I forgot this was such a short little light review. Someone suggested I should write an additional review of this one, and I really should, this isn’t nearly enough.
I watched Om Shanti Om in theaters right before I left town for Thanksgiving. And essentially that whole holiday was just about me and my sister (who also saw it right before leaving town) talking about how wonderful this movie was. And then it came out on DVD, I bought the big fancy special edition case, and literally carried it with me everywhere for about a year. Just in case I had an Om Shanti Om emergency.
It’s just the happiest film! It’s like Rasa theory-plus. Rasa theory says that there should be a variety of emotions and moods in any work of art. Om Shanti Om takes that and ramps it up to a thousand. Without somehow falling over into being too much. Or too little, there is no sense of cynicism here, they sincerely believe in this plot.
Have you heard of the emotions study they did with children? I don’t actually remember what they were studying, but for some reason they wanted a bunch of small children to feel a variety of different emotions in rapid succession. So they showed them ET, which was the best Hollywood option for that. But in Indian film, there are SO MANY OPTIONS. And Om Shanti Om is definitely high on the list.
What makes it so good, and so unique, is the mixture of silly and serious with no holding back on either. Main Hoon Na already tried this out, we had the over the top fight scenes, the silly Boman Irani jokes, and the completely serious family drama. But Om Shanti Om went even farther, in both directions.
The opening is completely silly, and joyful, inserting Shahrukh as an enthusiastic extra to the “Om Shanti Om” song sequence in Karz. And the silliness continues, Kirron Kher as his filmi mother, Shreyas Talpade as his ridiculously supportive friend. But when it has to get serious, it does.
One of the best sequences is the Mother India one, when Shahrukh rushes in to save movie star Deepika when a stunt goes wrong and she is trapped in the fire. The moment when he risks his life to save her is filmed completely “straight”. He is brave and heroic and strides out of the fire with her in his arms. But right before that is a wall breaking moment of the director mentioning Mother India and trying to get the actor to rush in and save Deepika just like Sunil saved Nargis. And right after, as soon as Deepika has been taken away, Shahrukh turns back to comedy, jumping around and trying to put out the fire on his arm.
As the film goes on, the moments of tragedy and comedy mix more and more. And it begins to be clear that this is actually the theme of the film. The movie world is a place of happiness and silliness and fantasy. But underneath it can be tragedy.
The “Jag Suna” and “Agar Main Kahoon” songs work as perfect companion pieces to each other in this way. “Agar Main Kahoon” (clearly inspired by “You Were Meant for Me” from Singin’ in the Rain) shows how sometimes “movie magic” intersects with real magic. And pales in front of it, Shahrukh and Deepika having tea in wine glasses has a lot more magic to it than all the backdrops and special lighting on all the soundstages. But the lighting and soundstages are there to help them find a place outside that feels as special as they feel right now inside.
And then there’s “Jag Suna”. Now, Shahrukh is filled with misery. A second earlier it was funny, he was sneaking onto a set to meet Deepika. And then he finds out she is married and his heart breaks. It’s mostly in his performance, his face sells his misery. But then he walks out into a storm, falling leaves, blowing wind, etc. The environment is reflecting his feelings, just like almost always in films, until we see that it isn’t actually the environment. There is a camera on a crane, a big fan blowing leaves, it’s all fake!
What makes it really brilliant is that we go from seeing Shahrukh in the fake sad environment to seeing him a whole series of other fake representations. A billboard of Deepika, a glass music box, sitting on a soundstage, in front of a fake mansion. Culminating in a fake Holi celebration. But the point is, we can see that the world he is in may be fake, but his feelings are real.
That’s the beauty of this film. Everything is fake but the feelings, which makes the feelings feeling so much more real.