“Oh My God”… Divine comedy

Actors, sometimes, can annoy us with their omnipresence. At one time, Paresh Rawal was everywhere, and because our mainstream cinema does not offer a character actor too many notes to hit – it’s either the well-intentioned friend of Baghban, or the shrill comedian trying to outshout everyone else in a Priyadarshan comedy – we began to tire of him. Cutting down his assignments has done the actor a world of good. He is in rip-roaring form as Kanji Bhai in Umesh Shukla’s Oh My God. Kanji Bhai is a cheerfully unscrupulous wheeler-dealer, whose shop in Chor Bazaar specialises in religious memorabilia, ranging from Draupadi’s sari to bottles of Gangajal whose contents come from the tap. (Kanji Bhai is an equal-opportunity hoodwinker. He also peddles musical memorabilia, like “Micheal” Jackson’s suit.) His philosophy is simple (and this is what endears him to us): If you’re stupid enough to pay staggering sums of money for a statue that supposedly revealed itself in the earth of Brindavan, then you deserve to leave with a lighter wallet. Ethical? Probably not. But Kanji Bhai is no different from the makers of fairness creams who position themselves as bestowers of boons to dark-skinned flocks. Everything, really, comes down to faith.

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Kanji Bhai’s atheism allows the director (working from the Gujarati play Kanji Viruddh Kanji, which was adapted on the Hindi stage as Krishan vs Kanhaiya) to supply Rawal with a number of choice lines. When his devout wife suffers through a fast on his behalf, he wisecracks that this is like plugging in her phone in the hope that the battery on his instrument will get charged. Oh My God is what you’d call a message movie. If, as Marx said, religion is the opium of the people, then this film is a PSA about the dangers of addiction. But the lightheartedness with which it plays out prevents us from flinching at being lectured to. (It probably helps if you’re already on Kanji Bhai’s side.) The clever premise is brought into play when Kanji Bhai’s shop is destroyed in an earthquake, and the insurance company washes its hands off the incident as an “act of God.” Kanji Bhai, therefore, files a suit against the almighty, calling to court various godmen – and one heavily lipsticked godwoman – and letting loose a killer line about Anil Ambani.

Despite this incendiary theme, Oh My God doesn’t have a heretical bone in its body. (This, however, doesn’t stop the tripartite disclaimer at the beginning: in Hindi, English and Urdu.) The film’s fight isn’t with faith – merely with the ridiculous ways in which the faithful transact with their maker. And the rousing triumphalism towards the end is tempered by the words of Swami Leeladhar (played by Mithun Chakraborty, who seems to be auditioning for the role of a journalist in a Madhur Bhandarkar movie; his pinkie is perpetually raised), who knows that he will prevail. This is the kind of populist sugar-coated pill that Bollywood has forgotten how to manufacture. The nearest antecedent may be Yehi Hai Zindagi, where Lord Krishna forged an easy and continuing rapport with Sanjeev Kumar. This isn’t to say that these older movies are imperishable works of art that need to be reclaimed by succeeding movie-going generations, but these films are valuable because they are about something other than relationships and revenge. If these films were made every day, we’d begin to get annoyed, but, as with Paresh Rawal, the absence from screen helps.

Akshay Kumar, twirling a keychain like the discus, plays Lord Krishna here, and it’s one of his lightest performances. (Why do actors always come off better when not forced to carry the film?) He makes his appearance in the later portions, where the film begins to take itself too seriously, taking on issues like the wasting of milk on idols. As other similarly affected commoners join Kanji Bhai, we are introduced to an old woman who lost her son and daughter-in-law in an earthquake, and now needs the insurance money to treat her grandson’s cancer. This is too much melodrama for a light satire. And when Kanji Bhai makes a winning speech on a television talk show, his estranged daughter, seated in a coffee shop, announces that this is her father, and the others burst into applause. (The soundtrack, meanwhile, bursts forth with an ecclesiastical choir.) But despite this overreach, Rawal pulls it all together. He nails not just the quiet contempt many of us carry for the rituals of organised religion, but also the seething desperation of a middle-class man with nothing left to lose. It’s nice, for a change, to see an Everyman as the leading man.

