Autobiography Of Bombay Cinema

January 6, 2014 at 9:15 PMJan (Cinema, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life)

Around two years ago (March 2012), as a part of their even management course, a set of students in Manipal decided to organize a film festival- Cinephilia- a run through to the centenary celebrations of Indian cinema. I was approached by the students and also asked by their faculty coordinator to help the students out. In a series of meetings we decided which films have to be screened. In one of the initial meetings I suggested that because Bombay cinema (bollywood) is also a part of the great tradition of Indian cinema there has to be a representation from Bombay cinema and preferably a masala film. The students agreed to this but just laughed when I said one the best representation of Bombay cinema (masala) is Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om and suggested it be screened. They thought I was not serious while taking the name of Om Shanti Om in the same breath as the names of Agraharathil Kazhutai, Ajantrik etc. But I was serious.

This blog post is a promise made to those student friends first and then to several other friends who also laughed when I told them I adore the film and am serious about it while saying it.


Probably the film Om Shanti Om appears like a not so serious film when kept along with other so called serious films. But Om Shanti Om is also a serious film which is serious about itself and serious in its own right. And one should see it not in comparison to other so called serious films but see it from where it locates itself.

In a particular scene in the film we hear a film director being instructed by the producer to get done with the shoot on that very day. Then immediately the director, played by Satish Sha, jumps to say, proudly, he has three cameras: one Satyajit Ray angle, one Bimal Roy angle and one Guru Dutt angel. The producer then asks him to have “one Manmohan Desai angle.” In the very next scene, where Om (SRK) is injured after rescuing Shanti (Deepika), his friend angrily tells him that had his face got burnt his dream of being a hero would have gone down the drain and the only possibility would have been available would be to act in Ramsay films.

It is this exchange of dialogues, which distances from certain kind of films, and the interception of the film narrative with films from the past in the songs- Dhum Tana and the song for the opening titled cards, from Karz, which are pointers at where the film is locating itself.

The “yenna rascala” scene being a sheer enactment and not ‘real’ within the cine-truth is also a way in which the film distances itself from another kind of cinema.

It locates itself within mainstream popular masala Bombay cinema and tells us a story of not just Om and Shanti but also about Bombay cinema. Filmmaking and the film industry and the ecosystem of cinema, which is more than art and commerce in this country, are not mere backdrops in Om Shanti Om. The film is about them for the way in which the story is woven. It according to me is the autobiography of Bombay cinema which, like its end credits which reveals the faces of the generally known but invisible hands- from director producer actors technicians to the spot boys, makes visible/ reveals various aspects of Bombay cinema including its production, shifts in production methods, its history, its journey, its epic nature, its texture, its stereotypes, its style, its myths, its superstition, its gossips, its undercurrents, its magic.

This autobiography in its narration both celebrates and ridicules Bombay cinema, in a very lovable and playful manner.

1402016227_cdce2d3bf9Such a film, which is a delight for the lovers of Bombay cinema, could be possible only by a close observer and a “will-swear-by-bollywood” kind of fan. Farah Khan. There you go. Opening scene. Rishi Kapoor throws his jacket, from the 1980 film Karz, which lands on Om, played by Shahrukh Khan. Next to him is the director of the film Farah Khan, closely watching the (imaginary) shooting of the film Karz, watching the people involved- like actors, director, cinematographer etc- and also watching the audience craze while enjoying the number “Om Shanti Om.” The Director defines her role more as a fan who is observing and enjoying every bit of Bombay cinema.

The jacket thrown by a 1980 film is caught by a 2007 film. The 2007 film hero jumps on the 1980 stage and starts dancing to t tune. The 2007 film heroine is romancing with yesteryear heroes. All these speak of the continuous interaction Om Shanti Om is having with Bombay cinema itself, its history and its style. The family of films are giving a lot, like the coat, to Om Shanti Om which is happily receiving from the tradition it belongs to and is happily dancing in the setting of the tradition and also recreating a similar choreograph and similar setting to tell a story. In this interaction and participation Om Shanti Om is not just celebrating but also slightly mocking at its own setting.

