Om Shanti Om Redux, Onstage Glamor and Vibrant Colors Intact

Photos: Dr. Nik Niam

Photos: Dr. Nik Niam

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: It was a movie that defined a generation and its twelve songs have become all-time hits of Bollywood just as they have been ingrained in the modern Indian psyche. The movie Om Shanti Om took India by storm in 2007, conceived by Farah Khan while directing Bombay Dreams in 2002. Produced by megastar Shah Rukh Khan’s (he played the lead role) wife Gauri Khan for Rs. 400 million it went on to earn Rs. 1.5 billion, a record for that time, winning many awards, including 12 Filmfare nominations.

The movie and its songs certainly made a strong impression on Prakash Mohandas, a native of Chennai who came to the US in 2004 to complete a master’s in electrical engineering from the University of Texas in Austin, receiving it around the same time in 2007. He had a passion for theater and dance which began when he was 6 and continued throughout his school years and undergraduate studies combining hip hop, jazz and Kathak (for which he took lessons).

At UT, Prakash unleashed his potential and performed in fusion music, theater and dance programs. After graduating, he worked as an engineer at AMD for four years and at Dell till 2013 but laid the foundations for a dance school – Agni Dance – and juggled two careers for five years. In 2010, he also launched Agni Entertainment, a touring production company that has produced six theater and film projects.

All along he planned his first Broadway style musical theater production based on the hit movie that inspired him, and took many liberties to add some poke-in-the-ribs humor at the world of Bollywood. He opened his version called Om Shanti — Once upon a Time in Bollywood, an English musical with a 150-member cast and crew performing at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin in August 2013.

Dr. Rathna Kumar

Dr. Rathna Kumar

Prakash also delved into short and feature film production and distribution aiming to provide an outlet for South Asian producers in the US. He launched a Bollywood Day for open air dancing which has become annual event in Austin and also jumped into other musical productions and a graphic fantasy novel called Lanka.

Five years later, Prakash went on the road and brought Om Shanti — Once upon a Time in Bollywood to the Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park in Houston under the auspices of the Bayou City’s Grande Dame of Indian classical dance Rathna Kumar and her production company Samskriti. As part of the annual Bollywood Blast show, the performance by over 60 performers and crew was held this past Sunday, September 2 despite a muggy and drizzly start that still didn’t hold back the near full crowd of theater lovers.

The show had a strong streak of humor imbedded in it from the start with two young boys (Arya and Aditya Santosh) being told the story by a bearded Mr. India, an Anglo actor (Robert Deiki) with an ever-ready pun line for the boys and the audience “taking off on Bollywood Air”.

The opening scene brought out eleven male dancers strutting to “Om Shanti Om” in glittering silver-sequined suits and Prakash in the lead role of Om, the dancer with the Princess Shanti (Neha Sukumar) in his eyes.  Prakash choreographed all the dances set to the Hindi songs in the movie, all with extravagant costumes and vibrant colors that suit his perspective of life.

Though placed on one large set, the story went through many props, especially a bedroom scene which was repeated annoyingly too often, and way too many curtain calls. Faithful to the movie, the transition from life to afterlife for Om and Shanti was not clear and left many lost. And Rick Roemer playing King Khan came across finger-pointing as a drill master with little cunning.

Despite these issues, the musical entertained with its energy and fusion of dance styles – ballroom dancing couples mixing with belly dancers and Bollywood line dancers. A story told, definitively, with a style suited well to Prakash’s view of a world of diversity.

The actors: Prakash Mohandas (Om), Neha Sukumar (Shanti), Rick Roemer (Khan). Priya Dange (Maa/Bela), Harsh Joshi (Pappu), Robert Deiki (Mr. India), Arya Santosh (Arya), Aditya Santosh (Adi), Rohit Ramachandran (Minister), Parshuram Hotkar (King Mogambo).