Copyright ©2012 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

23 thoughts on ““Oh My God”… Divine comedy

  1. i only wish more such movies are made to free us from religion…nothing exceeds like the excess against gODs and the irrationlaity…


  2. Digression Alert: Pre-ordered your book! This is the first time I am doing this for any author! Will you do book signing for your fans in Chennai?


  3. Is this the one with the prabhu deva sonakshi number? *yawn*
    Paresh Rawal reminds me of nagesh in so many levels….

    Also will ur book be available on amazon as well?


  4. What doesn’t work for this film is the title. There was a Vinay Pathak’s movie of the same title (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1312135/) that released just three years ago. I thought there was a rule that there had to be a gap of at least ten years to repeat a title.

    Anyway, thanks Rangan for the review.


  5. BR : The flipkart site says : “Author: A. R. Rahman, Baradwaj Rangan” – really ? I thought ARR just did the foreword or did i get it wrong.


  6. Venky: Book signing? At the launch I guess?

    meera: I think this is an India edition, so it’s available only here. But in the future I guess it should be available at Amazon.

    venkatesh: ARR has written the foreword. (It’s a very nice little piece and it has the word “sprezzatura” in it. Just saying that others use mutlisyllabic words too :-) ) The cover says “foreword by” doesn’t it?


  7. BR : “sprezzatura:” Today i Learned :-) – the cover says foreword by ARR but if you scroll down to the details of the book – it says – Author : ARR ,BR . No biggie but clearly incorrect i take it.


  8. BR, will you be doing a visit to Bangalore as part of the book launch? if so, i will wait…else i will order online…


  9. Vikram: As I keep saying, I have no idea about these things. All this is per the marketing department. I’ll do what they ask me to do. And I will give updates about where and when things are happening…


  10. Rangan, please press marketing to ensure that the book is available to the overseas market as well (and by that I don’t just mean the U.S of A!).


  11. Apologies for another unrelated comment but have you watched Thandavam? Keen to know what you thought of it. I saw a bit of Ratnam in the Vikram-Anushka segment …of a different standard of course but yet reminded me of some of his work.


  12. I had seen the play ‘ Krishan Vs Kanhaiya’ and the theme and the one-liners worked really well in a play setting, especially with a performer like Paresh Rawal. I wonder if the film works as well ….. Also I wonder if the movie also has a twist in the end like the play. wouldn’t mind watching it for Paresh Rawal though.


  13. Just back from Oh My God. It was an exhilarating experience. It is such a tight slap on the face of those who think that ordinary viewers don’t want to see films that deal with ideas. How wrong they are. Films of Raj Kumar Hirani have proved them wrong three times over. And this one does so more emphatically, as it can engage average filmgoers even without a major star as the p protagonist.

    Just as Satyameva Jayate proved , people of India are interested in social issues. But you must present them sincerely, intelligently and entertainingly. The problem with so many of the message filmmakers is that they don’t know how to do it. Most of them are not even sincere to start with, but find making of such films an easy way of making small budget films that get some media support and government patronage.

    What a relief therefore it was to find a film like Oh My God which was very clear in its understanding of the core issue it was dealing with and knew how to present it in an engaging manner, without deviating from the subject at all. It got a little heavy-handed in the second half but with its clever ending it got itself back in its track.

    Overall I was quite surprised at how f..ing sophisticated it was. It managed to attack all the holy cows …from the offering of hair at Tirupati and chaddar at Darghas to turning street-side stones into temples to the dubious practice running schools and hospitals with money devoted by devotees. It manages to lampoon characters like Sri Sri Ravishnakra( played hilariously by Mithun Chakraborty) and gets away with it, for two reasons. One the basic truth in what it is saying and the sincerity of intention, and second, the lightness of touch. The parliament cartoonist should learn a thing or two from the makers of OMG.