Like the ‘Bala Kanda’ of Valmiki’s Ramayan by and through its very narrative itself, where Narada tells the story of Ramayan to Valmiki who then tells it to Lava and Kusha who later tell the story to Rama, reveals the oral and multiple telling of the tale, Om Shanti Om in the very beginning by and through its narrative reveals its nature like how it is borrowing from other sources and making reference to other telling of the story, reveals that it is about films, filmmaking, the craze around films, it is about a star and fan interaction (throwing and catching of the coat) and then begins to tell the story of Om and Shanti.

Like the story of Ramayana is told to the protagonist himself, by Lava and Kusha, in Om Shanti Om the story of past is told (reminded), by the dead studio, to Om, the protagonist. The film, like the multiple telling ofRamayana, is telling a story which every audience is familiar with but with some alteration. In that sense the film has an epic kind of quality to it. Like there are many telling of the epics, Om Shanti Om, not just tells an already known story but also tells it thrice in the same film: First half, second half and the song Daastan-E-Om Shanti Omwhich tells the story again within the film. It’s a retelling also when located within the tradition of Bombay cinema story telling and also within itself it has its own retellings. Like any retelling where the power structure shift and idea of justice is questioned and restored the film in its second half turns the power structure of the story told in the first half and the justice is done.

Like Rama of Ramayana who is controlled by fate Om Prakash Makhija is controlled by fate and Om Kapoor like Krishna of the Mahabharath is controlling things around. Krishna is a reincarnation of Rama and Om Kapoor is a reincarnation of Om Prakash Makhija. Like Krishna Om Kapoor too has the agenda of “Dharma samstaapana,” which is restoring justice.

In spite of all these similarities to the Indian epics Om Shanti Om doesn’t fall much on mythologies or the epics. There is no Rama archetype no Karna archetype. The cinemas of Bombay are the archetype for Om Shanti Om. [This forces us to ask ourselves if the popular cinema of Bombay is the third epic of this country?]

Om_Shanti_Om8Kundan Shah once said something interesting. “I believe every director makes a single film, makes it again and again. Guru Dutt made a film about a tortured poet in Pyaasa, a tortured film director in Kaagaz ke Phool, a tortured woman in Saahib Bibi aur Ghulam.” Bombay popular cinema has done that for long. Telling the same story again and again but in a different way. There is a popular myth about Salim-Javed’s screenplay Deewaar. Saleem-Javed had written the screenplay of Deewaar and were pitching it to producers. The two called Gulshan Rai the producer of film saying they wanted to pitch an idea. The producer who was in a hurry said, “I can spare only two minutes. You will have to tell the story in two minutes.” When said so, Javed sahib, who was on the other side of the phone said, “Two minutes? I will narrate in two sentences.” Gulshan Rai was intrigued by this and gave an appointment on the following day his interest being more on the two sentence story than the story itself. When Javed Saheb went to Gulshan Rai’s office on the next day he was reminded by Gulshan Rai that he had to narrate the story in only two sentences. Javed Sahib with his trademark smile said, “Yeah I know,” and said, “First half Mother India, second half Ganga Jamuna.” Gulshan Rai produced Deewaar (for both the films MI and GJ were successful at the box office.)

So Bombay Cinema has been packaging same stories in different packages. The package and retelling has a lot to do with the era in which it is being packaged. This element of Bombay Cinema is revealed in Om Shanti Om. When Pappu, before the climax, says, “Karz jaise climax dikhaake,” it is making clear reference to a similar story once told before. But this time it is being said as a different story and in a different manner. Now look at the scene in Om Shanti Om where Om Kapoor enters the set of film for shooting and the Director of the film narrates the story of the film which sounds like a nauseating melodrama which has been heard several times. Realizing that the story needs a new way of narration Om makes a suggestion. Dard-E-Disco. It is retelling of the same emotion- dard (pain) – in a new tongue, a new style: disco.

