Rajeev Masand

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Masand’s Verdict: Omkara fascinates

Rajeev Masand Reviews

  Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Ajay Devgan, Konkona Sensharma, Kareena Kapoor, Bipasha Basu and Naseeruddin Shah

Direction: Vishal Bharadwaj

The film we’ve been eagerly waiting for is finally here. Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara, the director’s adaptation of Othello set in the Indian heartland is at our screens this weekend.

It is the effortless manner in which Vishal places Shakespeare’s tale of friendship, jealosy and betrayal in this rural setting that is truly imaginative.

Ajay Devgan plays Omi Shukla, the leader of a group of outlaws in Uttar Pradesh who chooses faithful accomplice Kesu (played by Vivek Oberoi) over crafty Langda Tyagi (Saif Ali Khan) as his chief lieutenant.

Ajay Devgan plays the leader of a group of outlaws in Omkara

This sparks off a vengeful streak in Langda Tyagi who hatches a plot to falsely implicate Kesu in an affair with Omi’s girlfriend Dolly, played by Kareena Kapoor.

As is true of any good film, Omkara too works largely because the story is immensely engaging.

Since you’re familiar with the source material, you pretty much know how the film’s going to end, but it is to the credit of writer-director Vishal Bhardwaj that he weaves an interesting yarn and creates relateable characters for you to make the journey with.

Turning Othello‘s, Iago, Desdemona and Casio into Omi, Tyagi, Dolly and Kesu, he stays faithful to the Bard’s basic premise and interprets the main characters accordingly.

In fact, it’s fascinating how Vishal casts against type but draws magnificent performances from most protagonists.

The film’s rural backdrop naturally demands that dialogue be spoken in the local dialect, and although the actors speak their lines comfortably and use swear words freely, the dialect is often difficult to follow.

In fact, I think that’s the only thing that jars in Omkara, apart from its leisurely pace.

At some two hours and thirty minutes, the movie is far too long. But where Vishal scores big points, is in the imagination department. Who else would have thought of filming a gruesome action scene to a song?

In Omkara, the first real blood-splattered action piece is filmed as the title song, as is another early scene where Dolly testifies her love for Omi in the presence of her father.

Perhaps it is the fact that Vishal combines his skills as a composer and a writer-director that results in such original and imaginative ideas.

Of course at the heart of Omkara are its actors who add colour to Vishal’s palette.

Ajay Devgan as Omi is suitably stylish and conveys volumes through his eyes. Konkona Sensharma proves she is unlike any other as she blends convincingly into the canvas, never once attempting to outshine the protagonists. Bipasha Basu is brought in to lend oomph and she succeeds in doing just that.

Vivek Oberoi, unfortunately the only one saddled with a loosely-written role, seems ill at ease doing little else but standing around while the others steal the limelight.

Vivek Oberoi is saddled with a loosely-written character and others steal the limelight

Meanwhile, Kareena Kapoor is a revelation, making her ever moment on screen truly memorable. She gives Dolly depth and meaning as she alternates beautifully between playful and pained.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Saif Ali Khan who just becomes Langda Tyagi. Gone is the actor’s boyish charm, gone are his stylish touches. Instead you get a foul-mouthed, spiteful cad who just controls the dynamics of the story.

This is easily Saif’s most difficult role yet and he performs it remarkably.

In complete control of his devices, Vishal Bharadwaj rarely loses his voice as he sets out to re-interpret the Bard once again after Maqbool, his spectacular take on Macbeth.

He delivers a credible film in Omkara, a movie that’s way above the ordinary, a movie that’s earnest and well-intended.

So that’s three out of five and a thumbs-up for Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara, the kind of entertainment you’re not likely to find too often in our local cinemas. This is one time Shakespeare won’t turn in his grave.

Rating: 3 / 5 (Good)

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