Vantage point

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Omkara Review

It was impossible to watch Omkara without comparing it to director Vishal Bharadwaj's previous Shakespeare film Maqbool. And Omkara comes in second. Primarily because, at least in my personal opinion, Macbeth is a far better play than Othello, both in terms of the story and the prose. Omkara has a couple of more chinks though. The casting for Maqbool was perfect. Omkara has two actors badly miscast. First one is Ajay Devgan. While the man may carry off superficially intense roles like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, he is out of his depth portraying a modern-day version of Othello. He just can not convey the dilemma, the confusion, and the betrayed trust well enough. A second minor miscasting is that of Bipasha Basu. I like Bipasha and think she is a decent enough actor, especially among the current lot. But she is too sophisticated to carry off a Billo Chaman Bahar. She failed at the latkas and jhatkas miserably, and her dances as well as mannerisms suggested a model who has turned up at a fancy dress party dressed as a nachnewaali, rather than an actual nachnewaali.

Those were the negatives. But even after taking them into consideration, Omkara is a brilliant movie. Bharadwaj has yet again managed to project the bard's story into contemporary India superbly. He has chosen as the setting UP's political world in which baahubalis, or strongmen play a very crucial role. This time he has stayed much more faithful to the actual plot than Maqbool where he actually made Lady Macbeth the wife of the King of Scotland. The only variation one sees is adding more flesh to Emilia/Indu, played effortlessly by the talented Konkana Sen Sharma. He has also added a bit more depth to Roderigo/Rajju, played by Sanjay Dobriyal who is sure to get more and meatier roles after his perfect performance.

But Othello was always Iago's play, and Omkara too is dominated by Saif Ali Khan who plays the desi equivalent - Langda Tyagi. The whole play rests upon the two-facedness of Iago, and Saif is able to wear the two faces without making the transition seem awkward or laboured. Often when actors have to play a character that behaves in two different ways, they end up delivering two separate performances. He though makes sure we can see Langda being sincere and compassionate. And we can see Langda be scheming, conniving and manipulative. And yet he manages to seem like the same person.

Shakespeare's plays tend to be too melodramatic for modern day cinema. I disliked Orson Welles' Macbeth for the same reason. Bharadwaj has however very adroitly scaled down the melodrama to perfection. Several scenes where excessive emotions overflowed in the original play have been weathered down. And this impacts the character of Desdemona/Dolly the most. Kareena Kapoor has delivered her best performance to date by calibrating her emotions perfectly. She seems more like Bharadwaj's Dolly, a much tougher task than seeming like Shakespeare's Desdemona, and in that lies Kareena's triumph.

Vivek Oberoi has a limited acting repertoire, but luckily for him, Cassio/Keshu does not require him to reach beyond it. The only person whose limitations were hopelessly exposed was Devgan, and one wishes that Bharadwaj would have cast Manoj Bajpai as Omkara instead.

The script is peppered with lighter moments which were absent in the original play and it helps make Omkara a much more wholesome product. The attention to detail in designing the backdrop is refreshing and unprecedented for the reality it manages to convey. And I don't mean the realistic depiction of the lax jail security which someone like Prakash Jha has already introduced us to. Or the MP's demand to turn the train around, an almost prophetic scene considering that it was written well before Lalu Yadav's brothers made trains change platforms. I mean the smaller detail as well. There is a lot of thought given even to the minor points which are seemingly unimportant to the script. For instance, in one scene, as Indu and Keshu are talking, Langda sits there applying nail polish to his pinky finger. Anyone who has been in UP would know that nail paint on a pinky is a bizarre custom among men of those sort. I don't know the reason behind it, but the fact that Bharadwaj wove it into the background shows the mental effort that went into writing the screenplay.

Another minor complaint as compared to Maqbool is that the music isn't as good. But whatever music is there has been used brilliantly. Especially the use of the song jag ja is heart-rending, during the tragically brilliant final few seconds of the movie.

Very rarely does one come across a Hindi film that is in a different league altogether. Unfortunately, such films are not box office successes. SO my advice to you is, go watch Omkara if it is playing on a big screen near you.