Bollywood’s Index: Allusions and Inside Jokes in Om Shanti Om

Curator's Note

Bollywood director and choreographer Farah Khan’s 2007 blockbuster “Om Shanti Om” was an instant hit. Even in the US, the movie grossed US$1.7 million in the first three days. By January 2008, the film had grossed US$36.5 million worldwide, becoming the highest grossing Hindi movie ever. Although the movie is obviously enjoyable to Bollywood tyros, the film serves as both a celebration and parody of the last thirty years of Bollywood cinema. “Dhoom Taana”, a musical number that occurs early in the plot, both celebrates and prods lightly at the spectacle of 1970s Bollywood. Combining footage from three significant films (“Amrapali” (1966), “Sacha Jhuta” (1970) and “Humjoli” (1970)) with actors Shahruhk Khan and Deepika Padukone, the number reproduces the stereotypical Bollywood aesthetic (replete with fuzzy but bright colors, iconographic dances, and the censor board’s favorite almost-kisses) while clearly signifying that Bollywood (or at least Farah Khan) is in on the joke, too. Beginning to research Bollywood from the angle of its outstanding index, then, is a backwards process of uncovering allusions and forty-year-old inside jokes and trying to imagine their initial circulations within discourses of a national and transnational film industry. Yet “Om Shanti Om” is also more than a simple review of cinematic history; rather, it is a product of a global industry that interacts with other huge film industries. How can we come to an understanding of the complicated relationships between the film’s jokes and their original traces that accounts for “Om Shanti Om” as both a reflection and product of the Bollywood industry, past and present?


While I realize I am posting two years late, I only recently saw Om Shanti Om at Trinity College in Hartford and was fascinated by its excessive cinematography.
I watched the clip you included twice because the choreography, the movement, even the facial work of the actors is stimulating.  I think you are absolutely right in suggesting the film examines not only its own place in Indian's cinematic history, but its global intersection. At least the way I "read" the choreography (and I acknowledge, it is a western-biased reading) is a combination of a vast number of influences: the Jazz-age flapper dance (set in what appears to be a Prohibition speak-easy), the pirate scene which is reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance (which is parodied frequently enough), as well as the dance arranged on a tennis court, which makes me think of some Busby Berkeley number. Thus the cultural axes intersecting within this film continually multiply, not only in cinema and musical, but in dance allusions as well.

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