Omkara – a rare gem!

As Vishal Bhardwaj’s new film 7 Khoon releases it is time to revisit an old friend!

Omkara is Vishal Bharadwaj’s gritty adaptation of Othello. The plot is well known – no spoiler warnings are necessary for this one. The characters follow the Shakespearean plot line and even have alphabet coded names – Omkara is Othello, Iswar (AKA Langda Tyagi) is Iago, Kesu is Cassio, and Dolly is Desdemona. Iago is jealous of Cassio’s favored status and plots to bring him down by telling Othello of Desdemona’s alleged infidelity with Cassio. Fairly simple story line you think. But in this adaptation the setting is the seamy underbelly of local level politics, with the goons and thugs employed by politicians, and the struggle for power in this structure. Ultimately jealousy leads to mistrust and disaster. This Othello seems as though it was written for the Western UP rural and semi-urban setting. The characters bubble and seethe with intensity and passion and you are there with them as things frequently explode into matter-of-fact violence.

The setting could not have been more authentic – the narrow streets of an unnamed small town, the unpaved byways of the village, the courtyards in the village homes, the rural outdoors, this is the real India without any artifice.

The music is divine – Mr. Bharadwaj is a very talented composer in addition to being an excellent director – the title track, the Beedi and the Namak numbers are all perfectly executed.

The major performances: Ajay Devgan manages to portray the moor persona of Othello with his dark brooding looks, his black clothes, his quiet intensity. But something makes his Othello a little short of perfect – maybe it just needed a little more stated and a little less understated performance? Kareena has never looked more beautiful – she shines as Dolly/Desdemona and manages to portray the strength and also the vulnerability of the character in a most understated way. This actress has come into the big leagues with her role in Omkara. The naive and charming Kesu/Cassio is very well done indeed by Vivek Oberoi – he manages to convey by turns the brash, bewildered, dejected, elated Kesu who does not know what is causing the events to unfold in such an unpleasant way around him. Konkana Sen Sharma – just one word – brilliant! Bipasha Basu – what a wasted opportunity. This was one role that appeared miscast or misportrayed to me. Bipasha looks more like the runway model than the village nautanki belle and while the two item numbers Beedi and Namak are catchy she performs them in a very pedestrian way. The shots are long though and to her credit she does sustain the quality of the dancing through these long shots. There is one moment where she is phoning Kesu and is standing near a clothes line in her house – why could she not have looked like that in all of the film? Saif Ali Khan – Indian cinema viewers stand up and take notice, a true actor is born!! We have no idea who this actor is – he is the conniving, evil, scheming, tobacco chewing, filth talking, tough guy goon and there is no part of that persona that does not ring true. This is Saif’s film, and Omkara is just a subordinate character who is the target of Langda’s machinations. As is to be expected, Naseeruddin Shah does not disappoint. By the time the movie draws to its chilling conclusion one is holding one’s breath and waiting for these poor trapped souls to destroy each other as one knows will happen every time Othello is played out.

A brilliant film, a movie that can stand toe to toe with the best of Western cinema and come out at par if not ahead. If you have not yet watched it, grab the chips and settle down for a rare treat.

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