Was Gulaal (2009) the inspiration for Omkara (2006)?

Yes, Omkara is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, but did the idea for this particular kind of adaptation derived from Gulaal? Let me present some arguments for this case. First – let us look at whether this was even possible:

1. Gulaal was made post 2001 and sat in the cans for 5 years or more waiting to be released. (http://passionforcinema.com/gulaal/)

2. Vishal Bharadwaj is a friend of Anurag Kashyap and produced Kashyap’s No Smoking, so it is possible that he saw the unreleased version of Gulaal.

Given that the chronology and circumstances favor my thesis, I want to next point out the similarities between the two films. Both Gulaal and Omkara deal with regional politics and the role that student leaders can play in this politics. In Gulaal, the student leadership is hijacked for political gain, in Omkara the student leaders are willing participants in the political game. In Omkara there is a veteran politician who is all-powerful, he can make trains reverse track! In Gulaal too there is a veteran “leader” who is all-powerful, he holds sway over all warring factions. The Dukey Bana character of Gulaal is a combine of Bhaisaab (Naseer) and Omi (Ajay) characters in Omkara. He is a kingmaker. In Gulaal, as in Omkara, choices have to be made between a few people and an unlikely “nice” guy, naïve and idealistic, ends up being the chosen one (Kesu and Dileep). The women are pawns in this game played by “virile” men! Billo Chamanbahar (Bipasha) and Indu (Konkona) are used to upset the balance of power in Omkara, and Kiran (Ayehsa Mohan) to upset the balance of power in Gulaal. Jesse Randhawa and Kareena play very similar “innocent bystander” characters.

Even bigger parallels are seen in the music of the two films. We have the rousing Aarambh hai prachand in Gulaal, this one is all thinder and conch shells with no soft sounds in the song; in Omkara the parallel song is Omkara – Dhamdham dhadam dhadaiyya invoke a similar sound and fury.

Krishan ki pukaar hai yeh, Bhagwat ke saar hai yeh
Ki Yuddh hi to veer ka pramaan hai (Aarambh)

Dhamdhamdhadam dhadaiyya re
Sabse bade ladiayya re, Omkaara! (Omkara)

We have two mujra numbers – one is a straight number called Beedo and its parallel can be traced in Namak. The lyrics are uncannily similar in both cases – and both sung by Rekha Bharadwaj.
In Beedo the nautch girl (Mahie Gill as Madhuri) is talking of the lure of forbidden fruit:
Beedo duje thaali ka lage bada masaaledar
Man Bole chakmak hai chakmak
Khaayi to machal gayi re o Kajrari naar
Man Bole chakmak hai chakmak
Whereas in Namak the nautch girl (Bipasha as Billo) is talking of the lure AND danger of forbidden fruit:
Jaan nikal gayi daiyya re, Bheetar bheetar aag jale
Baat karoon to senk lage, Jaan nikal gayi daiyya re
Ang pe aise chaale pade, Tej tha chonka kya karoon
Seesi karti main maroon, Jabaan pe laga re laga re
Jabaan pe laage laaga re, Namak issk ka, Tere issk ka

In both there is plea for help from bystanders:
Humko duniye ki laaj saram ka daar lage hai ho ji
Humko duniye ke lok dharma ka darr lage ho ji
Par is dil ke karrejwa pe koi phoonk maar do ji
Par is manwa ki ankhiya par koi cheent maar do ji (Beedo)

Sabhi chede hain mujhko sipahiye baanke chamiye
Udhari dene lage hain gali ke baniye waniye
Koi to kauri daudh luta de (?), thodi thodi shahd chata de
Tej tha tadka kya karoon, Sisi karti karti main maroon (Namak)

In both the woman talks of her restlessness in this forbidden love:
Sankat aisa silwat se koi haal bhaanp le ji
Karwat aisi doori se koi haath thaam le ji
Nikle siski jaise botal ka caak jo uda ho
Dhadkan jaise chambal mein ghoda bhaag jo pada ho
Angiya bhi laage hai jaise sau sau man ka bhaar (Beedo)

Kabhi ankhiyon se peena, Kabhi hothon se peena
Kabhi achcha lage marna, Kabhi mushkil lage jeena
Karwat karwat pyaas lage, Balam ki aahat paas lage
Tez tha chonka kaa karon, Sisi karti main maroon
Dali bhar daala re namak issak ka (Namak)

