The year was 2007. Shahrukh Khan had delivered a critical masterpiece in Chak De! India, but the most anticipated movie-watching experience was still saved for a grand, picturesque Diwali release. This time around, it was a clash of the titans. Farah Khan was putting out with her second directorial, starring Khan as the titular Om, and introducing Deepika Padukone in what remains one of the most astute and celebrated debuts in recent years. On the same date, Sanjay Leela Bhansali released his romantic tragedy, Saawariya, introducing two faces from film families, Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor.
As a fourteen-year-old boy, I remember the hype around the release, with Koffee With Karan introducing Padukone as the "next big thing". This was the time when box-office numbers were less important than the very experience of watching a film that entertained the audience. If anything, that was an afterthought (this was before the mad box-office numbers of Ghajini, after all) instead of the main focus of a conversation about a Diwali release.
I remember watching the film at Cinemax, Kalanagar, Mumbai. There was a grandeur in the way V. Manikandan shot the film, and Farah Khan directed it. It celebrated life, the Hindi film industry, the colourful clichés of Indian life and, most importantly, its megastar Shahrukh Khan. It did all this and did it with such confidence that the silliness of the plot was eclipsed the memorable moments of the screenplay.
It rehashed the reincarnation idea that had been tapped into in the past (the premise goes right back to Dilip Kumar-starrer Madhumati), but this was less about the plot and more about the moments that took the narrative from one plot point to another. The madness, brightness, songs, and loud, physical comedy were all symbolic of what India is defined as. It was a hyperbole of everything that the West sees the Hindi film industry as. It was entertaining, absurd, silly, comforting. It was everything that a Diwali release should be.
Over the years, the Diwali release has become the base for some of the most anticipated films of the year hoping for good numbers and giving audiences a fun, memorable ride. Diwali is a special moment in the annual Indian festival cycle. Lights, laughter, and an insatiable appetite for life at its absolute, irrational best is the running theme. It is a time when we celebrate the victory of good over evil.
A reincarnation revenge drama provides us with exactly that: the satisfaction of a win in the face of defeat. But beyond that, it was a celebration of life and community. The song 'Deewangi', then, was not just half of the industry coming together; it marked the national kinship that defines a festival like Diwali. In that song, the movie did not belong to Shahrukh Khan. It belonged to the entire industry. Isn't that what festivals are all about, too: bringing us all together?
From a flamboyant villain in Mike (Arjun Rampal) to some beautiful love ballads, and a few intelligent nods to yesteryear actors, Om Shanti Om was a film that defines the essence and the demand of a Diwali release. It reminds us that it is not only about grand sets or about racking up huge opening numbers. A Diwali release is about giving the audience an entertaining experience, and leaving them with a smile and a hope of a better tomorrow. It should be about the celebration of life and relationships. About colours and craft (and even a bit of chaos). About justice and love. And there is no better sight than Shahrukh Khan providing justice, with panache, to the ill-fated Shantipriya (Deepika Padukone) in his prime years as the man who owned the Diwali release.