NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A spoof of Bollywood in the 1970s, inspired by a tacky reincarnation saga, has swept aside a tragic romance based on a Fyodor Dostoevsky story since they opened last week as two of the biggest Indian movies of the year.
“Om Shanti Om” and “Saawariya” (Beloved) have been the most eagerly awaited recent releases for the world’s largest film industry by ticket sales, which has struggled to match the highs it hit in 2005 and 2006.
Massive pre-release publicity campaigns, coupled with the fact both scheduled their openings for the weekend of Diwali — the Hindu festival of lights and the year’s most-important movie season — pitted them directly against each other even though their themes had little in common.
“Om Shanti Om” is the story of a struggling junior actor who is killed. He is reborn to become a star who goes on to seek the killer and his lady love from the previous birth.
Sony Pictures’ “Saawariya”, one of the first Bollywood films to be funded by a Hollywood studio, is a love story based on Dostoevsky’s “White Nights”, where a chance meeting of a boy and a girl leads to unrequited love and heartbreak.
The verdict, from both the critics and the box office, is clearly in favour of “Om Shanti Om”, which has Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood’s most bankable star, in the lead.
“OSO is a very, very big hit,” said trade analyst Taran Adarsh, referring to the popular reference being used for “Om Shanti Om”.
“It is a complete time-pass, spicy, value-for-money story. It is good entertainment.”
“Saawariya on the other hand is on a shaky wicket. It is not doing too well, the story is too thin and does not grip people,” he said.
“Om Shanti Om”, Adarsh said, matched the festival mood as people wanted to “chill out” with their families during the biggest Hindu celebrations of the year.
Choreographer-turned-filmmaker Farah Khan uses the plot to showcase Bollywood in the 1970s, the best decade for the industry according to some critics, revive memories of old stars and poke fun at their melodrama and eccentricities.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Saawariya’s quirky director, is known in Bollywood for his extravagant productions and obsession with grandeur but even he had gone over the top, critics said.
“One of the reasons Saawariya does not work is because you cannot have a depressing scenario during Diwali,” Adarsh said of the film some critics have panned as being too much style over substance and without a strong element of drama.
While niche audiences could find some charm in a tragic romance, the masses would be unable to identify with the theatre-like settings, a mishmash of early 20th century Paris and Venice.
“If you want beauty, you can get it for free watching a sunset, visiting an art gallery,” veteran Bollywood critic Khalid Mohamed wrote in the Hindustan Times newspaper.
“In cinema, like it or not, style (form!) has to be allied with content. Here it’s conspicuous by its absence.”
editing by Alistair Scrutton and Jerry Norton