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Pankaj Tripathi leads a dignified conversation on sex education – Beyond Bollywood

Writer-director Amit Rai shows great maturity, sensitivity at handling an edgy subject. Stellar acts by Pankaj Tripathi, Yami Gautam and the film’s young actors – Aarush Varma, Anvesha Vij.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️? (3.5 / 5)

By Mayur Lookhar

In the age of franchise, the title OMG 2 is perhaps a misnomer. A 11-year-gap between the first and the second film naturally opens the door for innovation, but there is very little common between Umesh Shukla’s Oh My God [2012] and now Amit Rai’s OMG 2 [2023]. Akshay Kumar features again in a divine role but this time as a different deity. Or as the CBFC recommended – a messenger of Lord Shiva.

It’s fair to say that the socio-political environment then and now has played a subtle part in the two narratives. If not God, it was convenient earlier to question the business of religion. Thus an atheist like Kanji Lalji Mehta [Paresh Rawal] was the ideal protagonist for OMG [2012]. 11-years-later, we live in a socio-politico environment where it would be akin to blasphemy to question faith. To be fair to Umesh Shukla, OMG [2012] never undermined true faith. His film, that was based on Bhavesh Mandalia’s famous Gujarati play Kanji Virrudh Kanji, which itself was partly inspired by Australian film The Man Who Sued God [2001], only questioned the commercialization of faith. At the end of it, Kanji Lalji Mehta acknowledged and respected the divine presence in his life.

Forward to 2023, Amit Rai’s protagonist Kanti Sharan Mudgal [Pankaj Tripathi] is a devout Hindu, a Shiv Bhakt. So, it would be wrong to even label OMG 2 as any spiritual successor. One questioned the business of faith. The other is banking on a certain vertical of an ancient [Sanatan] culture to address the crisis at hand. There is no ‘act of God’ here but an act of human that brings a storm in Kanti Sharan Mudgal and his son’s life.

The two worlds are poles apart, but the Amit Rai film truly imbibes the OMG abbreviation. Firstly, it’s a common expression during any pleasurable act. In the context of OMG 2, it’s also a silent expression whilst reacting to a video that has gone viral.

Mudgal’s teenage son Vivek [Aarush Varma] finds his future at the crossroad as he is dismissed from school after being accused of inappropriate conduct in the school lavatory. Ironically, the school doesn’t question the illegal video recording in a private space. Early on, like the society, Mudgal, too, condemns his son’s action. When helpless, a human seeks divine guidance. The faithful Mudgal’s prayers are answered in the form of a Shiva messenger [Akshay Kumar], who guides him on how to save his son’s future. In the process, OMG 2 also strives to strike the right conversation around sex education. Mudgal draws on aphoristic Sutra-verse, other such literature to hammer home his point.

It’s very brave of Rai to resort to faith, rather a certain cultural vertical, to take up the larger cause in the current social-political environment. Rai is courageous in his narrative, but he observes great maturity, sensitivity in dealing with a tricky subject in the most dignified way. There’s a sincere call for Kamashashtra [sex education] but along the way, OMG 2 also sheds light on the societal hypocrisy, and spells out real vulgarity.

Every living race is likely to have Gods that resemble it. If the Gods themselves didn’t have vasna [lust], then how would mankind have taken birth? This is arguably the strongest point that Mudgal raises in court. He’s dragged the prestigious school, few fake lust professionals and even a pharmacy owner [played by noted journalist Parag Chapekar] to court. Interestingly, just like OMG [2012], the protagonist here hasn’t spared himself too.

After gaining true wisdom, Mudgal realizes that that his son did no wrong. He blames himself first for not respecting his son’s dignity. OMG 2 is largely a fight for dignity where the faithful’s arguments are totally justified. Contrary to earlier fears, the shift in mindset is not an overnight one. Rai cleverly uses the gap between the first and the second court date to educate his protagonist on the way forward. The divine intervention serves more as a guiding light. Mudgal pulls in the hard yards to first educate himself on sutra-verses. He also opens his eyes to what truly constitutes as vulgar in this modern society.

We say Satyam Shivam Sundaram in our prayers, but often lose sight of how satya [truth] is Shiv. The Shiv avtaar [Akshay Kumar] tells Mudgal to be fearless and speak the truth. Mudgal is concise in his earlier defense, but when the pressure piles up, that is when he speaks fearlessly. Yes, certain things make the opposing lawyer Kamini, and maybe some traditional audiences uncomfortable, but the text, tone, visual that Mudgal presents in his son’s defense isn’t vulgar by any stretch of imagination.

Among many things, Mudgal rightly points out how those who preach morality, are often the ones who enjoy viral content. As Mudgal says, “Dekhne main sharam nahi aayi” (watched shamelessly but are quick to character assassinate).

OMG 2 stands out for its courageous yet sensitive writing, taut screenplay. Rai doesn’t compromise on the local [MP] lingo as Mudgal, his wife and a few earthy characters stick to their roots. A tale set in central India, Rai respects the local culture. However, his film doesn’t strike you as any Ujjain, MP tourism.

Pankaj Tripathi

Having excelled in negative roles earlier, Pankaj Tripathi has shown his versatility in many positive, few quirky roles too. As a human being, Tripathi takes pride in his roots. That makes him a natural fit to play a Kanti Sharan Mudgal. There’s a certain freshness to his look, but more importantly, it’s the heart that matters. Tripathi is a rare breed who has this very pleasing tone, even when he plays negative characters.

Last year, Tripathi moved us dearly with his portrayal of the extremely innocent humble farmer in Sherdil: The Pilibhit saga. Kanti Sharan Mudgal is innocent too but he also required a fearless attitude. Mudgal does makes Kamini uncomfortable in the odd arguments, but he is a modicum of dignity throughout this court drama. Tough times often unite a family, and it’s evident how his daughter and wife too gradually understand and respect the new, fearless Kanti Sharan Mudgal.

