As a six year old, one doesn't really possess the intellectual capacity required to appreciate good films. The first time I ever watched Om Shanti Om, I'd made my entire family gather around the television to watch the film only because it starred Shah Rukh Khan, even then a true blue SRK loyalist. I was yet to learn the name that was about to take the Hindi film industry by storm.
Deepika Padukone is indisputably one of the greatest actors of this day and age. Despite having watched all of her films, her debut remains my favourite. Maybe it's my nostalgia that makes me biased, but I can't seem to think of any other film that I'd gladly watch as many times as I've watched Om Shanti Om. A film about lovers being reunited infused with an old world charm, Om Shanti Om holds a special place in my heart.
The first time the audience sees Shantipriya onscreen is during the song "Ajab Si" with K.K.'s beautiful voice weaving magic into the scene, and I felt like Om myself, clutching at my heart, having caught the eye of the angelic mega star. Her screen presence was gentle yet powerful, a quality she's managed to retain throughout her career. Be it as Piku, the driven and headstrong modern woman in Shoojit Sircar's Piku, or as Veronica, the rebellious party girl with a heart of gold in Homi Adjania's Cocktail, or as Leela, the vivacious and eventually tragic figure of Juliet in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Goliyon ki Rasleela: Ramleela; there's just something about Deepika that makes one fall a little in love with every character that she plays, lending a bit of herself to them always.
It was no different with Shantipriya; a stunning young actress on the rise who makes the mistake of putting her faith in the villainous Mukesh. As a young child having watched both the leads of the film die, with Shanti being burnt alive and Om being brutally beaten up, I found solace in the dialogue that could perhaps make me smile even at the my lowest; "Humari zindagi bhi humari hindi filmon ke jaisi hi hai, jahaan pe end mein sab theek ho jaata hai. Lekin agar end mein sab kuch theek na ho toh woh end nahi hai doston, picture abhi baaki hai." The remaining one and a half hours were testament to the truth behind this. As a matter of fact, one of my favourite things about Om Shanti Om as a movie was that it never pretended to be anything more than what it was meant to be, an out and out Bollywood entertainer. Unpretentious and honest to its core, a big part of its charm was its simplicity.
Deepika goes from the poised and elegant Shantipriya, to the clumsy yet lovable Sandhya, a.k.a Sandy with ease unusual for a debutant. When Sandy first appears, she's awestruck by Om Kapoor's presence in the dark room, her eyes wide in disbelief, while Om is equally awestruck; a parallel to their first interaction as Shanti and Om in their past life. Although the roles are reversed, whereas now Om is the bigger star and Sandy, his loyal fan, it's still love that triumphs all. The lyrics "chaahe jisse door se duniya, woh mere qareeb hain", truly hit home at this point. It's significant that the lighting is such that nobody else is visible in the scene and the background score drowns out any other sound, an accurate representation of how it feels to fall in love, as though it's a secret that only you and your partner are in on.
Even in the end, when Shah Rukh Khan's Om finally realises that it was the real Shantipriya, his Shantipriya, he smiles through blood and tears, waving a final goodbye to Shanti. She merely smiles through the flames, tears streaming down her face and runs up the stairs, never to be seen again. Throughout the film, grand gestures of love have been the driving force behind their budding romance, what with Om being willing to lay down his life for Shanti, not once but twice, even when he was upset with her because of her involvement with Arjun Rampal's cold and calculative Mukesh in contrast to his simple self.
In fact, in the opening of the song 'Main Agar Kahoon', he literally brings her the moon, albeit a prop. Nevertheless, his readiness to do whatever it takes to make his Shanti, his "dreamy girl" smile is what makes their romance so endearing. The same emotion is echoed in the scene when Om Kapoor reveals his plans to gaslight and scare Mukesh into confessing, Sandy believes him, no questions asked. 'Main believe karti hoon' – I do believe, that one line is enough to reassure Om that no matter what how unlikely it seems, she has full faith in her one true love.
It's this kind of love, the kind that transcends time that makes Om Shanti Om evergreen. In all honesty, it's unbelievable that Om Shanti Om was her debut film, mainly because it's not easy to capture the intricacies and subtleties of a mainstream Hindi film, to appease the masses as well as the critics. Yet Deepika manages to do so and with a performance so powerful that it remains relevant even after a decade, which is only fitting for a film that revolves around a timeless story of love.
Another important aspect of the film is how Deepika Padukone's Shantipriya, despite living in an age where women were not only expected but encouraged to be damsels in distress, was eventually enough for herself. The first time Shanti is trapped in a fire is on the sets of a film, where she's rescued by Om, a sequence inspired by the real life event of Sunil Dutt rescuing Nargis from an accidental fire on the sets of Mother India. The second time around, however, she's not so lucky, as Om dies in his attempt to save her.
In the climax of the film, though, we learn through Shanti herself that she did survive the fire but was later buried alive by Mukesh, who'd returned to tie up any loose ends. That's where it all changes, as Mukesh, Om and the audience all realise that this wouldn't be something that Sandy would know. It eventually dawns upon everyone involved that the one pulling the strings all along has been the real Shantipriya. Mukesh and Om inadvertently start a fire during their fist fight, battling for control, adding to the chaos and confusion.
In what is definitely my favourite moment of the film, Shantipriya asks Om to stop, declaring that Mukesh will die, but not at his hands. 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' – taking control, once and for all, the ghost of Shantipriya brings the massive chandelier down on a terrified Mukesh. With this, she not only saves Om but also sets her soul free. It's remarkable how the meek and loveable Shanti from the first half has none of the lovability in her. There is only a cold fury etched in every line of her face, allowing one to tell her apart from the often goofy Sandy. Shantipriya didn't need any saving after all, setting the tone for the films that Deepika Padukone was about to take on.
Despite being a female actor in a world where women, more often than not, are relegated to the the "love interest", Deepika makes every kind of role her own. Having garnered critical acclaim and commercial success with a plethora of roles to her credit, Deepika in Om Shanti Om still remains my favourite. Never overpowering her costar, but never allowing herself to be undermined in any respect either. Om Shanti Om is proof of the fact that Deepika is here to stay, and make history while she's at it.