The second Mujra in both films is pivotal in setting the stage for major upheaval. In Omkara the fight that is to be staged between Omi and Kesu begins to brew, while in Gulaal, Madhuri realizes that Dukey Bana is attracted to Kiran and they have begun to develop a relationship, this relationship leads to the eventual upstaging of Dukey Bana and a changing of the guard. The song in Gulaal has political overtones and the unique lyrics of Ranaji can never be replicated without a straight lift. Beedi warns of the dangers lurking in the world and the need for stealth, while Ranaji goes the other extreme and talks of how Ranaji is changing completely now that he has a new girlfriend, an English speaking one!
Na gilaaf na lihaaf thandi hawa bhi khilaaf sasuri
Itti sardi hai kissi ka lihaaf lai le, Ja padosi ke chulhe se aag lai le
Beedi jalaayle jigar se piya, Jigar maan badi aag hai
Dhuan naa nikariyo lab se piya, Je duniya badi ghaagh hai (Beedi)

Ranaji hai suaten ko ghar le aaye, Bole ki friend humari hai haaye
Maange hain English Boli, Maange hain English Choli
Maange hain English Jaipur English Bikaner
Jaise bisleri ki botal pi kar ban gaye Englishman (Ranaji)

Two songs that start out with Sufi undertones and then go their own way!

Naina – turns into a lament of love lost through misunderstandings and mischief:
Nainon ki mat maaniyo re, Nainon ki mat suniyo
Naina thag lenge
Jagte jadoo phoonkenge re, Neenden banjar kar denge
Naine thag lenge

Yaara maula – turns into an accusatory and self-pitying lament of a child who claims he was led into misdeeds! It talks of the general tone of helplessness, disenchantment and disillusionment that follows in the wake of student political movements:
Woh kitabon ki thi duniya
Woh to khwabon ki thi duniya
Phir who aaye bheed ban kar
Haath mein the unke khanjar
Bole phenko yeh kitaben
Ur sambhalo yeh salaakhen
Humne wohi kiya jo unhone kaha
Kyunki unki to khwaish yehi thi
Ab batao karein to karein kya?

Interestingly enough Naina is very Rajasthani (and reminiscent of Ranaji) in sound, when the setting for the film is clearly UP.

Then we have the two songs that are pure poetry chanting with virtually no music – in Omkara it is Jag ja ri (sung by Suresh Wadkar) while in Gulaal it is Piyush Mishra himself singing Sarfaroshi ki tamanna. Finally we come to the slow and soulful Aisi Sazaa – a lament number that is very similar to Laakad or even O Saathi re in sound. Granted one is sad while the other happy, but both are sweet and mellow numbers. While there are more romantic numbers in Omkara, the subject matter in Gulaal is not very conducive to romance.

The Deepak Dobriyal character has a similar graph in both films – in Gulaal he is the henchman of Dukey Bana, a loyal. In Omkara he is the henchman of Langda Tyagi. Since Gulaal had its inception in 2001 this could be the start of Deepak Dobriyal in Hindi cinema.

Other similarities that crop up in setting and mood are seen in the anointing of Bahubali in Omkara – the event is accompanied with blowing of conch shells and gulaal on the forehead, and in a very similar moment in Gulaal the student leader nominee RanSa is “anointed” and the conch shell blowing leads into the song Aarambh!
In both films the romantic moments between the couples, be it Langda and Indu or Omi and Dolly, or Dileep and Kiran, are seen as mostly brief intimate moments, often in bed with the couple gazing into each other’s eyes. Finally, in both films the woman is used as a weapon of revenge – Billo (and Indu) to steal the jewelry and confuse Omi, and Kiran to seduce Dukey Bana and displace Dileep from the student leadership. In both instances the revenge is sought by men who have suffered a major blow to their egos. The characters of Langda and Karan are both smoldering with deep seated resentment, vicious and murderous in intent.

I do not mean to run down Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara by implying that it lifted all this from Gulaal. Omkara is the more polished film, with bigger stars, more slick production values, and certainly more visibility. But these parallels to Gulaal indicate the influence that Gulaal has had in the genesis of Omkara. Certainly the influence of the music of Gulaal on that of Omkara is too compelling to ignore.

