I have been planning to review this film for about two years, but have only finally gotten around to it. This was the very first Bollywood film I ever saw. I’m not sure why – but one Monday night I got out of work early and found out that a local cinema was showing a Bollywood film called Om Shanti Om. I didn’t know too much about it, but at 2 hrs 50 mins (plus interval), it seemed like I’d get my money’s worth.
Never having seen a Bollywood, I knew roughly that I could expect it to be long and have lots of musical numbers in the middle of it. I’d also heard they were somewhat over the top.
Actually, the correct phrase is: It’s utter cheese from beginning to end.
However, I’m not adverse to cheese on occasions, and let me tell you – this is some of the most sincere, enthusiastic cheese I’ve seen in ages.
When the Americans make a big-budget film with lots of craziness and a paper-thin plot, everyone’s a bit embarrassed and self-conscious that they’re making a dumb movie. (Just watch all the big-name actors when they had to do a special effects blockbuster.)
But not so the Indians. The main lead, Shah Ruhk Khan (the Brad Pitt of Bollywood) chews up the screen in a performance that is so badly over-acted that you can’t help but getting sucked into it.
Meanwhile, his female lead, Deepika Padukone, was actually making her first film, but you wouldn’t really have been able to tell.
The story – such as I can tell you without spoiling the wondrous cheesiness of it all – starts in the 70s, when Om (Shah Rukh Khan), a poverty-stricken “junior artiste” – we’d call him an extra – is working on crowd scenes for big Bollywood films and dreams of becoming a big star, so that he can romance the girl of his dreams – Shantipriya, the actress (played by Padukone).
For the first hour of this film, assuming you hadn’t read the back of the box, any description online or almost any other print media that is put out around this film that shamefacedly gives away everything, you might just be surprised by a twist that occurs that takes the film in very different directions.
By the end of three hours, you’ve had absolutely everything – romance, songs, dancing, action scenes, death, comedy, and fighting with huge stuffed animals and cameos by nearly all the major actors/actresses working in Bollywood today.
And let me tell you – it works – almost. Like a huge over-the-top Broadway musical, it just keeps delivering crowd-pleasing melodrama and comedy all the way through. The cinematography especially is stunning and the colour scheme is beautiful. The only fatal flaw in all of this is that the romance, which was so beautifully built up in the first hour never really pays off in the end. In fact, it’s almost forgotten. This might not be a problem for an Indian audience, but considering that it’s the engine that drives the rest of the film, it’s almost unforgivable for Western audiences. Especially since, with a couple of extra scenes, you could have delivered the payoff that we want.
Oh well – if I were a Broadway producer with a few million under my belt, I think this could be turned into a really good stage production.
If you were going to try Bollywood, this would be the film to try. Leave all your expectations at the door, and expect it to be over-the-top, and you just might find it an enjoyable evening out.
As a little sneak peak, let me show you the scene that (I think) sells the whole thing. Early on in the film, young Om is madly in love with Shantipriya the actress – who of course doesn’t know he exists. His good friend manages to get him tickets to the premiere of her latest film and the two of them show up in outrageously bad clothes to stand beside the red carpet.
For luck, Om’s long-suffering mother gave him a piece of string or a bracelet (it’s been a while so I’ve forgotten) which she wrapped around his string for good luck. At the red carpet, in a scene which is done entirely without dialogue (except for a particularly evocative song called “Ajab Si”), that little red piece of string turns out to be the thing that gives him his first encouter with Shanti…
It’s so unutterably mushy – even a Hollywood romantic comedy wouldn’t include a scene like this – that it works. Either that or you’ll think my movie standards have dropped to an all-time low – in which case, don’t watch this film.
4 1/2 out of 5.