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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

December 10, 2007
Rating: 8.5/10

It is certainly possible that, considering the title and accompanying image for this feature, you might be thinking that Om Shanti Om is a Bollywood movie and that I'm going out on a limb in assuming any interest on your part. But listen up, people. I have a proposal.

Are you tired of the endless onslaught of Britney paparrazzi video clips? Sick of seeing Brangelina all over the racks of tabloids in the grocery store checkout line? Want a new set of celebrities to admire, ridicule, support, and drool over? Then the world of Hindi cinema is yours for the taking, my friends! Bollywood comes complete with its own tradition, history, lore, feuds, drama, romance, and scandal; best of all, India's finest actors and actresses don't take breaks to adopt charity babies from impoverished lands or do stints in drug rehab. Instead, they churn out like a billion movies per year! Don't have time to catch them in the theater? Live in a city where it's hard to find a Hindi film on the silver screen? Don't sweat it! They're all out on DVD just a couple of months afterward, ready to be Netflixed to your door.

No, no, no. Water, The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding, or any other Indian-made Hollywood films that have made waves over here do not count as Bollywood. Bollywood movies are films that are made within the Bombay cinema system for a Hindi-speaking audience. They are usually at least three hours in length, almost never show people kissing (although that is slowly changing), and are completely saturated with very, very thick cheese. The neon kind, that comes in a can. Oh, and they're musicals. Bright, colorful, elaborately costumed musicals.

Please don't misunderstand - not all of Bollywood's offerings are going to be of Om Shanti Om's quality, for this film is jam-packed with acclaimed director Farah Khan's trademark humor and charm. But hey, even in Hollywood, you have to kiss a few M. Night Shyamalans before you find that special Bryan Singer. But do a little research, try a couple of films out, figure out how to adjust your expectations, and you'll be on your way.

Just... unless you're a seasoned Bollywood enthusiast, don't watch Om Shanti Om. Yet!

Farah Khan's latest film is utterly enjoyable, exciting, moving (in its own way), and rich with fun details, but in a way that will likely be problematic for B'wood newbies. So much of of Om Shanti Om's wit relies on the assumption that the viewer has a fairly good knowledge of Bollywood, present and past. By far the most popular Hindi actor, Shah Rukh Khan (or "SRK," as he's usually dubbed) is Om, an actor working for bit parts ("junior artiste") in Bombay at the height of classic 1970s Bollywood. He has a major crush on Shanti (played by newcomer Deepika Padukone), the reigning It-girl of his cinematic world. Well, one thing leads to another and Shanti dies in a fire set by her secret husband, Om gets reincarnated into a major actor's son, an oath is sworn to avenge Shanti's death thirty years later, there's singing, there's dancing, there are rock hard abs... you know, the same old, same old. The plotline is pure Bollywood, but the setting allows F. Khan to do some pretty clever stuff with endless yet still thrilling cameos, jokes and puns that allude to past movies, and even fake trailers that poke fun at the repetitiveness of the industry. And sometimes it's almost a relief when Hindi films make fun of themselves, because after awhile its hard not to wonder if the domestic audiences for these films are seriously convinced by those dude's feeble attempts at crying. I mean, he blatantly just said, "Shit! I am sad! Boo-hoo!"*

Now, I'm not what any expert would call "seasoned" in the genre, but I've actually seen dozens of Bollywood movies, my interest piqued in 2001 by Lagaan. I've sampled films from a few decades. I know a few of the family trees. I own a few soundtracks. I'll drink a few glasses of wine and force friends and friends of friends to watch the train scene from Dil Se. But I missed at least half of the jokes in Om Shanti Om. I could tell they were supposed to be funny due to the masses of Indians surrounding me in the theater, laughing it up, but I myself only caught the most completely obvious references.

For those ambitious types chomping at the bit, even knowing that you're missing out on Farah Khan's subtleties doesn't dampen the experience of watching it. I took some total rookies with me to the Byrd, who were kind enough to shell out twelve bucks each and sit for three and a half hours. But man, did they love it. Despite the mysterious allusions, blaring soundsystem, and, let's face it, song-and-dance numbers, they still thoroughly enjoyed themselves. So maybe I'm wrong, maybe Om Shanti Om is a fantastic place for the Bollywood uninitiated to start. After all, it does wet your whistle by giving you an entertaining look at Bollywood then and now through the lens of a great director. It does feature a million cameos that you won't get now, but might appreciate later on when you're watching Amar Akbar Anthony or Kal Ho Naa Ho. And it certainly does feature SRK at his saddest, happiest, silliest, and hottest.