18 Responses

  1. Great post. Some similarities are striking…

    “Gulaal was made post 2001 and sat in the cans for 5 years or more waiting to be released. (http://passionforcinema.com/gulaal/)

    so it is possible that he(vishal) saw the unreleased version of Gulaal”

    I guess pre production work did start in 2001 but the actual shooting started only during 2006 december… I read one interview of Jhamu Sugandh (some where around feb 2007) where he mentioned about Gulal & JTJYN… so it may not be possible of Vishal seeing Gulal

  2. Jesse Randhwa was supposed to play the role of kiran…

    In Gulal I play the lead role of a college girl,” is all she divulges.


    may 2004

  3. MY bad… I thought Gulal shooting started in dec 2006 but looks like it started even earlier..

    “I am writing and directing Gulal, which is 80% over, after a Bengali producer stepped in.” Ask him about the story and he tells you softly: “It’s inspired by that song in Pyaasa, Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai….” Shot mainly in Jaipur, starring usual suspects Kay Kay Menon, Aditya Srivastav and introducing model Jesse Randhawa, it’s waited a long time in the wings. And the song is — an angry poet’s (Guru Dutt) outburst at the world around him — a chilling resonance of Kashyap’s own life.

    Oct 2006


  4. march 2004

    His other film Gulaal, starring Antara Mali, is stuck due to lack of finance. “The production rests with my friend Michael Arakkal and I. Gulaal is set against violent college politics. We shot for only 9 days and stopped. I will resume it after All Win Kalicharan is sufficiently through,” confirms Kashyap.

  5. Can you elaborate further on Gulal?
    Gulal is set in Rajasthan and is a fictional movie set a few years from now, though it is not too futuristic. It is a love story cum political cum thriller all rolled into one and is the journey of an honest man fighting a corrupt system. There is also a terrorist outfit angle in the movie. The movie was shot for a few days 3.5 years back [February 2002] but staled thereafter due to unavoidable circumstances. But I always wanted to make the movie and so there I am. Jhamu Sugandh is producing the movie. [Smiles] That’s all I can elaborate at the moment.

    So who all form the starcast of the movie?
    My film primarily stars newcomers. Raja Chaudhary, Ayesha Mohan and Abhimanyu Singh play the lead protagonists. While Raja is surely going to be a man to watch out for, I can conveniently tag Ayesha Mohan as the ‘female KK’. A bundle of talent, she is surely going to go places. In addition, there are also regulars like Kay Kay Menon and Aditya Srivastava.

    How about the music aspect of ‘Gulal’?
    Music of Gulal would be of the kind that you would have never heard before. It forms an important piece of the movie and is composed by Piyush Mishra, who also writes the lyrics. [Piyush is the same man who acted brilliantly in Maqbool and Matrubhoomi and scripted the recently released Yahaan]


  6. Good points Pakhi – you sound like a PhD !!!!

  7. 😀 Thanks!!

  8. […] Yes, Omkara is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, but did the idea for this particular kind of adaptation derived from Gulaal? Let me present some arguments for this case. But first let me put in a disclaimer that I really admire Vishal Bharadwaj and Omkara is one of my favorite films! Read the rest here PakhiPakhi […]

  9. “The Deepak Dobriyal character has a similar graph in both films – in Gulaal he is the henchman of Dukey Bana, a loyal. In Omkara he is the henchman of Langda Tyagi.”

    Totally different characters – in GULAAL you have an unsmiling scary goon who thinks nothing of killing off a student leader or policeman just for being in the way; in OMKARA you have a naive comic pawn who has no idea of the web he’s getting caught up in and turns the gun on *himself* rather than kill someone else.

    The only similarity is the way both characters end up dead at night, lying on the earth, staring sightlessly in a close-up. If one can prove the GULAAL footage was shot before OMKARA then maybe that could be used as evidence of influence/hommage… But I suspect GULAAL’s footage was shot later.

    And hey, maybe Vishal saw GULAAL’s footage and it showed him what NOT to do! One thing I loved about OMKARA (actually, I loved virtually all of it, but anyway) was the believable chemistry between the romantic couples. Omi and Dolly, Langda and Indu, Kesu and Billo, were all couples whose emotions were tangible, believable and complex – unlike GULAAL, where everything was so cerebral that Dilip’s relationships with Anuja and Kiran had cold air where the passion should have been.

  10. Dobriyal played characters that were not quite right in the head in both films, but yes in Gulaal the character was more violent, and more simpleton (but still a willing participant in Langda’s schemes) in Omkara. Nice catch on how they died!

    The bit about romance and relationship sis certainly true – but I think in Gulaal the passion was all one sided in each case so nor chemistry was really needed. Anuja cared for Dilip and he did not, while Dilip cared for Kiran and she was only using him. In Omkara each couple had a very real, tangible, and emotional bond in the story.

