September 28, 2012
Paresh Rawal, Akshay Kumar, Mithun Chakraborty, Govind Namdeo, Mahesh Manjrekar
This is the sort of film I wish I did not have to critique. Its intent and impact are so amazing, that I wish I could pretend it has only pluses and that I didn’t notice any minuses.
Ah well, there’s a job to be done here, but first may I say I had a rollicking time watching OMG Oh My God! It’s insightful, brave, funny and emotional all rolled in one. Just as important, the Central Board of Film Certification’s decision to release it is also a victory for freedom of expression in our country. When Paresh Rawal’s Kanjibhai Mehta asks a religious priest in court, “You call yourself a man of god yet it took just a few provocative statements from me to inflame your passions?” (or words roughly to that effect), he is delivering a slap in the face of every religious fundamentalist in India who has ever threatened or inflicted violence on an artist or an ordinary citizen. The ban on Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and threats to his life, the threats to M.F. Husain’s life and the violence against his property in reaction to his goddess paintings … in Kanjibhai’s question you could read allusions to these and other disgraceful episodes, but OMG makes no direct reference to any of them. It’s a simple story of a businessman whose shop is destroyed in an earthquake. When his insurance claim is rejected because earthquakes fall within the category of “act of god” as listed in his policy’s terms and conditions, a desperate Kanji decides to take god to court. Legal notices are promptly despatched to god’s agents on earth, namely, priests of all religions.
Last year’s Marathi film Deool was a stinging comment on the commercialisation of religion, but OMG goes several steps further by questioning the very existence of god and the need for religion at all. The significance of these films lies in the fact that such questions are rarely asked so pointedly on public platforms in India. Kanjibhai voices views that more social and political commentators should be airing. And he speaks so fearlessly – impertinently, some may say – that you have to admire the entire team of this film for daring to be associated with it, despite the increasing tendency in our country to take to the streets, threaten murder and destroy public property at the mere hint of religious “sentiments” being “hurt”.
OMG is based on the Hindi play Kishen vs Kanhaiya and the Australian film The Man Who Sued God, both of which have been credited (the rights to the film have been duly purchased; the play is written by Bhavesh Mandalia and directed by Umesh Shukla who share the writing credits for OMG; Shukla directed the play and now helms the film). It’s to the credit of the original material and the writers who have adapted it for the Hindi screen that it treads on tricky ground throughout yet manages to do so with finesse; that it is sensible and hilarious by turns without any let-up in its pace, leading to a completely unexpected climax; that while its focus remains the Hindu priesthood, it does not spare the Muslim leadership either and even reserves a couple of potshots for a Christian priest, striking this balance without ever seeming like it’s trying too hard, doing so instead with a flair and polish rarely seen in Bollywood.
I suppose nitpickers may ask why no Sikh priest was shown in the film’s court scenes. I didn’t think of that until I received this silly tweet from a typical troublemaker on Twitter who made this observation about our Censor Board with the sort of ignorance that is the hallmark of bigots, “I don’t think so, they still got balls to clear movie making fun of Mohammad :D”
Listen smart ass (excuse me for not being polite), watch and understand before commenting; and if you can’t, here’s some spoon-feeding ... In one court scene, Kanjibhai exhorts Hindu priests to use the milk poured on deities to feed starving beggars instead; then tells a Muslim priest that it would be better if the chadars offered by devotees were garments used to clothe the poor; and to the Christian priest he says, wouldn’t those candles lit in church serve a greater purpose if they lit up homes without electricity? He quotes the Gita, Quran and Bible to bolster his case. Of his many blasphemous statements, one is directed at a Muslim neighbour off on a Haj. And the only man of the cloth who speaks up for him is a Hindu. Are you happy, dear troublemaker?
I do have some issues with this film, but they seem so minor when you look at the bigger picture that I’ll dispense with them quickly. First, the production values are not up to the mark, there are too many too-obvious sets in the film, the special effects in God’s introduction scene should have been better and the effort to give his face a halo-like glow are somewhat tacky. Second, the songs are disappointing even though Prabhu Deva and Sonakshi Sinha give us some neat dance moves in the amusingly titled Go go go Govinda. Third, there’s the occasional corny dialogue.
Now forget you read that paragraph, because there’s so much more to OMG than its drawbacks. Paresh Rawal and Mithun Chakraborty deliver brilliant performances, ably supported by excellent co-stars including Akshay Kumar whose arms (well worked out yet not over-muscled) would be enough to turn an atheist into a believer. There’s great on-screen warmth between Paresh and Akshay. Paresh is the focal point of the film while Akshay arrives rather late in the story which in itself makes this such an unconventional Bollywood film. At first I was irritated by Mithun’s effeminate demeanour before I fell off my seat laughing when I realised which real-life guru he’s aping. OMG is a wonderfully irreverent, courageous and life-affirming film that encourages us to be doubting Thomases with the humility to accept answers when we find them. Gorgeously gutsy!
Rating (out of five): **** (includes one full star for sheer courage)
CBFC Rating (India):
U (This disclaimer was carried before the film: “OMG Oh My God! is the journey of the protagonist who discovers his faith through the happenings and occurrences in his life and goes from being a non-believer to a believer. The film is meant for entertainment purposes only and we do not intend to hurt the sentiments of any individual, community, sect or religion. This film is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.”)