Monday, November 20, 2006

postheadericon Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara

Not being a literature major I haven't read Shakespeare in much depth, but like most people, I have my favorite plays of the Bard that I will read over and over: "The Merchant of Venice", "Hamlet", "Macbeth", "Twelfth Night" and last but definitely not least, "Othello". I first read "Othello" when I was 15 or 16 and I couldn't believe how darn tragic it was, since then I have read it often and every single time I come away feeling very melancholy, a feeling that somehow sits well on me especially on a grey,overcast windy day like yesterday, except, yesterday I didn't read "Othello" but rather watched the Bollywood adaptation of it titled "Omkara".

After watching Omkara last evening and "Black" the night before, I am convinced that Indian cinema has entered a brand new, exciting age...we now have a troupe of directors and actors that are keen to give us quality movies with brilliant storylines and passionate execution of those lines by actors committed to their craft. We are now seeing movies that make us go "wow" and we come away from them sated and yet wanting more.

(Ajay Devgan and Nasarudeen Shah)

Ajay Devgan, whom I always believe could whip the crown off Shahrukh's head in an instant if he really wanted to, has been perfectly cast as Omakara or Othello. I can't say he delivered the best performance in the movie (that honor has to go to Saif Ali) but to be fair to Ajay the role is such it only demanded a brooding presence, and with his smouldering eyes, intense stare and brooding good looks, who better to do that than the Devgan? Whereas the Bard's Othello was a Moor (dark-skinned and of a different race from the white Spaniards he commanded), Omkara is a half-caste, so while the racial angle may be missing, Bhardwaj has introduced something closer to home, our precoccupation with people's castes and our dismissal or veneration of them depending on where they are positioned on the caste ladder. .

Saif Ali Khan, another favorite of mine, is paan-chewing, chapped lipped, scruffy Langda Tyagi (Iago in Othello) and he delivers a strong and memorable performance ( his was also the meatiest role in the film). His role stays quite close to that of Iago's except, he is Omkara's bro-in-law in the film instead of his lieutenant, and Viveik Oberoi (Kesu) is Cassio or Omkara's successor.

Instead of Venice, Omkara is set against the milieu of political and gangster warfare in the dusty, rustic interiors of India's Uttar Pradesh and it follows a warlord's descent into sexual jealousy and the wreckage resulting from his amorous obsession. Set as it is in the western villages of Uttar Pradesh the language is a dialect of Hindi and although abound with "gaalis" (cuss words) of the very worst kind, it is perfectly and ably rendered by the cast of the film.

In Othello the object of Desdemonia's object of infedility is an embroidered handkerchief, but in Omkara, in keeping with Indian traditions and values, it has been replaced by the cummerband. Kareena Kapoor plays Desdemonia and while her acting is superb, I think the women in Omkara are totally overshadowed the powerful roles that the male actors possess.

(Saif Ali Khan and Ajay Devgan)

Omkara is a dark movie with fierce emotions - there's strong loyalty juxtaposed with harsh betrayal, insane jealousy with unconditional love, raw passion, undying devotion, terrible recklessness, and all of these emotions in ample measure. The cinematography is fantastic, the music will blow you away, but best of all, each of the actors has put in a performance that is worth their weight in gold. Vishal Bhardwaj has truly pulled off a marvellous feat with a very worthy, and in some ways, an even more complex, Othello in "Omakra".

But I will tell you I was disappointed that Vishal Bhardwaj chose not to end the movie in typical Indian movie style (they all lived happily ever after) but chose to remain true to the story of "Othello" to the end, because as you will know, "Othello" ends on a terribly tragic note and so does this wonderful movie.

Now I'm off to see "Maqbool" which is Vishal Bhardwaj's remake of MacBeth.

In re-reading my post I realize I haven't done much of a review so for those of you interested in knowing more, let me guide you to The Storyteller's blogspot for a more detailed one, or to my favorite reviewer, Blogical Conclusion.


Ishrath said...

wah,wah! i adored omkara when i watched it, and will have to loudly agree with all your approbation for this movie. i loved the dehaati-chic, and i loved saifu [am NOT saif's fan] in as the chilling langda tyagi. konkana sensharma was mindblowing, and even kareena wasn't her annoying , giggly self and played a suitable desdemona.
am also waiting for maqbool. irfan is supposed to have excelled. i hope bhardwaj pulls a hattrick and adapts another of the bard's plays soon. which would you prefer? i wanna watch aamir cast as hamlet. what say?

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Ishrath!