So, OK, if you didn't catch Om Shanti Om on the big screen in your hood in the last few weeks and you're still interested in starting up a relationship with the world's largest movie industry, here is your list of action items:

1. Get a copy of Lagaan, it's one of the easiest Bollywood movies to take seriously. A big epic underdog story, Lagaan is light on the cheese and heavy on the good, not-ridiculous songs (by the Andrew Lloyd Weber of Bollywood - A. R. Rahman). The guy who produced it, Aamir Khan, is also the star. It's his thing to be taken seriously now, but later on you can find some of his earlier films and laugh at his leather outfits.

2. Now that you know a little about what to expect, Netflix Main Hoon Na. Also directed by Farah Khan, it has a similar cast and is elaborately entertaining. With this SRK comedy under your belt, you won't be weirded out by sudden, unexpected weeping in the future.

3. While you have SRK on the brain, you might as well go ahead and rent Dil Se, which is a film about serious jams in Kashmir. If you watch it after an American drama, it will seem ridiculous, but if you watch it after Main Hoon Na, it will be the gravest piece of art cinema you have ever seen. With song and dance, of course.

4. Earn your merit badge in Contemporary Bollywood Drama with some really light-hearted stuff. Kal Ho Naa Ho features my second-favorite Hindi actor, Saif Ali Khan, as well as SRK an the adorable Preity Zinta. The songs are among the best of the genre, and the film also features a really funny scene that makes a fun of Lagaan, and at this point you will be all "Hey whoa! I get the joke!" Congratulations, you're on your way to becoming a Bollywood insider.

5. After drilling the basics, treat yourself to Sholay, the perfect introduction to the biggest Bollywood legend ever, Amitabh Bachchan. Sholay is a good film on its own, and references to it are constantly popping up in other movies. I believe it even got an Oscar nod in 1975 for Best International Film.

6. Sufficiently primed, stilt yourself to watch both Amar Akbar Anthony and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, two of the most famous and most popular Hindi films ever made. The former (made in 1977) is a complicated and almost Shakesperean tale of three brothers, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, and Vinod Khanna. If you're feeling brave, and easing into things isn't your deal, watch this one first. It is guaranteed to entertain and charm. The latter is the quintessential romantic comedy, Hindi-style, with SRK and his most lovable leading lady, Kajol, at the top of their lovesick game. Warning: you will want to own both of these after watching them, so get aquainted with online Hindi DVD retailers and take advantage of reasonable if not suspiciously cheap prices.

7. Once action items one through six have been scored from your task list, Om Shanti Om can not be held from you any longer. By the time you've waded through those other flicks, it will have been out on DVD for months, and the frenzy that will inevitably follow its release will have died down a bit, allowing you to enjoy it to the fullest. If you need to cheat and watch it early, go ahead and watch it again after action items one through six. It'll be like re-watching a Disney movie you loved as a child. Oh, the jokes you will get!

This should get you on the right track, and by that I mean the track that ends at SRK's glorious 8-pack. From there you should be able to pursue your own likes and dislikes (I predict you will like Aishwarya Rai, particularly if you are male. She has the female equivalents of the aforementioned 8-pack).** Now go, queue things up, and practice telling yourself in the mirror that it is OK to jump up and dance in your own home.


* One of the most jarring things about Bollywood cinema is that the actors tend to curse in English at really odd times, but no one seems to find it strange. The best example of this that I can think of is a part in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, when Salman Khan (my least favorite Bollywood actor) throws his arms out wide in rapturous agony, yells "Shit! I love her!" in English, and falls backwards, fully-clothed, into a pool.

** And if you're still not convinced, let me be the one to inform you that there is a major Bollywood star WITH ELEVEN FINGERS. True story!

SEE ALSO: www.omshantiomfilm.com

--
Susan Howson
A staff writer attending graduate school in Richmond, VA, Susan Howson cannot be persuaded to stop talking about movies.

See other articles by Susan Howson.

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