The change in style is not limited to the expression but also to the way in which films are made. The medium has seen a lot of technological advancements over the years. The way flying has been shot in the ‘enna rascala’ scene and in the ‘muhobbat man’ scene show the advancement of technology and that technique of filmmaking. The shift is also shown in the location of shooting. The film begins in an era where films are made in studio. The studio burns yes but that it is an indicator of the studio era coming to an end. When film is shot again in the same setting it is because the Director wanted a “real location.” The studio has ended and real location shooting has begun. There is a shift.

The shift in acting styles are also seen in the way Om Prakash Makhija’s mother Bela Makhija acts while “acting” and the way in which Shanti and Om Prakash acts and later on Om Kapoor acts. These are all located in three different periods which were marked by different styles of acting. Though all belong to the same family (of cinema) the styles are entire different.

Film publicity is also a part of the film culture of this nation. Over the years there have been changes in that element too which is hinted in the hand painted hoarding of Sholay and Dreamy Girl in the first half which is replaced by hoardings in flex.

omshantiom9Though there are these shifts and changes there are a common thread that connects Bombay cinema even when its history is spread across decades. Though Om Prakash dies and Om Kapoor comes into being the ‘soul’ is the same. The fire that kills one body is the phobia of another person, the fear being carried across life, keeping memories alive. The expression is different (disco) when the dard is the same and even when it is a disco the words are such as ‘gulposhi’, ‘sargoshi’, ‘junoon’, anjuman’, ‘ranjish’ which is Urdu the language of Bombay cinema songs. Even when the body changes the soul remains the same.

The Dard-E-Disco scene brings forth another element i.e. star domination and intervention in storytelling to suit their stardom. Whether it is true or not, the myth of it exists and that myth is captured by the film. The stardom of an actor demands he repeats himself, to create a certain kind of stereotype. And actors start doing it to fuel their stardom being completely aware of their stardom. So Om Kapoor who says, “I am a star,” and his “Iss desh ki har maa mujhey apna beta samajhti hai” kind of popularity is seen in his Filmfare nomination repeating his acts mannerism and dialogues in his films which has become his trademark. This is a classic scene for here one sees Shah Rukh Khan ridiculing himself. This repetition of oneself is not the same as signature. Every actor has a signature which is different and Om Shanti Om makes a reference to that in its mockery of Manoj Kumar and in the song Deewangi where Dharmendar, Mithun Chakravarthy and others come and dance in their signature manner.

In contrast to the star domination in the story of Om Kapoor the audience see the Producer- Mukesh Mehra- being dominating and final word in the story of Om Prakash Makhija. The Producer not just dictates the Director but also is powerful to burn an actress- Shanti- to death. But the matters change in the second half of the film. The Producer is being dominated by the star- Om Kapoor- and it’s the star who is dictating terms. In the press meet the star is seen in the centre and the producer is in the sides and the director more to the side. While this indicates at the changing power equations within the industry it also speaks of how finally a producer needs to be convinced, like Salim-Javed convincing Gulshan Rai by making reference to the revenue success of the filmsMother India and Ganga Jamuna, the producer Mukesh Mehra alias Mike (everyone in Hollywood calls so) needs to be convinced by Om Kapoor alias OK (everyone in Bollywood calls so) to make Om Shanti Om again.

It is interesting to note that a film which mocks actors, music directors (Bappi Lahiri), films, styles etc doesn’t ridicule the Producer much but more than ridiculing has a Producer as its villain. Cinema is an industrial art. Is the association of this art to an industrial set up its curse? Is the industrial aspect of cinema the villain to the art aspect of cinema?

Om Shanti Om 2The only attempt in making fun of the Producer is in the dard-e-disco scene where it is hinted in passing that the Producer is having an affair with a young actress. The same is repeated in Mukesh Mehra who is shown being flirtatious with Dolly (Om Kapoor’s “childhood friend.”) These are myths and gossips among the audience of this nation. Not completely myths and gossips always but also with some proofs in history. One example being that of Sajid Nadiadwala and Divya Bharathi. There were gossips and still are about Sajid Nadiadwala being responsible for the death of Divya Bharathi. The truth is known to none. Interestingly Mukesh Mehra plays a role in the death of Shanti and the truth is not known to anyone, in public and slowly the matter erodes of public memory.

