Farah Khan is one of the most in-demand and internationally recognised Bollywood choreographers. She has choreographed extensively in India since her debut in Mansoor Khan's 1992 sports 'underdog' story, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander and internationally, including the Mira Nair films, Vanity Fair (2004) and Monsoon Wedding (2001). Khan has won the Indian industry's Filmfare Best Choreography award five times and is currently in second place for the most awards won in this category after classically trained, Bollywood choreographic veteran, Saroj Khan. Her second feature, Om Shanti Om, stars Shahrukh Khan (SRK) as Om and model-actress, Deepika Padukone as the Bollywood film heroine, Shanti.
The plot twists and turns in this 162-minute film are numerous and confusing. Here's a run down: It's Mumbai, 1977. Om Prakash Makhija (SRK) is a 'junior artiste' of the Bollywood film industry — always the sidekick, never the hero. Spurred on by his desire to change all that overnight, and supported by the love of his mother, Bela Makhija (Kiron Kher, who consistently plays the role of long-suffering Bollywood mother) his quest for 'hero-dom' begins.
Om reinvents himself, sheds his surname, and manages to meet his personal inspiration, the film starlet, Shanti (Deepika Padukone). Cue music: The most beautiful night is here after all; fortune is smiling as well you see. The beauty who is loved by the world, from far… is standing right here, next to me.
Becoming more self-referential as the movie progresses, Shanti stars in a movie (within-our-movie) called Om Shanti Om produced by the evil antagonist, Mukesh Mehra (Arjun Rampal). The set burns and with it, Shanti's darkest secret (that I can't tell you for fear of a spoiler!). Flash forward 30 years to the life of Om Kapoor (the reincarnation of Om Prakash); he's an exceptionally famous Bollywood hero, who suffers from acute pyrophobia (fear of fire). So, with a reincarnation subplot and the dance number, 'Pain of Disco' Act Two begins. Yes, we're back in contemporary Bollywood land.
Anyway you look at it, Om Shanti Om is an over-the-top, hyper-active homage/spoof of Bollywood cinema, told with a modern take and budget. Om Shanti Om features more than 42 Bollywood-industry stars, including 31of them in the one song. The cars, the hair, the music, the stars, the directors of the 1970s are all represented and referenced in this modern-day Bollywood hit, told by those in the know.
Executive Producer Sanjiv Chawla (who works as part of the team at Shahrukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment) says that the all-star cast “[helped] a great deal with funding”. In India this has specific advantages: “In the case of Om Shanti Om we had a pre-sale agreement. The film was entirely financed by the International distributor.”
Such freedom enables star and head of Red Chilli Studios, Shahrukh Khan to “realise his overall view of every situation. He has a tried and tested team of people working for him” –
indeed, Chawla has worked with him for a decade and together they have a vast slate of projects, with a two films due for production this year – one of which Chawla hopes to shoot in Australia.
While Om Shanti Om was shot entirely in a studio in Mumbai's Film City, one of Chawla's previous efforts, Santosh Sivan's Asoka (2001) called for an entirely different approach. The a historical drama is set in 260 BC in the Empire of Magadh and was another collaboration with Khan. The production involved 8000 people, 500 horses and 50 elephants over 12 days on the banks of a riverbed in Rajasthan.
“Anyway you look at it,” Chawla says with the certainty of those with wide-ranging experiences, “the Indian film industry is going through a beautiful time. There are Art House films, made by new filmmakers and films made by stars.”