    For me Omkara is a sophisticated film, but it has strong parallels to the raw and powerful Gulaal.

  11. vishal had read the script of Gulaal. There were more obvious similarities in the film, they even shared common dialogue. Ak cut them out after Omkara came out. He is going to release those scenes on Youtube. Likewise there are many scenes in Maqbool inspired from Paanch. Vishal was the music director of Paanch. I was there when a drunk Ak broke down and said, “why does he have to do that”. VB never trusted Rekha could sing songs for movies. Her first song in films was Ranaji. But AK doesn’t believe VB has consciously copied things, he feels it just somehow happened. AK is a naive, trusting emotional man whose plethora of ideas have been used by RGV for a long time. When asked AK said, forget it , there are many ideas floating around.
    I am one of those guys bothered by the same things and who is sometimes allowed access into AK’s solitary world. I have worked with him on Paanch and was there when Gulaal was stalled. Omkaara started shooting four months after the second schedule of gulaal and Deepak went straight from Gulaal to Omkara. I am so glad somebody has brought this up. I hope AK finally opens upabout the issue reading this.

  12. VB never saw gulaal. Whether AK showed it to him or not noone knows, but VB offered to produce NS for AK on the sets of Omkara and even VB has said that. Can’t find the link, pl look for it. All the sequences minus the opening sequence and Mahi Gill’s song was shot before Omkaara was conceived.

  13. Reasons AK doesn’t open up is VB is AK’s elder brother or elder brother’s best friend, i don’t know because AK once said, “he is my elder brother”. I don’t know what he means by that, but they know each other from the university.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. I am mostly a music lover first and foremost and the music of Gulaal has me mesmerized. In fact I started to do a review on this blog and ended us mostly fixated on Aarambh. Once one analyzes from the music POV the similarities jump out, and then I began to think about the rest of the content too. Part of me wishes you had not told me about Paanch and Maqbool – now I will be looking for the similarities and the “hunt” aspect is gone! Any idea when Paanch will release?

    Anurag might be calling VB elder brother due to VB’s seniority in University – that is one explanation for people who are close.

    Hope to see you sometimes on this site. 🙂

  15. Who is Talisman?

    Gulaal is not an inspiration to Omkara. Vishal Bharadwaj never saw Gulaal or read the script. There were some minor similarities and yes after Omkara released i was a little distressed about Gulaal, but i was very happy that a film like Omkara was released and made. And I was the first person Vishal showed the film to.
    I think we indians have a disease of trying to find out which film is the source material for every film. No body thinks that anuone can be original in this country. Vishal is one of the most original and rooted writers we have, one of the peers of the changing face of Indian cinema and i think this kind of dicussion is unwarranted. I never showed the film to Vishal and neither did he read the script of gulaal. Any remote similarity is coincidental. We both come from the same part of the country and that is why the approach feels similar.
    Rekhaji sang a scratch of ranaji before Omkara but she has sung songs before that, she had a whole album out there.
    Other similarity in approach comes from the fact that Piyush Mishra is our closest friend and has been an inspiration to both of us. Vishal ji still shows all his films first to me than anyone else.
    And Maqbool bearing similarities with Paanch? That is a little too far fetched. They are not even remotely similar.
    I don’t know who Talisman is but i want to know. There was only one line that i took out from gulaal which was similar and that is a line that we have grown up hearing in uttar pradesh . Which was “aadmi ke dil ka rasta uske pet se nahi neeche se khulta hai”. Women often say that in uttar pradesh.
    I think this should end the discussion here. Anything else you can mail me , you have my ID and that is my real ID and i am not a fake anurag. That ID is also in IMDB.

  16. Hi Anurag – I appreciate you clarification in this matter. I have no idea who Talisman is – obviously a random visitor on my blog.

    Omkara is a huge favorite of mine – but Gulaal made an even bigger impression. This was just a thesis – an academic exercise if you will, since the parallels were so compelling to me.

    On a different note – Piyush Mishra deserves a bow, his music and lyrics in Gulaal are stupendous. I hope you will pass this on to him.

  17. I will do that.. Talisman is obviously someone close or who knows my relationship with Vishal from university. But rest is bullshit.
    thanks for all you say about Gulaal. Gulaal’s main inspiration was always Piyush and his poetry and even some of the best lines in the film is borrowed from Piyush.
    Will definitely pass the link to your blog to Piyush. He is in US right now.

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