While touching on gossips about plagiarism within the Industry through the Junior Barjatiya who is making a note of a dialogue uttered by Om Prakash and telling Senior Barjatiya that he is dialogues, Om Shanti Om also makes references to Bombay cinema history.

History is invoked not just in recreation of Kagaz Kay Phool’s beginning shot or by making references to films of the bygone era like Sholay (hoarding), Dream Girl (as Dreamy Girl), or by reference to actors of the yesteryears but also by invoking the history of Nargis being saved by Sunil Dutt during the shooting of Mother India and that fire lighting the lamp of love in their hearts! History is invoked also by making Shabana Azmi say she is “protesting against the demolition of slum.” History is invoked through the dialogue of Mukesh Mehra saying Shantipriya that her career will come to an end if she announces she is married. There are plenty of examples from Bombay cinema where actress have stopped acting or have been offered no roles after their wedding. The dialogue invokes the memory of all those actress. History is invoked also in the song Dhoom-Tana and also in the reference made to the film Sachcha Jhoota film being shot.

These are not just decorative elements but also a tribute to Bombay cinema by Om Shanti Om. Even when the producer in the film- Mukhesh Mehra- looks down at Guru Dutt the film pays tribute by opening the film the wayKagaz Kay Phool begins and then showing Om Kapoor and Sandy meet in a way that reminds the shot of Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman captured by V.K. Murthy. It’s a tribute to both Guru Dutt and V.K. Murthy. The songDeewaangi is a tribute to several actors of Bombay cinema. The interview scene before the Filmfare awards is a tribute to some more film personalities.

The end credit is a tribute to makers of Om Shanti Om itself where even the spot boys appear on the screen. Like the end credits the narrative of Om Shanti Om is also a tribute to the small actors of the Bombay Cinema. The protagonist is a side actor. When we see Om Kapoor and Pappu standing near the flex hoarding of Om himself, where once a hand written painting of Shanti stood, we are drawn to the similarity between the vanished small actor- Pappu and the artist who once did the publicity paintings of films, who has been overshadowed by something more glossy and who the history has forgotten conveniently. The disappearance of an artist involved in film culture if not in film arts is brought to focus. It’s a tribute to that invisible artist who played an important role in film culture.

The film pays tribute to Sholay by repeating the dialogue of Veeru, “iss mein drama hai action hai emotion hai,” to Amar Akbar Anthony through the locket on Om Prakash, to Mughal-E-Azam by mentioning it as a film which was offered to Om Prakash’s mother Bela Makhija.

images (1)The film pays tribute the techniques of cinema too in showing the back projection of scenery in front of which films are shot (Main Agar Kahoon), the artificial ways in which rain storm etc are created (Jag Soona Soona Lagey) and the editing techniques (insertion of Sandy’s shots into the scene of Dolly) other than the ‘yennarascala’ scene and the ‘muhobbat man’ scene which has been mentioned earlier. It is these techniques which blur the line between the real and the reel and its this blurring line which absorbs the audience in. This blurring line comes out in the narrative when the real Shanti and unreal Shanti, during the last scene, play with the minds of the audience and thus making the audience inquisitive and absorbed single mindedly more than even in the film.

Even when revealing the techniques used by cinema to create magic Om Shanti Om in its narrative, while trying to create a make believe Shanti for Mukesh Mehra alias Mike, indicates that beyond all the plan made and beyond all the technical support there is a mysterious element which makes things happen: chandelier fall, which makes the photo frame catch fire even when the wire has got disconnected. The mysterious element, which makes cinema work or not work, is something which nobody has even been able to master. It just happens. There is this magic element to cinema. This magic element of cinema is invisible and unknown and is beyond all. A successful Director can make a horrible film, a successful actor’s film might flop. The magic/ success sutra is not known to anyone. Films at one level are not made but just happen. The magic is always a mystery.

Because nobody knows the magic sutra, there are always attempts in trying to control the cosmic powers. Acts like breaking of coconuts before the shooting is one, the superstition of changing of names is another, practiced majorly by actors by adding extra letters to their names. This is captured in the beginning of the film where Govinda Ahuja is asked to change the name and so is Om Prakash.

