Basically, Farah Khan is our type of lady. Both of her films are modern masala masterpieces: running the course from light comedy to family tragedies to the modern equivalent of dishoom dishoom (krr-pak krr-pak? whopshh whopshh?) in a meaty three hours. The PPCC loves masala (our favorite: Suhaag!). Our disbelief is so suspended that we get tearful at the drama bits, we laugh at the stupid gag bits, and we cringe at the violence. Oooh masala masala masala. We could just bury our face in it. Maaaasaaaalaaa.
Both Om Shanti Om and Main Hoon Na seem made by someone who loves movies but doesn't take them too seriously. Everything has an ironic, though never condescending, vibe: part-parody, part-tribute. For example, consider the scenes in Main Hoon Na where Shah Rukh Khan's character, Ram, is compelled to break out into old filmi songs whenever he sees his crush, Chandni (Sushmita Sen). More often than not, Farah Khan lets her superstar hero do his own crooked singing, even as the little orchestra appears from nowhere behind him. (And let's just say SRK never became famous for his voice.) Yes, someone here loves Hindi movies, and someone here loves that they don't always make sense, that sometimes the seams show. And, for once, that someone is not just a PPCC committee member. It is also Farah Khan.
She seems to realize that, at best, a mainstream Hindi film is industrial-strength escapism and that, at worst, it can be pretentious and pandering to Bollywood's critics (*cough*). So she breezily incorporates Western culture (the James Bond and Austin Powers themes, the Matrix parody, Grease, the choral voices accompanying violence) while meshing together uniquely Desi reference points. For example, the PPCC got a huge kick out of the tabla and verbal percussion (da-da-dad-d-d-d-d, what's that type of music called?) accompanying the action scenes; the rickshaw on fire; Lakshman pushing over the rice as he enters the library as an academic "virgin"; or the face of Sholay's Gabbar Singh reflecting on the villain's car window. A good example would be the qawwali, which manages to be an absurdly exaggerated rendition of something out of Umrao Jaan or even In Custody (the sparkly outfits, the purple Islamic architecture, the doves - like a surreal Lucknow on speed) with hip-hop interjections ("Check that! Wicked!"). Never mind that the PPCC also loves this song so much that various committee members were compelled to shake out of their seats and dance along (we are very Om at times).
Shah Rukh needs to do more qawwalis. SRK, please be reading this. You need to do more qawwalis.
The plot: dignified Sikh General Bakshi is being interviewed on a television program about the upcoming Project Milaap, where India plans to release a couple dozen Pakistani prisoners of war. Sent to protect him are Colonel Sharma (Naseeruddin Shah (!)) and his son, Ram (Shah Rukh Khan). When extremist nationalist terrorists appear and take the general hostage, Colonel Sharma is shot in the line of duty. On the way to the hospital, his anxious son by his side, Colonel Sharma drops the bomb: Ram is actually his illegitimate son, and Colonel sharma's wife and second son (Lakshman, of course) left when little bastard Ram was brought home. Already two bells have been rung: one for the Ramayana (Ram, Lakshman), and one for Naseeruddin Shah characters who father illegitimate sons during extramarital affairs (one, two). As his dying wish, Colonel Sharma wants Ram to reunite with his half-brother so that they can pour their father's ashes into the Ganges together.
What is it about Naseer characters and fidelity? You'd think he'd learn!
Our favorite Hindi Movie Mom: Kirron Kher! Yay!
Meanwhile, General Bakshi has another mission for Ram: he must go to Darjeeling and secretly protect his estranged daughter, Sanjana (Amrita Rao). In order to blend in the crowd, Ram will be a continuing education student. Third bell: probably referring to all those SRK movies where he played college students despite being over 30 (one, two). Ram is anxious that he will not fit in, but General Bakshi laughs and assures him in his deep baritone: Ram is the best soldier they've got, he has perfect aim and can run really fast and can even fly if need be... surely he can make friends at school?
Apparently not. On the first day, Ram arrives bedecked in bellbottoms and shirt buttoned to the top button. What with his ruler-straight posture and anal retentive haircut, he is immediately singled out and teased by the school clown, Lucky (Zayed Khan). It should of course be obviously clear that Lucky is short for Lakshman. If it isn't, there you are. The school ensemble is quickly introduced: there is the absent-minded Principal (Boman Irani), the nerdy Percy (Rajiv Panjabi), the thuggish Viveik (Praveen Sirohi), the trampy Mini (Rakhi Sawant), and the physics professor with a saliva problem (Satish Shah). Ram, trained to run sideways on walls and kill terrorists, is positively bewildered. And Lucky and Sanjana are not interested in his earnest/awkward attempts at friendship. It's only when Lucky is nearly killed during a stunt and Ram saves him that Ram is finally welcomed into the fold.
...and some international relations...
...and a little bit o' Harry.
