Director Umesh Shukla talks about how special the recently-released OMG — Oh My God! is to him and why

The recently-released OMG – Oh My God! is undeniably Umesh Shukla’s biggest project. “It’s also my most special film till date and will always remain so. The subject is dear to my heart, Pareshji is in it, Akshay is playing God and it’s my very successful play that I have made into a movie. For the first time ever,” says Umesh Shukla, director of the film and the play on which it is based, Kishan v/s Kanhaiya.

Umesh and writer Bhavesh Mandalia (of the play and the film) wrote 16 drafts before locking the final screenplay. “A play is mainly an actor’s medium. After the director has choreographed everything, it is up to the actors to play it out, spontaneously change lines and react to situations. Once the curtain rises, the director can’t do anything. But a film is more visual and hence more of a director’s game,” says the director, who has been doing theatre for the last 20 years, while having dabbled in films in the last decade, his directorial debut being called Dhoondhte Reh Jaaoge (2009).

The movie revolves around Paresh Rawal, an atheist, who decides to take God and, in his ‘absence’, godmen to court when his antiques’ shop is destroyed in a natural disaster. Bhavesh says the concept for writing a play came with the realisation that nothing path-breaking was happening in the theatre scene for the last decade. “What was getting reflected was the rise of television with its slapstick humour and kitchen politics. We decided to make an entertaining shocker,” he says, adding that he had always thought that the play would lend itself to a movie eventually and had been working on it since its inception.

No anti-God movie this

Umesh says, “Most people are worried if this is an anti-God movie. No, it isn’t. Also, it isn’t about just one religion. We have references from the Bible, the Quran and the Gita. Is the movie against the façade created by religious leaders? Yes, it is. It is against the manner in which this belief in God plays out.”

While Akshay and Paresh have worked together on several occasions, this one is a special project for them to cherish, says the director. “The idea of having Akshay play Krishna was suggested by Pareshji. He said he had always done these slapstick comedies with Akshay and this would be something fresh for the audience to relish. They make a fabulous Krishna-Arjun Jodi.”

And contrary to what reports suggest, Umesh insists that Akshay’s is not a cameo. “He is there right through the film. Charismatic and mischievous, he fits Krishna to a T. We used to hold workshops with him every morning between 5.30 and 6 so that he could come to the sets well-prepared.”

Umesh and Bhavesh say the focus groups for whom the film was screened showed little or no recognition of scenes from the play. “After the interval had gone past, a few asked us if there was any link to a particular play that they had watched. That’s because, we have changed a whole lot while adapting it to film,” says Bhavesh. In the film, Krishna is visible to all, while in the play he was only seen by Paresh’s character, Om Puri’s character is an addition and there is a big change in the climax.

Both agree that they want the film to touch people and connect emotionally and make them aware rather than just be another crore-crossing statistic. “What’s the idea if it makes the money, but doesn’t hit the nail on the head?” asks Bhavesh. “You wouldn’t believe I have cast actual sadhus in the movie by rounding them off from areas like Kalyan and Bhiwandi in Mumbai. At the end of the shoot, they were lining up for letters from me to procure cards for being junior artists. As sadhus, they live a job-free life. But when they came on the sets, they learnt to earn, got good food and saw another side to life. I suppose nobody has even guided them differently else they wouldn’t be spotted doing drugs on the streets. But it was heartening to see that change. I wish our film also can be an agent of change,” he smiles.