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Omkara - Review

By: Taran Adarsh, IndiaFM

Friday, July 28, 2006

The much-hyped, keenly-anticipated Omkara, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello, hits the screens today. With a mammoth star cast and a gifted director [Vishal Bhardwaj] at the helm of affairs, Omkara is expected to prove a trailblazer, not only winning acclaim from those who appreciate realistic cinema, but also satisfying the needs of entertainment-seeking moviegoers.

Hollywood has, in the past, attempted cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare's works, including several versions of Othello. Although the original-source is Western, Vishal Bhardwaj and his team of writers have placed the plot in the Indian milieu... in the heartland of India, to be more specific.

Attempting a film like Omkara requires courage. It dares to swim against the tide. It defies the set rules of commercial cinema. It's not one of those candyfloss films. It's not sunshine cinema either. Nor does it follow trends... Omkara is a serious film, about real people, about real emotions. You may find it dark at times. Also disturbing. And the generous usage of expletives [MCs, BCs, Cs] and dialogues [sample: Teri aur meri kismet gadhe ke *@!# se likhi gayee hain] could give you a cold sweat.

Clearly, Omkara is not everybody's cup of tea, not everyone's idea of entertainment...

So, what works and what doesn't?
Vishal Bhardwaj is an accomplished storyteller. On surface, Omkara is Shakespeare's Othello, but the adaptation is very Indian. Human traits like suspicion and jealousy can be identified the world over and that's what Omkara highlights all through its 18 reels.

But one of the prime reasons why Omkara stands out from most Bollywood films is that every performance in the film is worth its weight in gold. And a few sequences are master strokes from writing and execution point of view. The film deserves brownie points for the change of events in its second hour specifically!

But you cannot ignore the deficiencies as well...
The slow pacing, the lingo spoken by the characters and the U.P. setting has its limitations. A film set in Mumbai, with generous doses of Mumbaiya lingo, appeals more in Mumbai/Maharashtra than in Gujarat, Punjab, Bihar or Rajasthan. Similarly, the U.P. dialect, the setting, the ambience, even the expletives would find tremendous identification from U.P. and Bihar, not at other regions.

Also, since the film follows an unconventional route, it tends to get dark and disturbing at times. Agreed, it's the demand of the story, but those who aren't aware of Shakespeare's Othello and the tragic end are bound to feel disturbed by the climax. The bloodshed and violent slant is also not something that would hold universal acceptance.

Omkara or Omi [Ajay Devgan] is a gifted chieftain who heads a gang of outlaws, which include the crafty Langda Tyagi [Saif Ali Khan] and the dynamic Kesu [Vivek Oberoi] amongst his chief cohorts. The story begins when Omi appoints Kesu and not Langda as his chief lieutenant.

Langda's pride is slighted and raging with envy he hatches a plot to falsely implicate Omi's beautiful lover Dolly [Kareena Kapoor] in a love affair with Omi's "favorite lieutenant" Kesu. With the unwitting aid of Indu [Konkana Sen Sharma], Langda's wife, and the willing help of Raju, a fellow grouch, Langda's plan takes shape and results in horrific tragedy.

Using petty insinuations and lies, Langda keeps poisoning Omi's mind till one day it snaps and Omi goes about tearing up his own safe and secure world. By the time he realizes what he has done and the backlash of his actions, it is too late.

Omkara's love for Dolly, Dolly's unquestioning love for Omi, Langda's warped loyalty and jealousy for Omi, Kesu's unswerving devotion to Omi -- all lead up to a dark tragedy where Omi finally realizes what he has done...

From Makdee to Maqbool to Omkara, Vishal Bhardwaj's transition has been simply remarkable. Omkara shows that Vishal is a brilliant storyteller, who has a terrific command over technique too. In fact, it wouldn't be erroneous to state that every sequence in the film bears the stamp of a genius and most importantly, someone who knows how to adapt an English play into a 2-hour Hindi film.

Vishal's storytelling is equally noteworthy. The transition from a simple story to a complex tale and from a plain love story to a shocking, tragic culmination is what generates a terrific impression of the film. The narrative is absorbing in parts in the first half [it takes time to get used to the lingo], but the drama and the tense moments in the second hour is what really matters.

A few sequences leave an indelible impression...

  • The dialogue between Kareena's father and Ajay at the start: 'If a daughter is not loyal to her father, can she ever be loyal to her lover?';

  • Ajay choosing Vivek over Saif as the chief lieutenant and the varied expressions on Saif's face;

  • The conversation between Saif and Raju, who is in love with Kareena, at the banks of the river. Again, note Saif's expressions when Raju mocks at him: 'What could you do when Omkara made Kesu the lieutenant?';

  • The 'kamar-bandh' sequence in the second hour, when Ajay tells Kareena to search for it;

  • All sequences between Saif and Ajay, when Saif tries to poison Ajay's mind against Kareena and Vivek;

  • The climax - the 'suhaag raat' sequence - and the dastardly act that follows. It would be wrong to reveal the end, but the conclusion to Kareena's character is sure hair-raising.

But, on the other hand, Omkara tends to get too realistic at times. The director and his team of writers [Vishal Bhardwal, Robin Bhatt, Abhishek Chaubey] could've toned down the expletives in the film. Also, the tense-filled moments get too heavy after a point and would work only for those who appreciate realistic cinema. Vishal's music is in sync with the mood of the film and might appeal to connoisseurs of traditional music, but not to a wide audience. The 'Beedi' track holds mass appeal, while 'Naina Thag Lenge' is rich in lyrical value and has a haunting feel. Cinematography [Tassaduq Hussain] is excellent at most times, but certain dark scenes could've been better lit. Dialogues are natural to the core, but, again, the expletives in the dialogues make you uncomfortable at times.

Omkara is embellished with great performances, but the one who steals the show is, without a shred of doubt, Saif Ali Khan, who plays the evil Langda Tyagi brilliantly. His looks, his mannerisms, his body language, his overall behavioral pattern takes you by complete surprise. The actor deserves distinction marks for portraying the role with such realism that you start hating him after a point. Sure, the actor deserves the highest award for this role!

Ajay makes a stirring and powerful interpretation of a man haunted by uncertainty about his lover's faithfulness. The serious look that Ajay carries suits him to the T. Of course, Ajay is exceptional in the film and looks every inch the character he portrays.

Kareena delivers an award-worthy performance. She looks gorgeous even without makeup. Vivek Oberoi is alright; he doesn't really get much scope. Konkona Sen Sharma is outstanding. She makes a towering impact every time she appears on screen. Bipasha [sp. app.] is highly effective. Naseeruddin Shah is adequate. Deepak Dobriyal [Raju] is a supremely talented actor.

On the whole, Omkara is a brilliant film from the making point of view and is also embellished with topnotch performances. But the box-office will be a different story altogether. Thanks to the U.P. dialect, the film will appeal more in the U.P./Bihar belt mainly. In several circuits, the dialect, the dark and disturbing theme and also the expletives will curtail its prospects to an extent. The high pricing will also go against it in some circuits.

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