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Othello with desi nuances - Omkara



Omkara

Genre: Tragedy
Director: Vishal Bharadwaj
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Ajay Devgan, Saif Ali Khan, Vivek Oberoi and
Kareena Kapoor.
Storyline: Shakespeare's Othello unfolds in U.P.'s badlands.
Bottomline: The Indian-ness impresses.

Vishal Bharadwaj's latest `Omkara' — `Othello' in other words — happens not in and around Venice, but in the thug terrain of Western Uttar Pradesh. Bharadwaj has cleverly devised a ploy that works: his Shakespeare abuses in Uttar Pradeshi dialect, engages in duels not with swords but with revolvers and rifles, and gifts silver waist-lets, not silk handkerchiefs.

Othello's famous gift of a handkerchief to wife Desdemona changes into a stone-studded silver waistband that Omkara Shukla presents his lover/fiancée Dolly Mishra. Bharadwaj gives his characters names that either begin with the same letter as in the original version or, at least, sound similar. Ishwar `Langda' Tyagi is Iago, and Keshav Upadhyay or Kesu is Cassio. `Omkara' adapts much of what we have read in `Othello,' and one of Shakespeare's great tragedies comes alive in Bharadwaj's screenplay and dialogue. An important reason for this is the movie's ability to inject Indian nuances into the Shakespeare drama. A complete transformation takes place in `Omkara.' Othello, Iago, Cassio, Desdemona and the others are trans-located to the betel-nut chewing, abusive milieu of Central India.

A few changes

Othello/Omkara is a respected chieftain of a gang of outlaws. His two trusted men are Cassio/ Keshav and Iago/ Ishwar. Desdemona/ Dolly is the lover Omkara elopes with, and eventually marries. When Omkara anoints Keshav his `Baahubali' (chief aide), Ishwar is offended and plots to destroy his mentor. The intrigue then begins. Bharadwaj has made a few changes in the primary story. Unlike Shakespeare who lets his villains live, Bharadwaj chooses a different climax. Yet, the classic qualities of a great play remain, and Bharadwaj's script includes most elements that have endeared Shakespeare for 400 years.

A couple of points, though, are not very clear in `Omkara.' We do not quite understand how the waistband gets into the hands of Ishwar, though at the end we get an answer to this. There is also some confusion about how Omkara actually gets around to pinning Dolly guilty of a crime she has never committed. These are some holes in the script.

Bharadwaj's `Omkara' also suffers because of his choice of some actors. Ajay Devgan as Omkara does little justice to the pivotal role he has. He continues to be too wooden, and fails to portray the dilemma of the Moor. Vivek Oberoi as Keshav is equally disappointing with his exaggerated mannerisms. However, Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor salvage `Omkara's' acting department.

Khan as Iago is almost brilliant. In a remarkable switchover, Khan, the syrupy, romantic hero, so used to wooing women with chocolates and roses, plays the villain, one of the most negative figures that Shakespeare ever penned. His limp, sarcasm and volley of abuses underline not just the anguish of the unfair treatment meted out to him by Omkara, but also a mind that is capable of treachery. Kapoor as Dolly is as naïve and innocent as Desdemona.

Dolly behaves with the passion of a woman who completely trusts her man, and is devastated when she finds him unresponsive, even cold.

This Bharadwaj work is not to be missed.

GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN

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