Although Ram is a straight-edge commando, he does harbor a sensitive side, and he instantly develops an Om-style crush on the new chemistry teacher, Chandni (Sushmita Sen). Despite or maybe because of his tuneless singing, Chandni soon reciprocates. Similarly, Lucky and Sanjana pair off once Lucky gets a haircut. Meanwhile Ram joins the Kirron Kher-Lakshman home, and there is much tearful yearning for a mother's love. All is fine and well until the school prom, when the same evil terrorist leader Raghavan (why do all Farah Khan villains have long, gray ponytails? probably because it looks so bad) first tells Lakshman and Mom that Ram is The Bastard Son, hence estranging them all again, and then, just to make matters worse, locks everyone in the auditorium and threatens to start shooting. Ram tears himself away from the domestic troubles to rescue everyone with the cunning use of bulletproof vests, treachery and his superhero flying. Raghavan is briefly humanized ("It's all because they killed his son!"), but still loses. Mom and Lakshman are infinitely grateful and finally accept Ram despite his unfortunate (though entirely masoom!) origins.
The title song.
In true masala fashion, family has triumphed, villains are humanized though not necessarily forgiven, and we have laughed, cried and gasped. The themes of fathers and sons are difficult to ignore: all three heroes have lost a father (Ram via death, Lakshman and Sanjana via estrangement) and the villain has lost a son. All four characters visibly suffer for this, and much of what they do is driven by this separation. Although Ram is teased incessantly for his nerdiness, once he becomes friends with Lakshman and Sanjana he becomes their surrogate father: encouraging Lakshman to admit his feelings for Sanjana, comforting Sanjana in her moments of crisis. Many of his verses in the titular song are very paternal: he gazes lovingly at his younger brother's antics, he offers Sanjana a shoulder to cry on.
We've already mentioned the ubiquitous and clever pop culture references, but there are also some tongue-in-cheek self-references. For example, there is a fairly widespread rumor that Shah Rukh Khan is gay or bisexual. Some friends have assured us with full confidence that he is, while others have assured us with full confidence that he isn't. Shah Rukh has always remained intentionally vague in his interviews, seemingly stringing these rumors along by never flatly denying them. Within the film, there are a couple homoerotic moments: the title song's cuddling between Ram and Lakshman, and, during the prom, when the Principal demands that there be, "No kissing! Especially boy-boy!"
Ram and Lakshman. Ahem.
There is also a hilarious scene which seems to make fun of the common Hollywood device of "nursing the wounded hero back to health and actually getting a little action too" (see Raiders of the Lost Ark, and basically any episode of Sharpe), when Chandni makes Ram infinitely uncomfortable with her tending while sassy background music plays.
A little SRK som'n som'n. Hard to resist!
About the performances: Shah Rukh Khan seems to embody the mainstream entertainer of modern Bollywood, and he has often defended his "pop" films as a valid art form. (The PPCC totally backs this opinion! We are democratic art lovers, who pay no heed to the philistine-in-disguise "high-brow=valid", "populist=trash" equation! Many populist/popular/pop things can be very stimulating!) In both of Farah Khan's films, he is used perfectly in that he has room to play the superficial, song-and-dance entertainer without fear of censure, as it's ironic and self-aware. There is an airiness to his performances (we'd say all of them, but there are some exceptions - Hey Ram, Chak De India) that is such a fresh change after watching one too many Naseeruddin Shah/Om Puri "This damn war!" heavies. (No respect to Naseer Sahib or Om ji, who are both wonderful and don't actually always take themselves seriously.) The PPCC should also probably admit now that we find SRK infinitely cute, especially when he does the anti-cool hero: the nerd, the loser, etc. Zayed Khan was a very good pick for Lakshman, who had a delightful airhead quality, a fun and funny man-bimbo with a heart (and, yes, some brains too). In a way, he was like an updated Shashi: self-consciously handsome, skirt-chasing, light-hearted. Except his big brother was similarly bouncy, rather than being the humorless Amitabh. Amrita Rao as Sanjana was very sympathetic, as difficult as it was to buy that she was supposed to be a tomboy with no understanding of fashion. Sushmita Sen was fine as Chandni, though honestly the role was not very large or demanding. Sushil Shetty as the terrorist Raghavan was unlikable and made us miss the days of
The inexplicable 3-second Tabu cameo. Apparently SRK's dancing is so bad it attracts people from other sets.
About the music: the first song, Chale Jaise Hawayein, grew on us considerably, and we must really note how amazing Farah Khan is as a choreographer and director: it's one, long, uninterrupted take! We haven't seen such an impressive take since the car attack scene in Pedro Almodovar's Children of Men. All of the other songs are consistent in both music and dance likability, with the qawwali standing out above the rest, and the prom night's Gori Gori loosing a little on the song but gaining it back on the dancing. The PPCC's favorite dance move: when the boys throw themselves on the floor and scoot sideways to the beat (see the tennis scene from Om Shanti Om's Dhoom Tana). The PPCC must also notice that Farah Khan seems to have a totally awesome repertoire of classic filmi songs from which she picks for background; we are specifically referring to: the nursing back to health sassy music, the red-and-black Chandni sassy hallway music, Bindu's introduction music from Om Shanti Om, Bindu and SRK's sassy come-on music from Om Shanti Om, and similar. Where, OH WHERE, do we get the extended soundtrack? Or has anyone been clever enough to identify all these snatches of perfection?