OH MY GOD 2 : MOVIE REVIEW
RATING : 5 STARS OUT OF 5 (OUTSTANDING)
WRITER-DIRECTOR : AMIT RAI
CAST : PANKAJ TRIPATHI, YAMI GAUTAM, AKSHAY KUMAR
HINDI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES AVAILABLE), 2023
Writer-Director Amit Rai's tremendous film about the urgent need for sex education in Indian schools, engenders multiple pressing questions. How on earth did they make such an outstanding, artful, balanced mainstream film in a country which ritually suppresses sexual honesty? Why is India which has prodigiously reproduced from a population of 190 million (1800) to 360 million (1950) to 1.4 billion (2023) so shy, guilt-racked and censorious about the frank discussion and depiction of sex? Does this make us the most hypocritical people on the planet?
Few Indian Superstars have devoted so much attention towards our lower body parts as Hon'ble Akshay Kumar has - an Indian spin on Shohei Imamura's statement of interest in the relationship of the lower part of the body to the lower part of society (or any societal strata for that matter). From the interior process away from open defecation ("Toilet Ek Prem Katha") to the better availability of sanitary pads for women's menstrual periods ("Pad Man"), to the current beautifully argued treatise on and entreaty for sex education in Indian schools, Kumar has virtually done a Perineal Ph.D. If his next film gives the Indian public simple but detailed information and encouragement on all available contraceptive options in the nation (Daily Pill Vs 3 monthly Depot Injection Vs 3 year Implanon in arm Vs 5 year Mirena in uterus), Shri Shri Akshay Kumar will truly save the nation and would have delivered the ultimate all-encompassing service to his and our beloved Bharath Mata.
Pic is slow to establish its rigour but once it is does, there is no letting go from the frank public discussions on masturbation and sex, smartly conveyed through a crisp courtroom battle. Very few mainstream Indian films, if any, have dared to show this much honesty and plainspeak in discussing these seminal matters.
Kanti Sharan Mudgal (Pankaj Tripathi) is a pious soul, working in a temple. His world is upturned when his son Vivek (Aarush Varma) tumbles into adolescent hell, victimized by bullies. The ensuing scandal threatens to eject Vivek from school and envelop the whole family in disgrace. Kanti is reeling from this nightmare and about to beat a total retreat, when the Glorious Lord Shiva Himself (Akshay Kumar) appears in mortal guest appearance, bestowing crucial acts-‘n’- words of wisdom that fire up Kanti’s cockles at key junctures through the gauntlet.
Kanti sues the school, pharmacy and quacks for defamation – his contention : if they, and in particular the school, had imparted proper sex education to his son, the milk would not have boiled over the Shiv Linga like this. Kanti decides to plead his own case, while no-nonsense Judge Purushottam Nagar (Pavan Malhotra) and the defending advocate – a beautiful hot-shot lady lawyer Kamini Maheshwari (Yami Gautam) - draw up the riveting courtroom trio. While the subject matter is treated with the seriousness it deserves, dollops of humour leaven the narrative, with a good part of this coming from the need to translate chaste Hindi into English, especially for the judge.
Indian films do have a history of courtroom dramas but their quality and perspicacity has dramatically picked up in recent years. Kumar’s own ‘Jolly LLB 2’ was a mean judicial beast, and this one maintains the keenly contested wave. Kamini calls up Kanti’s family to the witness stand and thinks she can coolly skewer them in cross-examination but the school-age daughter’s answer to a provocative question is a calming, sobering definition of one of the world’s most popularly private activities enunciated in shudh Hindi. Kanti’s wife Indumati (Geeta Agrawal) is also needled by Kamini, but her answers too, by turns resigned and wry, remind Kamini that that she may be higher on the loop but is yet only at the start of the curve. We also wanly realize here that India is that fertile land where so many have been conceived under the cover of such little privacy.
Judge Purushottam Nagar is conveyed by Pavan Malhotra with a wonderful two-tone act – the bespectacled greying stern-faced strictness tempered just under the surface by a sporting nature and sneaky smiles. I’ve watched Pavan Malhotra as an actor in the decades when some in the film theatre were yet to be born, but only now after all these years have I really enjoyed a major performance of his, propelled by a fine script. Judge Nagar likes and admires Kamini from the get-go, but he likes true fairness more, and this becomes a bit more obvious, argument by argument, as the case evolves.
Once convinced that structured sex education needs to be re-started in an India which has been bashed into guilt-ridden sexual repression by the crafty British colonials, Kanti is coolly unstoppable, presenting fact upon perspective upon statistic with the confidence of a scientist and seasoned lawyer. His calm conviction and demeanour, expertly injected with requisite wit, are reminiscent of the wise and disarmingly bold men and women who deeply rooted this sacred (not scared) nation millennia ago and whose ruptured legacy we are now fumbling to revive in this Kalyug. ‘How will you have a male teacher explaining the sex act to girls, and a female teacher explaining it boys, in an already corrupted milieu?’ Kamini asks with consternation. Kanti knows he is not Einstein, nor does he need to be. He may not even know Occam’s Razor, but he thinks for some time and senses the essence of it as the answer. You don’t have to worry about not finding teachers in India – if the right teachers are not already present, you will find them from elsewhere, because this land, no kidding, is the true land of all manner of Gurus.
In my school-days in Kerala, we had a moral science book which was pretty tame until it reared its head in the penultimate or final year of high school with a chapter’s passages that laid bare the mechanics of sexual intercourse. Everybody was waiting to get their hands on the book at the start of that academic year and the chapter was read and ransacked far before its appointed reading day arrived. When the day came to read out the chapter, we were asked to read it silently, with a few giggles here and there in the silence of the classroom – no teaching or speaking done! Once, a speaker on the topic of psychology and sex arrived for a day, and he was quite humorous in his mass address of the school assembly and we all enjoyed his juicy perspectives. He gave us questionnaires to fill in and it had some pretty private questions to which I let rip, writing my heart out. I was terrified later wondering what kind of psychoanalysis, public or otherwise, he would conduct on me when he would return with the reviewed papers, but he never came back to the school! That was the end of our sex education in school.
Some may contend that the roles should have been flipped in OMG2, and that the lady should have been the prosecuting attorney, arguing the case of sex education. Not a bad idea, but I’d say that even having a man in this role does send the right message, as a good part of the sclerosed orthodoxy in India is the stiff staff held up by the hoary men, who are shaken up here by Kanti’s progressive pyre.
Pankaj Tripathi achieves the formidable feat of being both the hero and the character actor of this bravura endeavour. With films like Oh My God 2, he proves once again why character actors like him, along with Paresh Rawal, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rajkummar Rao, have now occupied a throne in Indian cinema as powerful and charismatic as that of any of the Khans, Hrithik, Kapoor or Kumar. Tripathi has that hidden gleam in his physiognomy, a slyly intelligent core which lurks no matter what the outward persona, and here a simpleton template is ignited with divine blessing into woke warrior status which carries the movie on its shoulders. Yami Gautam’s audacity in taking up this daunting role and provocative dialogues is laudable, but her fluid acting could have been taken up to a more ruthless, craftier and saucier level to make an even more impressive adversary – probably I’m being too tough on her but she has potential to achieve this.
Writer-Director Amit Rai accomplishes the rare feat of fearlessly delineating a very challenging subject in mainstream Indian cinema. And Yes, this has released in Modi’s India, so go figure! This is the second 5 star Indian film I have watched after ‘Bulbbul’, since the pandemic began. What a desert and what a liberating oasis!
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