Bollywood’s a scam. Farah Khan’s a big, fat con.

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Bangalore: I watched Om Shanti Om (OSO) over the weekend, with my parents. It was a nice “family movie” in the sense that my dad and mom got all the jokes in the first-half and I got all the jokes in the second-half.

Two halves make one, right? Plus, it is Bollywood making fun of Bollywood. How can that not be funny, right?

For a start, most of the jokes are of the MTV standard, and they probably used the same lookalikes as well. Anyone who has watched television in the last decade will not find anything new. I wouldn’t have minded that either, but for the underlying sinister theme of this movie.

This movie is entirely and totally about Bollywood. Ignore the sham of a storyline which is a poorly assembled montage of other Bollywood movies and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. There’s not much of a story to justify the two-and-a-half hour long run time, so dear old Farah Khan decides to pad the movie with “in-jokes” about Bollywood and really, really long songs, also about Bollywood.

Unfortunately, all the “jokes” are all very “vegetarian” (Shah Rukh Khan isn’t even allowed to say “Fuck!”) and ultimately Farah Khan wants you to believe that Bollywood is really a big happy family(literally!) with a few bad eggs that poor set construction will take care of.

I mean these are really horrible sets that catch fire for little reason, fall to pieces at the slightest touch and generally come with very, very bad wiring and plumbing. If the ‘story’ didn’t demand that this be attributed to a “ghost” (Rationalist Societies take note), it would have made a very compelling “Safety On The Workplace” video.

That, of course, does not take away from the insidious nature of the movie’s underlying theme. What Farah Khan seems to be telling us is this:

# Nothing bad ever happens to anybody in Bollywood (apart from losing the Filmfare awards)

# If anything bad happens, it is because of a single rotten egg (who is promptly dispatched to “America” or killed, depending on the soundness of set construction)

# All your dreams come true in Bollywood and everybody is happy (without having had to consume narcotropic and/or psychotropic substances first)

Let’s take this theme apart carefully, shall we?

Anybody who has not been in a coma for the last 20 years will have some knowledge of the following that’s been happening in Bollywood, not necessarily in the same order:

a) Mafia links

b) Substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, you-name-it, you-have-it)

c) Marital infidelity

d) Exploitation of young women

This list is not exhaustive, and I’m sure there are others who can add to this, but Farah Khan, with all the intimate knowledge of a total insider in Bollywood decides to devote exactly 0 minutes dealing with any of these.

It’s not as if no one has dealt with these issues in a movie. The King of Bollywood, Bollywood Calling, Page 3 and even Mahesh Bhatt’s Woh Lamhe deal with these issues to some extent, taking well aimed pot shots at the system and its players.

It’s not for lack of material. Anyone with half a brain could have taken stinging pot shots at Amitabh Bachchan and Mithun Chakraborty (and of late, SRK also) acting with girls less than half their age. Or how Dharmendra dumped his wife for Hema Malini, or Salman Khan’s uncontrollably dangerous behaviour, or Fardeen’s mysterious white powder, or the infamous Shakti Kapoor casting couch… The material is endless.

Not for Farah Khan though. As far as these are concerned, they happen in big bad Hollywood. All of one actor is shown smoking, which brings me to my next point.

The villain of the piece, played by Arjun Rampal (who despite the time-frame of the movie does not get a single wrinkle, unlike Shah Rukh Khan who just can’t get rid of his wrinkles no matter his age) is a stereotypical baddy who sleeps with the starlets, smokes a lot, puts career over love, kills people for movies, etc.

We are supposed to believe that he is the one bad egg of the lot, that he is the exception and not part of the system itself. If this movie had anything to do with government or a corporation, it would have been dismissed as pure propaganda. The only other time we see an alcohol problem mentioned, it is shown as a feature of “junior artistes”; which brings me to my next part.

It is not bad enough that she lets the “Stars” off with fairly mild pokes (more like a nudge and a wink) at their behaviour, but Farah Khan chooses to be brutal when it comes to “junior artistes”. There’s another thing about this term. In most other fields, seniority depends on the experience on has had in field. In Bollywood, a 40-year-old with 100 movies can be a “junior artiste”, while Ranbir Raj Kapoor (who ironically enough, is being played by Shah Rukh Khan in the second half) is a “senior artiste” in his first movie?

The picture we get is that all “junior artistes” are desperate, melodramatic hams who are stupid and believing. The most disgusting scene in the movie is the audition. It also beautifully highlights the venomous nature of Bollywood.

Women who can act a bit are rejected totally in favour of a really hot, talentless model. Yet, we are supposed to point and laugh at those women who get cruelly rejected and feel all excited by this spoilt brat who just came to ogle at Shah Rukh Khan, sorry Om Kapoor.

Bad enough that these women, whose very livelihood depends on a small role somewhere, get treated like shit by the people in the movie, but we are also supposed to laugh at their stupidity in believing that they can be “stars”.

Hang on a minute. Isn’t that supposed to be what Bollywood is about? Isn’t it about building this dream that anyone can make it big in Bollywood, can have the glamour, glitz and gals/guys( three Gs of Bollywood) if they are talented enough?

We know otherwise. This deceitful aspect of Bollywood, which could have been a great target for subversive humour in this movie, is neatly glossed over. To add injury to the insult (yes you read it right), it is also done with a smug sense of superiority.

What Farah Khan is in fact telling us in this movie is that the only way to do well in Bollywood is to be born to a Bollywood star or be really, really close friends with one (obviously there are exceptions, but that only proves the rule). If not, you can content yourself with being a “junior artiste” for the rest of your life.

Goofy, wimpy, “Junior artiste” Om Prakash Makhiija watches helplessly and gets killed while trying to save a starlet, but Om Kapoor, son of the great Rajesh Kapoor (oh wow, how subtle), can act, sing, dance, direct and produce a movie, while summoning a ghost, without breaking a sweat across his finely chiselled abs.

After I watched the movie, and wrote this piece, I thought I was missing something. I went back and read all the reviews in major newspapers and websites. Reviewers everywhere seem so caught up with the half-assed “in-jokes” and mindless trivia tossing in this movie that they seem willing to ignore the total lack of a storyline. Nobody even seems to have any problems with the utterly fake Bollywood presented as “real” in this movie.

It is as if someone made a movie about an engineering college where no one has to study, no one has exams, no one gripes about marks, and no one worries about recruitment, and then called it a “humorous look at college life”!

While it was probably too much to expect a withering satire on Bollywood by Bollywood, this grotesque, propaganda spewing pile of filth was also totally unexpected to say the least. Farah Khan expects us to believe that she is actually laughing with us at them, when in fact she is laughing at us, with them.

CNN-IBN had a poll out recently questioning whether we Indians have a sense of humour or not because Manoj Kumar took offence to his depiction in the movie. If OSO is “humour”, I think we can all afford to take offence.