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The blast vs the blues

Om Shanti Om

Two Oms. Two Shah Rukhs. Two Deepikas. Two halves. Two very different films. “Ladies and gentleman”, Om Shanti Om is perhaps Bollywood's first “grindhouse” experience. Back in the 60s and 70s in Los Angeles’s Broadway and Hollywood Boulevards, they used to show two B-movies back to back in drive-in theatres. OSO is very much a two-in-one movie, a double feature… matlab bole toh ek ticket mein do picture mamu. Sachchi' Muchchi!

Film One, set in the 1970s, is about a junior actor called Om, born to parents who are junior actors and named after Om Prakash. (Remember Sharmila’s “jijjajee” in Chupke Chupke' Eggjactly!) But Om wants to be a superstar and more importantly romance Shanti(priya), Bollywood’s new Dreamy Girl. Aise kaise' Rule 1: Agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaaho to poori kaynath use tumse milane ki koshish mein lag jaati hai.

Film Two, after the interval, is set in present-day Bollywood and is about a star son called Om Kapoor (or rather OK). He is the biggest superstar in the country but also one of the worst actors around. “Overacting to mere khaandaan mein hai,” he quips. When OK is not salvaging films with item numbers and hobnobbing with other stars in the cine sky, he has a fire phobia. No, no, not RGV waala Aag. It’s his past because one lifetime is not enough for some love stories. Aise kaise' Rule 2: Hamare filmon ki tarah hamari zindagi mein bhi end tak sab kuch theek hi ho jata hai aur agar theek na ho, to woh The End nahin. Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.

Kaash picture baaki nahin hoti.

Half One of OSO, right from the original and eponymous Karz number with SRK in Chintoo’s white shoes, is so fab that how you wished it went on and on till the end credits rolled. It’s 70 minutes of a Bollywood buff’s dream come true. We keep harping on how in Kill Bill Tarantino used the whistling from this movie and the sushi recipe from that movie and wagera wagera but what Farah Khan has done here is equally emphatic.

It won’t be surprising if with time millions of websites are dedicated to point out Farah’s tributes. Like the badminton sequence which pays homage to the Leena Chandavarkar-Jeetendra Humjoli number Dhal gaya din or the first fire scene that happened on the sets of Mother India or how a young Sooraj Barjatya got the idea of Maine Pyar Kiya. The eye for detail is superb. (Watch out for the old-school billboards of Ovaltine, Exide and Dulux in the background.)

The song picturisations are even better — Farah even manages to give SRK and Deepika long moments of solitude in the crowded red carpet sequence of Ajab si adaayein hain. Main agar kahoon has the two of them romancing in a still car while the roads pass by on the white screen behind them. Yes, just like in those good ol’ movies.

And then there’s “anna rascala”! SRK as Quick Gun Murugan is a riot. That in itself could have made a blockbuster. A mustachioed Shah Rukh flying in the air (on the crane) and fighting a stuffed tiger with wild shouts of “naughty pussy”!

But while Half One is a true-blue tribute to the white shoes and pleated skirts and braided hair, Farah is not sure what to do with Half Two. She wants to hang on to the comic book tone of the 70s but at the same time take digs at everything from the indispensability of the item number to the bias towards star children to the craze for superheroes. And suddenly, SRK again becomes SRK, which perhaps is a good thing for his fans, but not for the film.

The two gimmicky songs — Dard-e-six-pack-Disco and Deewangi-spot-the-star-Deewangi — try to keep the interest going but why couldn’t Farah develop the love story between OK and Sandy (that’s Shanti post-interval) ' The emotional connect of Karz is just not there.

But there are a couple of great moments in the second half too. Like on the sets of Apahij Pyaar where OK plays a deaf-and-mute hero without limbs and eyes. And then at the awards ceremony when fake movie trailers (just like Grindhouse) are shown for the nomination announcement. Wish Farah actually goes on to make Return of the Khiladi with Akshay.

Anyway, by the time the Main Hoon Na-like end credits roll, where everyone connected to the film — from producer Gauri Khan to the spotboys — walk the red carpet for the fake OSO premiere, everyone’s smiling. Yes, it could have been so much better but there’s enough for the Diwali crowd to go “gao Om…”

SRK the actor is brilliant in Half One but in Half Two he is SRK the star. So if you love him, you will love the film even more and if you hate him, you will struggle in the last 90 minutes. But it is SRK the producer who sets new benchmarks with his VFX team at Red Chillies.

Deepika Padukone smashes her way to glory in her Bollywood debut, something father Prakash would have been proud of on a badminton court. Kirron “beta-tu-aa-gaya” Kher is hilarious as the filmi maa. Shreyas Talpade continues to surprise (pleasantly) with every film. Arjun Rampal is very good as the 70s Mukesh but as Mikey he is all ham.

