Amit Rai: “OMG2 had to be a mainstream film!”



Amit Rai, who has written and directed the film that has withstood the Gadar2 onslaught—OMG2. Photo: Amit Rai

He has tried out a mainstream commercial movie for the first time, succeeded—and how! Amit Rai, writer-director of OMG2, which has now crossed the Rs. 140 crore mark domestically and having done very well overseas as well, is gung-ho about a project that he said had to have widespread appeal. As he puts it, “This subject could not have been offbeat. It is designed as a courtroom drama with a universal message delivered with a pinch of humor. It had to be a mainstream film!”

Rai’s debut film, Road to Sangam (2010), was a cinematic masterpiece that made the festival rounds but had little scope for audience endorsement in those times. The film was about an urn of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes that was found 50 years after his death.

His next was I-Pad, a realistic narration of what came to us commercially as Pad Man in 2018, and was adapted from the real story of Arunachalam Muruganthanam, who developed low-cost sanitary pads for women and promoted their use over dirty cloth.

“I had registered my story in 2010, way before Akshay Kumar made the film. Being a son of a mill worker, who lost his job when mills were turned into malls in Mumbai, I wanted to tell the story of a market where local talent is outclassed by big behemoths,” Rai had stated in an interview then.

This time round, Rai has made the cut. The industry, ever hit-obsessed, is looking at him in a new light, as the man who has given Akshay Kumar his first hit after an 18 month-long chain of flops, with a film that has successfully withstood the box-office might of Gadar2, with which it dared to clash. “I was invited to Gadar2’s success party too, and my film was my only visiting card!” he says.

The most relevant aspect of his film is the way the censors tried to pulverize it and successfully stymied the film from reaching its target audience—the teenagers. The filmmakers accepted an ‘Adults Only’ certification only so that the content was not mauled by absurd cuts.

“We accepted their illogical cuts finally!” says Rai ruefully. “Can you believe that they cut off something we quoted from the Bhagwad Gita?! In the Chhandogya Upanishad, one of the 10 principal ones, there is an important reference to the purity of women and the yoni (vagina). The censors felt that such things cannot be said openly! In a scene in my film, where the father leaves the school with his son, a truck passes by with a condom ad on it!”

He adds, “Teenagers today have access to everything on their phones! YouTube has opened the floodgates to everything, and a teenager can watch rape videos and get all kinds of wrong information! And Prasoon Joshi-sir, the chairperson of the CBFC, has himself made an ad for condoms that is even shown in shows during films with Universal certification!”

Akshay Kumar with Pankaj Tripathi in OMG2. Akshay’s character had to be called a messenger of Lord Shiva, thanks to the censors. photo: Hype PR

Rai mentions a very crucial point. “The last funny part was that I could not show Akshay Kumar, who is supporting and guiding the lead character, as Shivji (Lord Shiva) himself—I could show him only as a Shiv ka doot (a messenger of Shiv)!! I think that was the height of childishness!”

Explaining this, he says, “It is said that Shivji’s vehicle, Nandi the bull, as Nandkishore Maharaj, originally wrote the Kaam Shastra, a manual on sex and romance, which was only extended by sage Vatsyayana as Kama Sutra many centuries later. Our texts have written about this Raas Shastra of Lord Shiva and Parvati and so, organically, the God here had to be Lord Shiva. If the story and message had to do with a family, for example, it would have been Lord Ram!”

The problem, Rai goes on, is human, and not metro-centric. And the misguided certification robbed the film of the target audience, so the producers have now decided to release the film on OTT, when the time comes, in all its uncut glory. “Hopefully, teenagers will get to watch the film, or parents might ask them to do so,” he says.

Like in many such cases, the appreciation and business done by OMG2 vindicate the fact that the people have loved the film. Like many such films, notably Vicky Donor, there has also been a social impact. Reveals Rai, “The newspaper, Dainik Jagran, has organized a full-day seminar on the film. There has been another screening and discussion only for teachers in Meerut. The Sindhu Education Society in Ulhasnagar has decided to include Sex Education in 15 schools affiliated to them from the current academic year.”

The film was written over a long time and several producers turned it down. Rai has no regrets about this, and diplomatically says, “The subject did not suit their needs!” He knew Ashwin Varde, who had entered Rai’s life as a co-producer of I-Pad when the film was almost complete, and he finally narrated the subject to him. Ashwin took him to Akshay Kumar, who loved the subject, and the rest is his-story!

Says the director, “The plot—a God helping someone, a social issue and a court case, they all fitted the OMG—Oh My God! franchise, and we decided to call the film OMG2.”

About the casting, Rai is candid. “I had wanted Paresh Rawal in Pankaj Tripathi-ji’s role, why should I lie? But he had his own reasons for not doing the film. I rejected the thought of casting Manoj Bajpayee because he was already shooting the courtroom drama, Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai. The only other sterling talent for this role was Pankaj-ji, who has become a good friend now, and is incidentally, also the son of a priest.”

Similarly, Vidya Balan, his original choice as the lawyer (“I wanted an actress, not a star!”) also turned down the offer. Rai is very grateful to Yammi Gautam Dhar, who told him, “I do not have much of a role here. But the film is very important, so I will do it!” Quips Rai, “Her character was deliberately called ‘Kamini’, which  translates as a voluptuous woman, but only you caught the significance in your review—no other critic did!”

Pavan Malhotra, who played the key role of the judge, and was the protagonist of Road to Sangam, is decreed by him as “More than a friend”. “He is like a brother, and he is a magnificent actor!” says the filmmaker.

Rai must have received congratulatory and complimentary messages in droves. Is there any one that he specially cherishes? “An elderly friend of mine, Shyampat Yadav, who is a teacher and whose opinion I regard very highly, watched the film and quietly placed Rs. 51 in my hand and said that I had made something remarkable,” he replies.

We have been speaking on the phone, but I can imagine his smile…





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