You get goosebumps when Mudgal bows to a commercial sex worker, who is called by the opposing lawyer to prove that the school doesn’t hold any bias against Vivek Mudgal. The commercial sex worker’s child also studies is the same affluent school. Tripathi plays this character with utmost dignity, clarity and conviction. This act is a sheer virtuoso.

Yami Gautam as Kamini in OMG 2 [2023)

While Tripathi is a proven master, Yami Gautam Dhar has improved tremendously in the recent years. Maybe, it’s the marriage but we’ve seen an intense Yami lately. Dhar has proved her detractors wrong with stellar acts in films like Bala [2019], and more recently Lost [2023]. She’s played a lawyer before in Batti Gul Meter Chalu [2018], but not one like Kamini of OMG 2. A pretty woman lawyer strongly speaking about cultural boundaries is refreshing for a Bollywood film. In the past, filmmakers chose the easy way out by having regressive Inderjit Chadda-like lawyers. Here’s a boy [Vivek] trying to regain his dignity. He’s posed some tough questions by a female lawyer.

Kamini is usually a vamp name. There is a certain ruthlessness to Yami as Kamini. She has a commanding presence in every court. She isn’t afraid to come up with hard strategies to cross examine, and break down people in court. The background music also adds a layer to Kamini’s vampish personality. Though largely in control of her emotions, Mudgal does get on Kamini’s nerves. The viewers are amused when Mudgal seeks Kamini’s consent to wax lyrical about her beauty. He does so in chaste Sanskritised-Hindi. As tough as she is, but every pretty woman likes a bit of chivalry. She is clueless on the meaning, and simply smiles. However, when Mudgal resorts to direct conversations, she takes strong objection to the language. The Mudgal-Kamini duel is what makes OMG 2 so engaging. The balanced nature of the arguments goes a long way in covering the good, bad and the ugly around the sex education. Yami chips in with a confident and an intimidating act.

Much like OMG [2012], Akshay Kumar has a cameo here too. In fact, it feels more truncated. Credit to the super star who embraces the adequate but impactful screen time. Kumar’s Shiv avtaar doesn’t cling onto Mudgal’s shoulder. He is simply a guiding light whenever Mudgal finds himself in a rut. The hairdo may not be natural, but the damaru beats in the background help to find the Shiva resonance. Kumar curbs his natural humour, excitable energy and simply sticks to his director’s brief in delivering a measured performance.

Aarush Varma

The Vivek school controversy naturally creates a gulf between the siblings, but the sister [played by Anvesha Vij] eventually protects her brother’s integrity. Young Aarush Varma and Anvesha Vij show great promise in their difficult characters. One is not confident of the mother [played by Geeta Agrawal]. Kamini senses that she could be the weak link in the Mudgal family. She poses some intimate queries. Mrs. Mudgal breaks into a laughter, much to the surprise of her husband. “I came here to talk about my son, but I’m being asked to comment on the size of my husband”. Everyone present in the court and the viewers are LOL. The perfect casting for the Mudgal family ensures that these artistes keep you hooked with their flawless acts.

Pavan Malhotra

We feared whether Pavan Malhotra’s Justice Pushpendra Nagar could turn into any Sunderlal Tripathi – Saurabh Shukla’s over-the-top character in Jolly LLB 2 [2017]. Nagar has his odd embarrassing moment, but he largely maintains his composure.

Arun Govil will be relieved to play a character [hypocrite school principal] that is anything but like Lord Ram. Similarly, it is a cathartic moment for Govind Namdev, who has spoken about how the negative characters, especially playing a rapist, affected him in his personal space. Namdev’s mahant character initially severs ties with Mudgal but once he unearths about the shocking molestation of his little daughter/niece by her uncle, he begins to understands the larger cause that Mudgal has undertaken.

Though lengthy [156 mins] OMG 2 isn’t exhaustive. The climax does turn into an open court drama. This might not please the purists, but we respect how Rai wanted this to play out in front of a young audience that has thronged to the court premises. Save for the Akele Chal Padiyo track, there is nothing to rave about the playback music.

It’s not music but OMG 2 will be judged by its message(s). The Amit Rai directorial makes a strong pitch to have sex education in school. The question though is how? Judge Nagar and Kamini both ask Mudgal, “How will you teach it?” There is no definite answer as Mudgal shouts, “khulke” (openly). This reviewer only had the odd guest lecture on sex education is his school, ages ago. We are not privy to the syllabus now. We’re keen to know the text/manner in which sex education is imparted in contemporary schools. OMG 2 bats for sex education, but itself doesn’t lay down the method. Even after ages, are our Sutra-verses still the best guide here? However, it’s a tough task in a digital age where human tendency is to gravitate towards porn. That is no education but voyeurism.

Certain voices will perceive OMG 2 as another attempt to propagate a particular agenda. That would be totally unfair as OMG 2 largely banks on a certain cultural vertical to a faith. One will question the wisdom behind showing some skull-cap detractors of Kanti Sharan Mudgal. Kamini, too, subtly reminds the court that sex education conversations are deemed blasphemous in certain cultures. Rai though does the balancing act by having a Muslim best friend of Vivek. When Mudgal requests Zaheer to know what really transpired with Vivek in school? Zaheer requests Mudgal to swear by Mahakaal [Shiva] to not disclose this conversation to his parents.

After 156 minutes of debating everything around sex education, OMG 2 can hold its head high for carrying out the many conversations in a dignified way. Bravo Amit Rai. Kudos to Pankaj Tripathi, Yami Gautam, and Akshay Kumar.

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