Friday, May 9, 2008

Om Shanti Om and Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa

In a previous post on Om Shanti Om (2007) I mentioned its homages to (and parodies of) films from the golden ages of both Bollywood and Hollywood. Something that only struck me on a second viewing, though, is how it makes reference to Shah Rukh's early career.

Of course, there's the connection to Karan Arjun (1995), which also features a reincarnation and revenge plot. And there are general resemblances between his characters Om and Om and Shah Rukh's own life. Like Om Prakash, Shah Rukh started out as a "junior artiste"--though unlike Om Prakash, he quickly moved into starring roles. And like Om Kapoor, he has become a superstar with myriad product endorsements--though unlike Om Kapoor, by all reports Shah Rukh is very professional, hard-working, and self-aware. In Anupama Chopra's King of Bollywood (2007), Shah Rukh is quoted as saying "I am just an employee of the Shah Rukh Khan myth."

But watching "Daastan-e-Om Shanti Om" ("This is the saga of Om Shanti Om") I realized that there was another early SRK film to which parallels were being drawn. (A word of warning if you haven't seen Om Shanti Om: both my description of the song and the video clip below give away some of the plot of the film.) "Daastan-e-Om Shanti Om" is an elaborately staged (and highly effective) number which reenacts the murder of the Bollywood star Shanti (Deepika Padukone) before an audience that includes her killer, the evil producer Mukesh (Arjun Rampal). It's inspired in part by "The Mousetrap," the play-within-the-play in Shakespeare's Hamlet which is staged to "catch the conscience of the king." (Note the slow descent of Shah Rukh from the ceiling, just as in the title song from Baadshah (1999)):


There was another story-song near the beginning of Shah Rukh's career: "Kaise Don" from the film Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (Sometimes Yes, Sometimes No, 1993). In KHKN Shah Rukh plays Sunil, a musician who wants to be a member of the band which is headed by his romantic rival Chris (Deepak Tijori) and which features as lead singer the girl they both love, Aana (Suchitra Krishnamoorthi). Thanks to Sunil's underhanded machinations he gets rejected by Aana and kicked out of the band just before their big gig at a gangster's club, Chinatown.

Bands at Chinatown get pelted with glasses, bottles and plates if they displease the wiseguys who frequent the joint, and when Chris and Aana's band starts playing a sappy love song the table settings start flying. Then in the nick of time Sunil shows up uninvited, and after whispering the details of his new song to the band for a total of about 3 seconds they all launch into "Kaise Don" ("That's the story of how he became a Don"). The song tells about a "straight and lovable guy," unable to find a job, who turns to crime as a last resort. He claws his way to the top of the underworld, but in the process loses the girl he loves. The band, of course, performs this song they've never heard or rehearsed before with full costumes, sets, props, lighting, pyrotechnics, and complex group choreography (suddenly 20 dancers materialize to act out the story):



What makes me think that "Kaise Don" is a direct model for "Dastaan-e-Om Shanti Om," apart from the fact that they're both story-songs narrated by Shah Rukh, is that there are other parallels between the films. In both films, Shah Rukh's character isn't fully sympathetic. Om Kapoor is a pampered and narcissistic superstar; Sunil doesn't hesitate to lie to his friend Chris to gain a romantic advantage with Aana. And--spoiler alert!--both films feature romantic triangles in which SRK's character ultimately doesn't get the girl.

Anyway, it's one more example of the thought, care, and sheer cleverness its writer and director Farah Khan brought to the realization of Om Shanti Om.

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