Technically, OSO is right up there — from Manikandan’s camerawork to Shirish Kunder’s editing to Vishal-Shekhar’s score.

But it’s three cheers for Farah Khan (no reference to the triplets here), who’s done what no woman director in India has ever been able to do — make two back-to-back commercial blockbusters.

As someone puts it in OSO, the Satyajit Ray angle and the Guru Dutt angle are fine, but it is the Manmohan Desai angle that does the trick. Samjha kya'

Saawariya

When you go to watch Saawariya, you have to remember that all the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players, who have no existence outside Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s giant, lurid imagination.

Devdas was a warning. So was Black — of Bhansali’s grand notion of cinema as garish sets. He had taken other liberties; the films were suspended in a sort of timelessness and freed from the rigid demands of a particular topography or history. These are also true of Saawariya, but with his latest essay Bhansali attempts to go where he has not tried to before. He tries to turn all his men and women into pure ideas.

No — he tries to turn them into poetry, by bathing them in a blue light, draping them in dreamy designer clothes and embellishing them with internationally-accepted Indian kitsch. (Even the carpets turn into poetry. When they are beaten to be dusted, the dust turns into powdered gold.)

So once upon a time, into the main set of Saawariya, a surreal square of cobbled streets, and imposing buildings and houses of pleasure on arched columns with a retro European look but also eateries with neon signs that have modern Mumbai names, walks Ranbir Raj (Ranbir Kapoor), a penniless young tramp who wears his heart on his sleeve and his guitar on his shoulder — and is a throwback to the Raj Kapoor Awaara persona. Kapoor is Raj Kapoor’s grandson in real life. Raj is Bhansali’s idea of Pure Love.

He is a pretty, pretty boy. He gets a job as a singer at a blue-tinged bar at the blue-tinged square, where he befriends Gulabji (Rani Mukerji), the hard-nosed wise-cracking lady of pleasure fond of her drink and her English. Gulabji falls for Raj immediately because of the sturdy innocence that radiates from him, as does his goofy smile, another of the actor’s grandpop’s legacies.

Meanwhile, the central set leads to more phantasmagoria as it flows into a canal that could have been inspired by a Venetian resort in Los Angeles. Pretty gondolas float down its placid, blue-lit waters and from under an arched blue-lit bridge over it.

The bridge is significant. On it waits a tall, graceful, female figure in silhouette, in folds of black, stilled as if by the mystery of her own presence. She is Sakina (Sonam Kapoor), the daughter of an old aristocratic family that has fallen on bad times but hasn’t obviously run out of its stock of the finest embroidered clothes and chikan. She is obviously also from the minority community but cosmopolitan Bhansali will not do anything as gross as spell out the phrase “religious difference” in his dainty world.

Sakina in real life is Anil Kapoor’s daughter, but as she waits on the bridge, she takes the shape of the Eternal Feminine, like Sita, like Penelope, like the Lady of Shalott, watching out for — what else' — Man.

Now, to pull this storyline off and turn it into an enjoyable film requires a lively screenplay and dialogues, and most of all, a sense of humour, an intelligence that would recognise the plot as a contrivance and treat it as such, as an opera, or as theatre, as Baz Luhrmann does in Moulin Rouge. But Bhansali, alas, lacks all of these.

There is not a single line from Raj to Sakina that is really funny — and when Raj sledge-hammers his way into old Zohra Sehgal’s heart, it is pathetic, not tear-inducing. The only instance when the audience is really moved is when Gulabji says disapprovingly about something: “I don’t likes!” The viewers share her sentiment — about many things.

Still, much would have been forgiven if this was an original show, for somewhere there is a glimmering of grand themes: of passion that brooks no barrier, of selfless love, of the tension between the real (Gulabji’s world) and the ideal (Raj’s world) — but all these seem to have been borrowed, as is Bhansali’s style.

The story is based on Dostoyevsky’s short story White Nights, which Bhansali acknowledges, but the film is also said to be heavily dependent on Italian master Luchino Visconti’s 1957 film of the same name based on the same story, which is not acknowledged.

Ranbir is fine as a debutant, but he is burdened too much with the Kapoor name. Even the bar that he works at is named RK bar. Then there is the Shri 420 Raj Kapoor-Nargis umbrella. And Ranbir’s towel-song' It is too little, too hyped. And he does it in the backdrop of curtains with knowing Mona Lisa eyes painted on them, while Ranbir himself winks and leers. Raj is not as innocent as he looks. Bhansali is a grandmaster of fakes.

Other credits' Sonam is pretty and insipid. Sets are credited to Omung Kumar, whose brain is obviously as over-stimulated as Bhansali’s. The rest of the film is one boring choreography.

In any case, there is too much blue light. As a young viewer said: “Wish there was more of the towel sequence and less of mush. Then at least we could have called it a blue film.”

Chandrima S. Bhattacharya

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