Thursday, November 16, 2006

Omkara, India's Othello


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.


(Konkana and Ajay Devgan)

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.

3 comments:

Shashikiran Mullur said...

Hi Lotus: The situation got oppressive for me when Kesu asked Roderigo to distribute Omkara's wedding invitations. I switched off the player. Not a bad make though. I am now reading the original and hearing it on audio.

Lotus Reads said...

hi, Shashikiran!

Fantastic to see you here...yes, see, that's what I loved so much about Omkara, it made me want to go back and read "Othello" which, like you, I am in the midst of doing. Actually I first published this post on my anthropologistwannabe blog, so if you're interested in reading what comments it generated do take a look here:

http://anthropologistwannabe.blogspot.com/2006/11/omkara.htm

iselldreams said...

i really really liked this movie.
Although i didnt like Karena Kapoor earlier, this movie let me remove my prejudices for sure.