Rishi Kapoor didn’t make much of the song Om Shanti Om from Karz (1980) when he first heard what was to become one of Hindi cinema’s enduring hits.
Kapoor writes in his memoir Khullam Khulla, “However, I must admit that I was often hopelessly wrong in my initial reactions to some of these chartbusters. I remember Boney Kapoor coming to meet me, brimming with excitement, with a recording of ‘Om shanti om’ in Karz. The composers Laxmikant–Pyarelal and director Subhash Ghai, obviously ecstatic with the results, had sent him to Panchgani where I was shooting. I gave Boney an earful, saying what a lousy number it was and wondering how Laxmikant–Pyarelal could come up with such a number for me.”
This “lousy number” was plagiarised from Om Shanty Om by Trinidadian soca singer Ras Shorty I. The Hindi filmmakers didn’t even bother changing the title, probably in deference to the way the words “Om Shanti Om” fit so well in the chant-like chorus.
Subhash Ghai’s Karz also borrows from the Hindi classic Madhumati (1958) and the American movie The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975). Monty (Raj Kiran) marries the rapacious Kamini (Simi Garewal) and is killed by her soon after. Kamini moves into Monty’s mansion and boots out his widowed mother and sister. Monty is reborn as a singer, played by Rishi Kapoor. Monty 2.0 is introduced in the song Paisa Yeh Paisa on a technicoloured set with a one-rupee coin as the main background prop.
Songs are dexterously woven into Karz’s screenplay. Monty spies the gamine Tina (Tina Munim) at a party and is smitten by her. Tina is the inspiration for the romantic song Dard-E-Dil that follows.
The 10-minute long Om Shanti Om is performed at a function to mark the music company HMV fictitious golden jubilee celebration. Have you ever loved anybody, lost your heart to anybody, Monty asks the delirious crowd in Kishore Kumar’s voice. The youth anthem to the pain and pleasure of being in love is performed on a revolving dance floor in the shape of a record, above which hot pink-hued disco lights threaten to damage the optic nerve. As examples of 1980s Bollywood bling go, Om Shanti Om has few peers.
Kapoor’s dance moves match the ebullience of Kishore Kumar’s voice and Anand Bakshi’s lyrics. As electric guitars and trumpets play in the background, Kapoor whirls and twirls around the stage, keeping in step with the beats and the revolving camera. The simplicity of the movements allows the focus to remain on the lyrics and Kapoor’s joy-filled visage. Like his uncle Shammi, his niece Kareena and his son Ranbir, Rishi Kapoor is blessed with an inherent sense of rhythm, which has resulted in numerous crackling song and dance numbers throughout his career.
Monty’s performance proves to be so popular that the crowd demands an encore. He obliges with the instrumental version of Ek Hasina Thi, which suddenly brings on flashbacks to his previous incarnation. Monty passes out on the stage and ends up in a doctor’s chair with electric probes attached to his head. His journey into his past life begins, and it is time to pay off his karmic debts.