The King of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan, earns his moniker because he can pack a theater with gleeful patrons like nobody else can. Paired with choreographer-turned-director Farah Khan, who harbors a mad movie love both for the conventions of Hindi cinema and for her charismatic leading man, Om Shanti Om delivers the glitter and glamour, the comedy and thrills, religion and the supernatural, mother love, high fashion and eye-popping production numbers in proper masala fashion.
The film begins on the set of Karz, a disco-era reincarnation melodrama, and cinematic touchstone for Farah’s generation. Shah Rukh plays Om, a junior artiste (what we would call an extra, or bit player) in the crowd. He catches the jacket flung away by Karz‘s star, Rishi Kapoor, featured in the first of a series of Forrest Gump-ish manifestations. Om grapples for possession with Farah Khan herselfplaying another junior artistean immediate clue that the next three hours is going to be a labyrinth of intertextural high jinks.
The first half unspools in the 1970s, with the women in towering hairdos (newcomer Deepika Padukone looks divine in them) and acid bright saris and the men in psychedelic patterned shirts and ghastly plaid pants. After razzing every possible foible of this era, the film shoots forward 30 years to an affectionately savage portrait of current day Bollywood. Nearly every moment is some kind of a joke; the more you know, the funnier it is. Shah Rukh, also playing the present day Om, stands in front of a billboard, with Om endorsing Tag Heuer watches, a brand Shah Rukh endorses in real life. There is a fake awards ceremony, with wicked parodies of modern day film genres and the song at the after-party features cameos by nearly every current star. That the soireé is an homage to a similar scene in a movie a generation ago, in which some of older stars previously appeared, is just another layer of dizzying pleasure.
One character reminisces fondly of a film in which he had four death scenes: he played twins who were killed before the interval, reincarnated in the second half, they were killed again at the end. The ability to adore such an absurdity for itself, and groove on the spoofing, too, is key to relishing every nutty moment of Om Shanti Om.