    But what impressed me most was the sophistication with which it presented the concept of God. Akshay Kumar plays Him very well, using the key chain as the Sudarshan chakra, telling how the calendar images of him are the old Facebook photos that have not been updated. The most germane statements he makes is towards the end when he says he could have finished the Mahbaharata war in minutes, but then it is your war and you have to decide how to fight it. He also tells Kanji that, “ Don’t take away their idols from them because then they will start worshipping your idol. We know from history that is exactly what has happened down the ages. Buddha who did not think it worthwhile to worry about God is worshiped as one. Muhammad who asked his followers to destroy all idols is treated as a godman and the mosque at Kaaba is treated as an idol. The scene echoes the scene from ‘ The Last Temptation Of Jesus Christ” where Jesus tells Peter that he did not perform the miracles that Peter has told people that he did. Peter tells Jesus , “ You try telling that to people and see if they believe you’. In other words they believe because they want to believe. AS the Mithun character says at the end, “ It is an opium they cannot do without.. No amount of expose will deter them.”

    There is also much wisdom in Akshay’s relly as to why he deigns to appear before an atheist – because only one who questions deserves an answer, in other words doubting is the first step towards faith. Here he echoes the situation in Gita where Krishna chooses to offer his ultimate wisdom and his viswaroop, not to a devotee, but to the doubting man of action, the doer , Arjuna.

    It was very brave and intelligent of the film to show Kanji striking down his idol installed as a godman. This way, It manages to convey its message about fake godmen , in fact the message of how misguided it is to anyone as a godman, without actually denigrating any actual godman. Similarly it gets away with attacking the al too prevalent custom of offering mannat at temples, dargahs and churches, referring to them as ‘ exchange schemes’.
    Paresh Rawal is wonderful as Kanji carrying the film on his shoulders. Akshay is Krishna personified. And I liked very much the fusion flute music that accompanies his appearance. Parabhu Deva and Sonakshi’s Go Govinda is delightful.

    And the film once gain proves that the script is the king. And you can engage an audience without stars, with a story based on themes other than romance or revenge. It just has to be well written and well staged.


  14. Unrelated to OMG:

    It would be great if you can do a review of the music from the movie aiyaa. The music is bizarre, but enjoyable – should be right up your alley. Would love to read your insights on it.


  15. Saw the movie yesterday, was chuckling throughout since I dont follow idol worship either. Never did even when I was small – though I was always made to feel uncomfortable by everyone around me for not following the herd.

    Though, I must point out that reading a translation of the Bhagvad Gita in any language (even if it happens to be a descendant of Sanskrit – eg Hindi) is not the same as reading in the original.

    So I feel that as far as past culture is concerned – the film could have pointed out the hypocrisy of the only nation in this world which happily exists in translation, and has a thriving market for all sorts of language based translations from its past culture (I mean the mantras, hymns, prayers, and here – the Gita)

    Sanskrit is NOT difficult – it is made to seem difficult because of wrong methods of teaching and learning, coupled with an utter lack of development of simple literature in modern times.


  16. Forgot to also point out in my above comment that, the concept of “god” for the evolution of the Self is optional in yoga – it is useful for the personalities who need this technique.


  17. Utkal : Thanks for leaving an erudite comment , very nice. A request : please do add “Spoilers” when you are discussing plot points – its just courtesy thats all.


  18. Nice review, Mr. Rangan.

    Personally, didn’t like the movie at all. It was utterly didactic and depressing. Replete with fallacious arguments and naive deconstructions, OMG is (a painfully long) ‘filmed theatrics’ of the forgettable kind. It seemed suspiciously the story of a dogmatic atheist (armed with a premature notion of God) metamorphosing into a Hindu fundamentalist. A less arrogant filmmaker/writer would have begun with a character and explored the God-like aspects in him. But the presumptuous blue-eyed Captain of the 20cr ship chose to start from ‘God’ and, by reducing it to the lowest common factor, make it palatable for front stall cackles and gold class tears.


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