On Farah Khan's 59th birthday, here's looking back at how the director made us laugh and weep with her distinguished and quintessential Bollywood movies.
If someone asked me about the most typical Bollywood-style movie, I would definitely point to 'Om Shanti Om'. It has everything – action, drama, reincarnation, catchy songs, vibrant colors, romance, and comedy. This film truly embodies the lively essence of Bollywood. Farah Khan's entire filmography, though short, is quintessentially Bollywood. While she gained fame for her choreography, it's her role as a director that I miss the most, especially now that romantic comedies have become less popular, and action films are dominating the scene.
Khan began her directorial journey with 'Main Hoon Na,' probably her simplest movie. The story follows an army man who goes undercover as a college student to bring his estranged family back together. Even in what seems like a sober movie, college students sported the trendiest haircuts and bracelets. The world paused while men played violins in the background whenever the protagonists fell in love, and classrooms turned into mehfils. Her characters tend to exaggerate their quirks. They either spit a lot, flirt excessively, or always forget where they're headed. Look at all Khan's characters - the melodramatic mother in Om Shanti Om, the snake dance expert, Nandu and the over-the-top bar dancer, Mohini in Happy New Year (HNY), and Jai Ho playing in the background every time Aatish Kapoor danced at the thought of Oscars in Tees Maar Khan (TMK). Most comic characters overuse their quirks, but few make them as successful as Khan's characters did. And this requires skill and talent on the part of writers, actors as well as directors.
All these characters, and even the junior artists, would turn up in the most colorful costumes. India had its Barbie moment when Om Shanti Om was released. The 70s costumes from the film were all the rage. The costumes, the hairstyles, and even the overacting by the actors were authentic. While Khan's portrayal of female characters is undeniably sexist, songs from her movies are iconic for both the music and the choreography. Think of Sushmita Sen in "Tumhein Jo Maine Dekha," Katrina Kaif in "Sheila Ki Jawani," or Deepika Padukone in "Lovely" – these songs are memorable. Despite some not-so-great songs like "Nonsense Ki Night," there are gems like "Deewangi Deewangi," where she brought together various Bollywood stars. Om Shanti Om also had "Main Agar Kahoon," and "Aakhon Mein Teri," the dreamiest debut an actress can ever get. And then there was "Jag Soona Soona Lage" which can make you cry even if you are not sad. Whether a song is good or not, in a Farah Khan film, you eagerly await the songs as much as the plot- they are not just musically pleasing but also visually mesmerizing.
Also, Deewangi Deewangi reminds me of Farah's love for Bollywood. All her films feature actors, directors, and choreographers, in random roles. In all her movies, she includes actors, directors, choreographers, and others in unexpected roles. Tabu, for instance, simply stands in a shot in Main Hoon Na for no apparent reason. Geeta Kapoor dances with pigtails in Gore Gore, and Vishal Dadlani and Anurag Kashyap become dance judges in HNY. I especially love how Khan gives an ode to Bollywood, flirts with it, and parodies it at the same time. She points out overacting, the need to suspend disbelief, and the often nonsensical plots but cleverly uses them to add quirkiness to her films. In Om Shanti Om, there's a scene where Om suggests a waiter named Govind Ahuja change his name to Govinda if he wants to be an actor. In another scene, Sooraj Barjatya is seen copying a dialogue from Om. In HNY, Mohini recreates SRK's speech from Chak De India, and Jag remarks, "Kitna original speech hai."
Khan doesn't take herself too seriously, as she mocks her own films too. In TMK, the protagonist's mother complains about Om Shanti Om not being a good movie. In HNY, a reference to Dard-ae-Disco is dropped. Just check out her end credits – she made the credit scene cool in India way before Marvel did. She dedicates entire songs for credits, featuring everyone from producers to spot boys, making them dance. She's fine with reminding you that the movie is over and, in the end, it was all about suspending disbelief.
Beyond her filmmaking skills, it's worth noting Khan's perspective. Often in Bollywood movies about India versus Pakistan, the narrative shows that the Pakistani population is honest but the Pakistan army is against India. India is morally superior and needs to save Pakistan from itself. This narrative continued even in films like Gadar 2, Pathaan, and Tiger 3 in 2023. However, Main Hoon Na challenged this by portraying Pakistan as equal to India, advocating for friendship. The hero and villain shared names tied to the same god – Ram and Raghavan. There was no vilifying of a nation or a religion; the true enemy was hatred. This lack of nationalistic pride and a sense of superiority is uncommon in our movies. Even in HNY, while the Korean team is initially shown as arrogant, the ultimate antagonist is an Indian. This absence of 'othering' in Khan's movies is quite refreshing.
So, here's manifesting that director Farah Khan says, "Kiska hai ye tumko intezar? Main hoon na" when we ask for a film by her again!