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.
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