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Some Ramblings - Om Shanti Om
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Om Shanti Om

The mother, dressed in the finest of silks (with enough glitter embroidered on it), decorated in the finest jewelry, finishes giving her "aarthi" to an equally decorated deity, against the background of thumping background score (even if it is devotional tune) and waits for her son to take the first blessing, a tradition that he hasn't missed ever in his lifetime. So as there surrounds pindrop silence in the huge prayer hall of the modestly sized mansion, that is conveniently filled with guests, who seem to have no other jobs but to wait for the son to take the first blessing, a helicopter descends from the skies outside the mansion and the son jumps out of it before the chopper has even touched the ground. And the bombastic score kicks in again. Meanwhile, the editor has a merry time intercutting between the beaming mother's face and the athletic son's, who doesn't waste time catching his breath, inspite of the 10K run from the helipad to the prayer hall. The orchestra swells, along with the eyes of the mother, as the son walks into the house with a sense of accomplishment that could only come with conquering Mt. Everest. The jobless loitering guests couldn't be any happier. To the collective applause of the gathered audience (for reasons unknown), the son bends down and takes the first blessing from his mother. The audience becomes overwhelmed (thanks in large parts to the thumping score pumped throughout all the corners of seating auditorium) with joy, happiness and ecstacy, as kerchiefs come out to wipe away the tears streaking down the cheeks at just the same time that goosebumps make their special appearances - another typical moment in the dreamy world of Indian movies. The surprising aspect is, the above description is not from the loud 70's era, which the Hindi filmmakers seem to have taken a great shine on nowadays in the name of homage, but from a contemporary movie from just a few years ago.

Which goes on to say that immaterial of the era, escapism is here to stay. The audience wants the hero to triumph in the end (however stacked the situation is against him), the audience cheers when the guy gets the girl in the end (no matter how mean he has been to her throughout most of the movie), the villain should meet his fitting fate, the end credits should roll against up-tempo beat, Satyameva Jayate, Jai Hind! The audience needs the formula, the audience craves for the formula, only the tools change, only the methodology changes, the formula remains the same. VIVA! FORMULA!

A couple of decades ago, serialized in a local Telugu weekly "Andhra Bhoomi", the famous cartoonist Mallik, created a seminal piece in Telugu literature - a never attempted before, completely cliche-ridden, over the top, farcical parody of the then prevalent conditions in Telugu cinema (though not much has changed from then). The title of the serial was "Superhit", which came with a tagline "ani oka dikkumaalina kadha" (A wretched story). Filled in the story every single caricature known to mankind - on the hero's side - an ultra-rich family, with a reckless, wasteful hero, a doting sister-in-law, a cute neice who mouths dialogues way beyond her age, a brother who is always caught up in his business, and looks harangued for most of the time; on the heroine's side - a handicapped brother, who dreams of standing on his legs, literally, one day, a blind sister, a shawl-draped, bed-ridden mother, who coughs lightly before uttering anything, a portrait of the dead dad hanging on the wall (garlanded, of course), which the shawl-draped mother makes it a point to talk to, whenever she has a cause of complaint against anybody. Oh, and there is also a second heroine, in the near by slum, who is the best thing to have happened to her people and whom the whole slum knows by her name (and vice versa). Create a scheming villain, who always had an eye on hero's property and heroine's chastity, in that order, along with a standard format of heroine hating the hero first, before finally falling to his charms, a compelling reason why the heroine should not marry the hero according to her mother (in a flashback episode, hero's father was the reason why the heroine's family was destitute), some twists and turns and some the fill in the blanks that the readers could fill out even before anyone said 'Go' - Presto! A superhit story served hot and ready! Mallik ended up creating a story that mirrored the readers' (audience's) taste to perfection. Whoever said "Can't beat 'em? Join 'em" couldn't have said it better.

There are two ways of poking fun at something - laughing at it and laughing with it. While the former makes up mockery, the latter accounts for parody, why ch is a more benign and endearing form. Parody is never mean in nature, it wallows in the same system it is poking fun at. Parody has come late to the Indian scene, while it has become a mainstay in the Hollywood fare (The "Airplane" movies, the "Naked Gun" series and most of Mel Brooks' comedies). Though Kundan Shah's "Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron" was an attempt at ridiculing the unholy nexus of the print media with the political machinery, it cannot be completely termed as a parody (inspite of the many hilarious moments, including the final climactic staging of Mahabharat's "Vastra aparaharan" scene, with the blind Dhritarastra chiming in with a timely "yeh kyaa hO rahaa hai"), as the underlying theme is a deadly serious one (pun intended). There are two ubiquitous spheres in the present day society that constanly crave for attention - 1.Politics 2. Movies. While satire handles the role of mocking the political system, parody is the only way of laughing at the dream world and the dream merchants peddling impossible fare to wide-eyed mass audience. Where reality is scarce and escapism rules, where reason ends and fantasy rules, where people openly pledge their allegiance to formulaic fare and decry anything that is little bit preachy and informative, the situation could not get any better to make fun of. And what better way to make fun of a formula film, by making a formula film about a formula film?

Farah Khan has her head planted firmly on her shoulders while shepherding the herd throughout the length of the movie. The plot of "Om Shanti Om" is only an excuse. In fact, the movie would have still worked, even if it were a series of disjointed segments with no continuous narrative (similar to the brilliant Monty Python movies). The story merely sets up the platform to laugh at situations that are funnily bad and hilariously absurd. To term "Om Shanti Om" as a spoof of just the 70s is a great disservice to the movies of the current era, which work no less hard, dishing out the same recipes of the Valmiki and Veda Vyas era. The movie is not merely a parody on movies. It even makes fun of the audience, who thoroughly enjoy such guilty pleasure fare. Here is a situation - the hero is handicapped, not merely to the extent that a hero can be handicapped photogenically, but handicapped in all senses and faculties, with no legs, no arms, no sight, no hearing and no sound. Yet he is still a hero, and deserves every chance to romance his heroine against Alps background. The audience and the makers are unfazed at the impossibility of the situation. Dream sequence - an all empowering possibility that can defy rules, commonsense, intelligence and logic. And so the dysfunctional hero grooves with the international beauties in an item song to commemorate (in fact, rue) the heroine's wedding with someone else. As though the absurdity isn't enough, Javed Akhtar joins the party coining the situation in what could only be termed as bizarrely apt - Dard-E-Disco. "Om Shanti Om" isn't a spoof. It in fact is a tribute - a tribute to everyone who cheered and clapped, when long lost brothers separated during childhood came together in the climax, singing the same song they practiced as kids. It in fact is a tip of the hat - a bow to everybody who yelled at the screen egging the hero to thrash the villain even more for all the injustices he committed during the stipulated movie time. It extends a heartfelt gratitude to all who laughed with the hero, cried with the heroine, growled at the villain, pitied with the second heroine. In effect, "Om Shanti Om" is truly of the people, by the people and for the people. Now that kind of idealism calls for another entirely out of place item song - "Jashn-E-Filmi Zindagi"!

More Ramblings on films
Lions for Lambs
American Gangster
Michael Clayton
Happy Days
Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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