Haan ji, wasn't Omkara a really well made movie? Tell me something honestly - do you think India's chances of getting an Oscar might have been greater had Omkara been picked instead of Rang de Basanti?

And I love the idea of playing casting director. I think your pick for Aamir as Hamlet is excellent, infact, Aamir in any role is excellent for that man really does have talent. How about Manoj Bajpai as King Lear? That man can really act - have you seen any of his movies?

Beloved Dreamer said...

Unbelievable my friend, the things I learn from you. I am sure since having English Lit as my second in College. I would love the film but I guess I would not be able to understand it. Gosh you are so lucky to be able to do all these wonderful things. We Americans are rather dull.
Lotus my friend I live to learn from you. A great post! Have you read "The Age of Shakespeare", "Will in The World" or "Shakespeare's Face"? They are great books. My favorite of the Bard's is "The Tempest"
Oh and thanks for your truly kind words about my poem.


Princess Jibi said...

I havent seen the movie as yet, but I have the songs from the movie, the sound good, I love the love song : O Saathi Re

Ishrath said...

of all his characters, i used to believe that othello was the dorkiest. but ajay salvaged it in the movie. to be honest though, bipasha basu stuck out like a sore thumb - her make up was too trendy to belong in the film. why, even someone like aishwarya with her gora looks was perfectly cast as folksy in the "ishq kameena" song. apart from that, everyone else really gets under the skin of the characters.
i loved the naina song, and uth jaa ri gudiya. o saathi re is in a whole different league altogether.

Amy said...

Oooo...I loved Black - it was absolutely gorgeous! I'm not a big fan of Saif Ali Khan but this looks good! I agree with you, Bollywood is entering the world stage but i would like to see more original storylines. Black seemed exactly like "the miracle worker" and the whole Helen Keller thing and Othello and the Shakespeare interpretations has been done quite alot. Still, they are timeless and i don't think people ever get sick of them!I also like how you said that the movie ends tragically cause that was what Shakespeare was all about - tragedy! I don't think Romeo and Juliet would have been as famous if they had married, had kids and bought a house in the suburbs! Great review by the way!

Prithi Shetty said...

Definitely agree with your comment that Hindi Cinema has entered a brand new age. Their output in 2005-6 has been really enjoyable.

Lotus Reads said...

Oh, BD, you do the say the nicest things...I love how interested you are in different cultures. I have seen those "Shakespeare" titles you mention, but I must confess, I haven't read any. One day perhaps I'll do a Shakespeare-reading theme for my books,it should be interesting!

Hello Princess Yes, the songs were different, weren't they? I still have the rented DVD here, perhaps later in the day when I start cooking dinner, I'll turn up the volume and listen to the songs and hum away. I hope you get to see the movie.

Lotus Reads said...

Ishrath I have to agree with you about Bipasha, she was badly cast, she wasn't even eye candy. I don't usually like Kareena Kapoor but even she, as you mentioned in a previous comment, did a good job. I had to smile at the inclusion of the song "I just called to say I love you", I hadn't realized that deep in the villages in UP, the women like to seranade the men with angrezi love songs!

Amy Hi, so happy to have you your new profile picture! ;) Have you seen any other good Hindi movies recently? Would love some suggestions. I have "Dor" and "Vivah" which I intend watching and "Maqbool" ofcourse. Let's play the casting game that Ishrath initiated, if there was an Indian Romeo and Juliet, who would you cast to play those roles? Hamlet?

Prithi I think we're in for a great many treats this year. It's exciting isn't it?

Amy said...

Hey again!
Yay! So many questions - haha - i did my profile picture in paint, i'm not very good with computers either- i basically just cut and pasted my face onto Aishwarya's body! I actually haven't seen many new movies lately- i'm waiting for Umrao Jaan from the internet. Have you seen that yet? I'm still a baby bollywood watcher - there are so many movies and so little time! Hmmmm...Hamlet...i think it would have to be Aamir as well - he's just got that charisma and he looks very princ like and he's goodlooking but not too goodlooking. But who would be Ophelia??

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Amy! Ok, I'm going to give it a shot, too. I'd love to have a picture of me with Ajay Devgan! ;)

Good choice with Aamir Khan he's so versatile, he could play Hamlet with ease. As for Ophelia, I'm leaning towards Rani Mukherjee. I can't remember if she's ever been paired with Aamir, it would be great to see them together.

And to answer your question, no I haven't seen the new Umrao Jaan...I'm waiting to read the book first.

Sugarlips said...

Absolutely gorgeous movie...I don't like Kareena at all but even Kareena was pretty reasonable in this movie.

Stay Beautiful..!!