Omkaara is Shakespeare’s Othello set in the heartland of India, in UP. It translates to this setting well. Othello is a Moor and a soldier, Omkaara a half-caste and a gang lord connected to the most powerful politician in the territory. Desdemona was white nobility, her hand sought by all who matter in the highest echelons of Venetian society. Dolly is a fair and beautiful upper caste girl, daughter of a prominent lawyer. In both cases, society does not sanction their union and they are forced to come together stealthily.

The movie is shot beautifully – the vast barren landscape provides a fitting backdrop to the tragedy unfolding. It is also shot stylishly, with camera angles, the editing and the music building up tension and intrigue. The script is grabbing, though a lot of the meaning was lost to me in the mix of regional dialect and Hindi.

At the end though, this movie had to be about the actors. And the casting is quite faultless. Ajay Devgan as Omkaara is pretty good, there is a dignity to him that suits the role of the quietly efficient and confident gang leader. Kareena Kapoor exudes a certain ethereal beauty mingled with a sadness that portends tragedy. Saif is Langda Tyaagi, a fitting Iago consumed with bitterness and rage. There was a lot of hype about his acting. I found him good, not exceptional. A lot of actors could have essayed this role equally well, I thought. Vivek Oberoi as Kesu Phirangi plays the young and charming Cassio quite nicely. He looks and remains the outsider, the college educated kid who can’t quite hold his drink the way the world of Omkaara demands. Konkana Sen as Langda’s wife provides one of the few deviations from the Bard’s original storyline while Bipasha Basu as Billo is there to provide a couple of earthy item numbers. A heavy star cast that does not for once detract from the intensity of the script.

A character in Salman Rushdie’s Fury sums up the character of Othello thus: “…Othello does not love Desdemona. ..He says he does but it can’t be true. Because if he loves her, the murder makes no sense. For me, Desdemona is Othello’s trophy wife, his most valuable and status giving-posession, the physical proof of his risen standing in a white man’s world….He loves that about her, but not her…Desdemona’s death is an ‘honour killing’. She didn’t have to be guilty. The accusation was enough…She’s not even a person to him. He has reified her. She’s his Oscar-Barbie statuette. His doll.”

I thought it was a fitting description of Othello. I am not entirely sure this holds as true in Omkaara. Om, like Othello, is brave and intelligent and a true leader of men. Yet at the end, his fatal flaw is not his inability to see Dolly as anything but a possession, but a deep seated sense of inferiority – he really cannot believe he can deserve a Dolly.

Omkaara as a film is worth watching, even buying the DVD for. It has been quite a welcome relief from the mindless stuff being currently churned out.


Anonymous said…
Interesting - Othello was never my fav. Shakespearean tragedy. And I am no fan of A.Devagon and K Kapoor. So I am not going to buy the DVD, but will sit down to watch it if I ever get the chance. Thanks UL

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