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Monday, July 31, 2006

Omkara: Vishal Bharadwaj does Othello

I pray you, in your letters
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down ought in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well,
Of one not easily jealous but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe.
Othello, in William Shakespeare's "The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice."*

If Shakespeare was alive today, I fancy he'd be pretty happy with Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara, an adaptation of Othello that has enough bawdiness, poignancy, grandeur, wit and drama to make the old man -- for he'd be 442 years old -- right at home. I won't attempt a review of the film because I didn't see the film with that intention, and I wouldn't have much to add anyway to Baradwaj Rangan's excellent review (though I didn't think the film was that great), or to Jai's post (from where I got the link to the aforementioned review). So just a few observations:

- If you'd shown me the cast and the script before I heard about the film, I'd have assumed that Saif Ali Khan was playing Cassio/Kesu: after all, the cheerful charmer, as Kesu is in this film (though not Cassio in the play) is what Saif does best. But instead, he plays Iago/Langda Tyagi, and slips into character so well that you hate the man by the time the film is over. Surely this isn't the same guy who did Dil Chahta Hai? And, more pertinently, how many actors in Mumbai's film industry are there who could play both Kesu and Langda with such conviction? No other actor in this film, certainly, though had Naseeruddin Shah been 20 years younger...

- The rest of the cast is also exceptional, and Kareena Kapoor, in particular, is a revelation. May FSM forgive me for thinking this woman couldn't act. She makes you fall in love with her character, and her last few moments alive are a tour-de-force: as the audience, we feel her shock and her disbelief; and if you imagine her from Othello/Omkara's eyes, she seems frantic and confused now that the show is up. It's a difficult double act, and she hits just the right registers.

- Konkana Sen Sharma reminds me of that cliche about genius being in the details. She gets the little things so right in her character -- the lilt in her voice, the phrases she uses, the way she bobs her head. As Jai asks, "Is there anything Konkana Sen Sharma can’t do?" (Her alleged dog-defenstration and choice of men don't bother me, as I don't see what they have to do with her acting, deplorable though they may be.)

- Ajay Devgan does brooding well, and broods through this film as well. Look, it's good and all that, but his acting was the most predictable in the film. He can do that in his sleep, and put us to sleep in the process. Also, Bipasha is miscast as Bianca/Billo, which isn't her fault. I like her arms, though.

- I thought all the deviations from the play, in terms of plot, were just fine, except for one crucial bit: the 'evidence' that Iago/Langda presents to Othello/Omkara of Desdemona/Dolly's infidelity. It's way too contrived, requiring everything to happen at just the right time. So many things could have gone wrong there, and Langda would have been screwed. It's the only big flaw in the film.

- And finally, I think Vishal Bhardwaj did a terrific job as a director -- some particularly well-constructed moments include the one with Dolly swinging with Kesu and Indu on either side of her, and the final frame of Dolly and Omkara's bodies -- but I'd love to see what he does when he works on a subject other than the underworld, and without Shakespeare's plays as fodder. Not that he needs to: he can make the rest of Shakespeare's plays into films, for all I care, and build an impressive body of work. (As long as he doesn't cast Sunny Deol as Titus Frigging Andronicus.)**

* The quoted text was from The Oxford Shakespeare, edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. You'll find other versions of the text online if you search for it.

** I often tell friends that I'd read all of Shakespeare's plays when I was ten years old. What I conveniently don't mention is that Titus Andronicus was one of my favourites. Ah, well, I suppose one does get wise with age...

Update (August 1): Falstaff is most unimpressed with Omkara. Excellent review, read it.
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