“Masala to the max” would be a fitting tagline for “Om Shanti Om,” ace choreographer Farah Khan’s sophomore stint as director following her socko 2004 hit, “Main hoon na.” Again teaming with megastar Shah Rukh Khan and many of the same crew, helmer has fashioned a dazzling love letter to the great Hindi spectacles of the ’70s that fans out, via a hokey tale of reincarnation, into a celebration of those same values in a contempo Bollywood envelope. Out-and-out vehicle for King Khan lacks the emotional undercurrents and ensemble playing to engage at a deeper level, but as sheer eye candy, this looks set for red-hot biz on worldwide release Nov. 9.
Going out in a reported 2,000 prints, the film claims to be the biggest day-and-date international release in Bollywood history. (Official red-carpet world preem Oct. 8 was held in London, not Mumbai.) And with one number alone that features cameo appearances by 31 Bollywood stars, past and present, pic has a wow factor unequalled by any Hindi film in memory. Box office slugfest over the Diwali period with equally awaited “Saawariya,” the first Bollypic funded by a U.S. major (Sony), looks to be a battle royale.
Unlike “Main hoon na,” which, though set in the present, was heavily doused in ’70s retro, new pic requires considerable knowledge of mainstream Hindi movies to get all the in-jokes. But just as the earlier pic referenced several classic Western musicals (from “Grease” to “West Side Story”), “Om” also stirs in some non-Hindi parallels, notably from “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Phantom of the Opera.”
Part one is set 30 years ago, during the high days of the studio system. Om Prakash Makhija (Khan) is a “junior artiste” (i.e., extra) on the fictional RC Studios lot, where he dreams of becoming a superstar. He’s encouraged by his best buddy, Pappu (Shreyas Talpade), and mom, Bela (vet Kirron Kher), also a onetime wannabe actress.
In fact, Om doesn’t need much encouragement, as — in a string of eye-popping musical numbers (one digitally incorporating old stars’ faces) — he imagines himself singin’ and dancin’ alongside his dream actress, superstar Shantipriya (former model Deepika Padukone). Om befriends Shanti on set but, by chance, overhears an argument with her producer, Mukesh Mehra (Arjun Rampal), that completely changes his perception of her.
Part one ends with a technical tour de force that sees RC Studios destroyed by fire and Om and Shanti destroyed by the Machiavellian Mukesh. Post-intermission, 30 years later, the yarn follows a contempo superstar, Om Kapoor (also Khan), who was born on the day the studio burned down. Vain, terminally lightweight Om (“just call me OK”) has a strange fear of fire and seems to have inherited the spirit of the old Om.
Pic is really two movies in one, with part one a jokey tribute to the ’70s and part two much more plot-heavy and dramatic. With the hunky Khan onscreen almost the whole time, and seriously overdoing his mature-boyish charm in the first half, the movie also requires considerable tolerance of the King’s limited range. Padukone, a real looker with major screen presence, acts as a balance in the early stages; more’s the pity she’s not given much chance in part two to develop her likeable, klutzy wannabe actress, Sandhya (“just call me Sandy”).
Playing a villain for a change, Rampal is fine as the ruthless Mukesh, and Talpade, as Om’s buddy, makes a good screen partner to Khan. Among the other thesps, Kher has the meatiest role as Om’s mom.
Thick-and-fast musical numbers lack the lightness and pure fun of those in “Main,” but compensate with sheer magnitude, topped by the foot-tapping, 9½-minute title song in part two, which is virtually a Bollywood “Who’s Who.” Production values are super-lavish throughout, from the kaleidoscopically colored ’70s costumes through V. Manikandan’s glossy widescreen lensing to the slick visual effects.
As in “Main,” the whole crew, down to the grips and accountants, are feted in the end titles.