Fremont's Paki-Indian Naz 8 Theater Proves There's No Place Like Om
It had been too long since I'd been to the Naz 8 (www.naz8.com), the multiplex in Fremont that features the best in Asian film. (It had been too long since I'd been anywhere, but that's a different issue). It was Veteran's Day. Tom called at ten and asked if I'd like to go see On Shanti Om at 3 p.m. at the Naz. I had no immediate plans, but I would have thrown them out the window, anyway, so delighted was I. I said yes.
We were joined in this adventure by two novelists who also teach in the English department at UC Berkeley: Vikram Chandra and his wife Melanie Abrams, both extremely knowledgeable about Indian film, Bollywood and otherwise. And afterwards we were to eat at their favorite Pakistani place. Veteran’s Day coincided, almost, with Diwali, the Festival of Lights, (http://www.diwalifestival.org/), and the theater was packed with families. I adored the movie, set in the Bollywood filmmaking world: Part 1 in the 70s, part 2 (after the intermission) today, with lots of in-jokes about Bollywood stars. Amazing costumes, sets, and, of course, highly-colored, energetic musical numbers. Its star is the Bollywood hunk Shah Rukh Khan, playing a Junior Artiste (read: featured player) named Om in the 70s who’s desperately in love with a Star (played by newcomer Deepika Padukone; Bollywood rivals France in discovering nubile beauties.)
Some mystical stuff happens, and Om is reincarnated as a Star 30 years later. My favorite actor, however, was the Armand Assante-like Arjun Rampal, playing a villainous movie producer.
Usually I go nuts when the audience is as volatile as the Naz 8’s – they chat, light up their cellphone screens checking for messages, answer their phones, and, after the intermission, many children came back with pacifier-shaped lollipops that blinked red, like tiny emergency signals. But at the Naz it’s part of the show. I also love the vocal reactions, even applause, to various plot revelations.
During the intermission we got samosas, bhel puri, and chai at the concession stand. My favorite number: My Heart is Full of the Pain of Disco, a dream sequence (in more ways than one) because Shah Rukh is theoretically playing a deaf dumb and armless guy in another wacky Bollywood movie, but in this number he writhes, complete with arms, and often soaking wet and half-clothed – I wasn’t really aware of his astonishing abs until this moment.
When reincarnated 2007 Om enters the humble home of the mother of the 1977 Om, I couldn't resist: "There's no place like Om," I said to Tom.
Another favorite sequence: a disco birthday party for superstar Om, attended by most of the current crop of Bollywood stars in cameo appearances. I recognized Salman Khan (no relation, www.salmankhan.net/) and Amitabh Bachan (www.amitabhbachchan.net/), but I longed for supertitles identifying them all.
I truly was transported to another place during the 3-hour spectacle. And I wish more movies ended with a credit sequence like Om Shanti Om’s: all the technicians, including grips and gaffers, prancing and dancing down a red carpet at a premiere screening, credit by credit – ending with a neat joke when director Farah Khan finds the crowds have dissipated before her arrival.
The new Pakistani place turned out to be my old favorite Shalimar, whose several locations, including Fremont, I first wrote about in 2003. (And later mentioned the original San Francisco location in).
The joint, located in a mini-mall just a couple of blocks from the Naz, was jumping: not only every table filled (some with fashionably-dressed beauties who looked like they’d just stepped off a Bollywood set), but a steady stream of customers picking up called-in to-go orders.
This is what we had: murgh boti tandoori (boneless tandoori chicken), saag gosht (lamb and spinach curry), tandoori lamb chops, bindi (stewed okra), mutter paneer (peas and cheese), saffron rice, naan, yoghurt, gajar halva (carrot pudding). This is what we tried to order but they didn’t have that night: stewed goat, salmon, prawns, raita. We brought home mili juli sabzi (mixed vegetables), daal masala (stewed lentils), and garlic naan for Tom’s wife Monique. The (free) chai flowed. Everything was delicious, especially the unusually spiced mutter paneer. And the whole feast was $65.53 (only occasioning a small panic when I was reminded Shalimar is cash only).
It was a perfect afternoon and evening: both exotic and familiar. I have to put the Naz 8 back in heavy rotation. And, though I love the Fremont Shalimar, and urge you to go there (bring cash), there are many other Pakistani and Indian places in Fremont I intend to explore.