"The Play's the Thing, Wherein I'll Catch the Conscience of the King": Intertextuality in Om Shanti Om

By Shastri, Sudha | Journal of Film and Video, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

"The Play's the Thing, Wherein I'll Catch the Conscience of the King": Intertextuality in Om Shanti Om


Shastri, Sudha, Journal of Film and Video


THE BOLLYWOOD HINDI FILM Om Shanti Om (2007) constructs its intertextual identity and debuts in the best postmodern fashion, with irony, parody, pastiche, irreverence, and double entendre of the tongue-in-cheek variety.1 The exercise of intertextuality can become intricate, given a context such as OSO, which keeps oscillating between reality, illusion, and a formidable corpus of cinematic texts. In the process, the extensive range of intertextual devices and the role of self-reflexivity in the construction of OSO's intertextual identity come to be foregrounded. OSO's narrative structure, because of its intertextuality, makes a visible break from conventional Bollywood cinema in a remarkable way. Mackey's observation on the contemporary nature of such activity in understanding the success of OSO is a useful pointer in this regard.2

The story of OSO starts "thirty years ago," in line with plots that employ the technique of flashback, usually for suspense, with Om Prakash, or Orni (played by actor Shah Rukh Khan), who is a junior artiste in Bollywood, in love with the famous actress Shanti Priya (played by newcomer Deepika Padukone). It comes as a shock to Orni to learn that Shanti is secretly married to film producer Mukesh Mehra (Arjun Rampai), who subsequently murders her, because he does not want the news of their marriage to become public, fearing this might adversely affect Shanti's career. Orni, unable to rescue his beloved heroine from the fire that kills her, also dies, only to be reincarnated as Om Kapoor, or OK (also played by Shah Rukh Khan), a Bollywood superstar; now, armed with money and power, he is in a position of strength from which to execute his revenge on Mukesh, who has reinvented himself as "Mike," after a stint in Hollywood. Deepika Padukone reappears as Sandy (though not a reincarnation of Shanti Priya) and helps OK, along with Omi's mother and his friend Pappu, to carry his plan through. The movie ends with the revelation that not Sandy, but the ghost of Shanti Priya (also played by Deepika Padukone), has made OK's revenge possible. OK's plan to avenge Shanti Priya's death through the making of a film called Om Shanti Om (OSO) creates the better part of the self-reflexivity in the movie.

Intertextuality

Intertextuality is a term that describes the processes of cross-referencing by a text that relies overtly on other texts- whether they are past texts, contemporary texts, or textual conventions- in its composition. The term is most famously associated with Julia Kristeva, in her recapitulation of Bakhtin's concept of the novel's dialogic nature. "By introducing the status of the word as a minimal structural unit, Bakhtin situates the text within history and society, which are then seen as texts read by the writer, and into which he inserts himself by rewriting them" (Kristeva 65).

However, because her position suggests that all writing is intertextual, the problem of redundancy in defining intertextuality is simultaneously posed. Even if an attempt Is made to narrow the concept to such overt interaction between texts as is involved in plagiarism, epigraphs, allusion, or pastiche, the term still seems to lack a critical rigor.

One way of confronting this problem is to delimit the term with, for instance, the recognition that intertextuality implies "attitude"-typically of the later text toward the earlier. Parody is an obvious case in point. Ridicule through imitation is the function of parody, but intertextuality can and does extend attitude to include reverence, affirmation, skepticism, and rebuttal.

Although it is possible to trace intertextuality as far back as Shakespeare or even Aristotle, whose definition of mimesis was a response to Plato's discussion of the concept, intertextuality, as deployed in the argument of this article, and as evinced by OSO, is a deliberate proceeding marked by self-consciousness in representation. In the making of this case for intertextuality, a postmodern identity is also conferred on it, given that one of the most integral features and techniques of postmodernism is self-reflexivity, which usually involves breaking the reader/viewer's "willing suspension of disbelief. …

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