The suggestion of changing name from Pappu to Om Prakash is also an indicator of the family rule in the Bombay Cinema. The Kapoors, the Chopras etc. This hints at the advantage of having father or a grandfather in the industry and lobby within the industry. Even Om Kapoor, after winning the Filmfare award, asks, “Agar main Om Kapoor is jagha koi maamooli Om hota toh kya hota?”

There is a magic element to cinema in this country that is not just limited to its success or failure. Cinema itself is a magic which makes people build temples for film stars, kill oneself for film stars, for films etc. In Om Shanti Om the audience craze is shown in multiple ways. In Farah Khan, the director herself, dancing like crazy for the Karzsong, Om being in complete awe of Shanti to the extent of having a conversation with her poster, his mother Bela Makhija referring to the poster as daughter in law, Sandy being in love with Om Kapoor to the level of fainting while seeing him in flesh and blood.

This craze is interlinked with the kind of make-belief created by cinema and that being bought by the audience. When Mukesh Mehra asks, “reincarnation pe iss zamaaney mein yakeen kaun karega?” Om Kapoor says, “yakeen toh sirf tumhe  dilaana hai.” Mukesh is the audience of Om in his make-belief Shanti drama. For this make belief drama when he chooses Sandy he tells her his story of reincarnation saying he doubts if she would believe the story. To this Sandy says she, “jab tu pachaas manzil ke building se koodtey ho main yakeen karti hoon, jab tum sau goondon ko ek saath maartey ho main yakeen karti hoon, jab tum hawaa mein udtey ho, paani pe chaltey ho main yakeen karti hoon. Tumne yeh kaise soch liya kay main yeh yakeen nahi karungi?” This is similar to Om Prakash conversing with an unreal (poster) of Shanti as if she is real, believing it to be real. This shows the involvement of the audience in cinema, their faith and belief in the characters and actors as real which is an incredible phenomenon in Indian cinema culture.

imagesAmitabh Bachan once remembered an incident where he asked his father Harivanshrai Bachan, a renowned poet, that he enjoys the most about Bombay cinema. To the question Harivanshrai Bachan answered as, “It gives poetic justice within three hours.” That has been a great characteristic of Bombay cinema. In the last scene ofOm Shanti Om Mukesh Mehra asks Om Kapoor, “where is the evidence” and to Om Kapoor it looks like an end of the case. But cinema provides a poetic justice. The idea of justice in the court of Bombay cinema has been poetic justice. Om Shanti Om documents that quality of Bombay cinema too.

Like Om Shanti Om tells its own story- the canteen owner asking, “iss janam mein ki agley janam mein?”, the mother saying, “mera beta hero jaroor banega,” Om Prakash telling the Shantipriya poster, “unn sey keh dena iss baar unhe main chod diya, tumhaari khaatir. agli baar kisi janam mein agar unse paala pad gaya na…”Om Prakash pointing at Rajesh Kapoor’s house and saying, “Jab main star banunga toh yeh bunglow khareedoonga.” – it also tells the story of Bombay Cinema. Like the revelation of Om Shanti Om’s story comes from within, the story of Bombay cinema comes from within (Bombay Cinema)

The film Om Shanti Om hints at all of the inner stories of Bombay cinema- its gossips, its history, its superstition, its myths, its relation with audience, the audience craze, the culture of it etc- making itself a peephole into Bombay cinema. The way Om Prakash hears and sees the inside story of Mukesh Mehra and Shantipriya, we hear and see the inside stories and the sociology of Bombay cinema through Om Shanti Om. With this the film without us realizing makes a hint at the voyeuristic quality of cinema.

All in all Om Shanti Om is a celebration, with a pinch of ridicule, of Bombay cinema. It is a document of cinema culture in this country. It is a tribute to Bombay cinema. It is a story located in Bombay cinema. It is a story of Bombay cinema told by Bombay cinema. It is the autobiography of Bombay cinema.

1 Comment

  1. Aditya said,

    Who would have thought……this film…..although comical… such a masterpiece in itself….!!!

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