Tuesday, August 01, 2006

OMKARA - stunning Indian Othello

OMKARA is a stunning new version of Othello. It is set in a rural outpost of contemporary India where elections are determined by political hooligans - bribes, assassinations and threats. In this world of inverted morality, Omi (Othello) is a powerful man, second only to Bhaisaab (Brabanzio). These men wield so much power that Bhaisaab can have a public train stopped and run back to the station it has long since left because Omi needs to get off and perform a task. However, in a move as improbable as the Shakespeare play, Omi - the low-born, half-caste, thug, habitually dressed in black - attracts a young, innocent, well-born girl called Dolly (Desdemona). She leaves her family to live with Omi even before they are married much to eveyone's shock, not least Omi. Even his sister Indu (Emilia) laughs at his good fortune. Indu is married to Omi's second-in-command, the scheming bastard, Langda Tyagi. At least, Tyagi thinks he's second-in-comand until Omi complacently hands this role to the dashing womaniser Kesu (Cassio.) Kesu will deliver more rigged votes, and Omi foolishly believes that Tyagi will "understand". So begins the Shakespearian tragedy. The morally bankrupt Tyagi sets out to put Omi in a murderous, jealous rage - using his unwitting wife Indu to frame Dolly for sleeping with Kesu.

The movie is co-adapted, scored and directed by Vishal Bharadwaj and he deserves much praise. He has created a movie of rare intelligence and beauty. The camerawork is fluid without calling attention to itself. The production design is stunning - India is all rugged hills, dust, dirt and cell-phones. The music makes good use of Sukhvinder Singh's unique voice. Admittedly, I do not think the two "item numbers" featuring Bipasha Basu as the lewd dancer in a road-side inn can compare to last year's hit from BUNTY AUR BABLI, Kajra Re. However, the love song O Saathi Re is absolutely beautiful. I loved the script with its fiercely crude language and occasional flashes of dark humour. And most of all, I loved the acting performances. All these actors have form - appearing in small budget art movies alongside the bigger budget Bollywood hits. Ajay Devgan (Omi) was remarkable in RAINCOAT. Kareena Kapoor (Dolly) showed her range in CHAMELI. Saif Ali Khan (Tyagi) and Naseerudin Shah were hysterical in
BEING CYRUS. Finally, Konkona Sen Sharma showed her class in last year's PAGE THREE.

I have a couple of quibbles with the precise details of the adaptation of the ending, for which read on underneath the release date stuff. Other than that, if you have two and a half hours to spare and fancy a thorough work-out of heart and mind, you should check OMKARA out.

OMKARA is currently on cinematic release in the UK, US and India.

Spoiler alert.....

Okay, so there are two major departures from the source material. The first is that the Othello figure doesn't start off as a great and noble general with stories of the wars with which to dazzle Desdemona. He's a crook. This makes the already improbable love even more improbable. It also means the tragedy is not your classical fall from grace kind. I mean, Omi is no scumbag. He always intended to marry Dolly not just to have his way with her. But he is no Great Man fallen. I suppose his tragedy is that he only becomes noble after murdering his love: in leaving Tyagi alive. My other niggle is that while I loved that the female characters are a lot more feisty in Omkara than in Othello, why does Indu have to kill Tyagi? It makes the ending of the movie rather neater than the play, which to my mind contradicts the gray-scale morality of the piece. This should not be about apportioning blame neatly. In the Shakespeare, Iago stabs Emilia and then absconds, to be caught and brought back in by the Law. Othello has a swipe at him, but Iago is left to face the courts, vowing never to speak again. I rather liked that. The innocent is dead, the murdering husband a suicide, but evil exists still.


  1. I really likes the way Indu's character was portrayed, feisty and loving, yet having no illusions about the world. All those pithy, cynical dialogues about "men" and the "fate of women", and the way she reacts when Omi divulges his suspicions of Dolly to her - very interestingly done.

  2. i loved the end
    it was appropriate that indu kiled tyagi coz she is not shy and dumb
    she is fiesty as said by amodini
    she cant accept the fact that she was used by tyagi to get rid of dolly
    i think it was d most justified killing in the movie

  3. this really was great.