropes, and even takes time to laugh at itself and its superstar in the process. The film’s self-awareness goes a long way toward affirming its intelligent story, as well as making you laugh with the movie rather than at it like one does with many Hindi melodramas.
OSO is also a broader commentary on the interplay between stardom and fan obsession in India, including the often frivolous, obsessive nature of superstar adoration in general. Writer-director Farah Khan conjoins this analysis with other Bollywood tropes like Indian obsessions with caste and social status, and how Bollywood’s move stars are often an extension of that. For the uninitiated, many of Bollywood’s most influential stars are based on family “film clans” that creepily resemble the (in many ways still rigid) caste system that many Hindi movies openly criticize. SRK’s presence here as the man who is limited by his family background of “junior artists,” only to die, then later be reincarnated as the superstar with whom we’re all familiar, is eerily fitting given how Khan is a unique success story in real-life, not having any notable family industry connections of which to speak.
Om Shanti Om is that rare blockbuster that has brains to match its glamour. It still has that airbrushed, clean-cut studio look and feel that guaranteed its acceptance by the masses, and is as goofy as most Bollywood hits; still, this film has a sense of humor to back up that silliness, and a self-awareness to make you take it seriously. There isn’t much about the star power here that’s terribly interesting besides SRK’s embodiment of the millions of fans who want to be him — Deepika Padukone smiles a lot and looks very pretty, but doesn’t do more than your average forgettable Bollywood female lead; Arjun Rampal is a serviceable caricature as the main villain, and everyone else fits into their slots accordingly. On the surface, Om Shanti Om doesn’t look all that different from most other Bollywood films and, if you’re unfamiliar with the context, its endless series of cameos will go way over your head; but for those reading between the lines and the fun song numbers, there’s a conscious cinematic mind here that gives us a good deal more than standard, mindless blockbuster fare.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: In terms of screenwriting, Farah Khan’s got game. Her ability to turn the film’s cinematic lens on both itself and its native industry is impressive, especially when it turns out to be this entertaining and self-deprecating. Shah Rukh Khan’s turn as an aspiring wannabe is both amusing and oddly fitting given the material, Khan’s inherent likability, and his own rise through the industry. The soundtrack is standard Bollywood fare, which means it’s above-average music.
— However… the rest of the cast are nothing special, and it’s particularly disappointing that Farah Khan didn’t go much outside the box with regards to Padukone’s character. The film remains goofy to a fault, even when taking into account its self-awareness. Though Om Shanti Om is “slim” for a Hindi movie at 169 minutes, there’s still no reason for the film to be this long.
? “Hey, Mikey!” —- the most annoying greeting since Joe Pantoliano’s “Lenny!” in Momento (2000).