Thursday, August 17, 2006


Note (slightly modified on Aug 18, 09:26 p.m.): This started more as some rambling notes on Omkara after each viewing (I’ve watched it thrice as of now), but turned out to be quite a long take. Apologies, especially for the beginning note below.

A lot has already been said about the film and I am afraid I won’t be able to add much, except some superlatives (which I am doing); but, better late than never on a lovely film.

, Vishal Bhardwaj’s follow-up to the wonderful Maqbool, is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello set among the outlaws in the wild rustic hinterlands of north India, à la the Wild West of Sergio Leone; but retains its nativity, both Indian and ‘Bollywood’, very much; and an outstanding film embellished with great mise en scène, visual moments, wonderful dialogue [1] and fine performances.
plays on a much bigger canvass than Maqbool, which wasn’t as ‘Bollywood’ as this. Quite clearly, and yet very seamlessly, we can see Vishal Bhardwaj playing it to the gallery. (Much has been said about its fate at B.O. too, contradictory in terms, which makes the B.O. verdict quite murky.)

Scenes that I particularly loved in the film:

1. The bridge scene between Langda Tyagi and Rajju (a brilliant show by Deepak Dobriyal [2]; please take a bow!) – The wide landscape, the deserted bridge but for just two drunken men sitting on the middle of it, musing over their respective ill-fates, the reasons of which seem uncannily similar. The setup is striking. It is beautifully shot. It’s just perfect.

2. The “Omkara” title song sequence with a tussle that starts with a leisurely pace and is straight out of a Western.

3. The pooja scene atop a hill where Kesu is chosen over Langda (with nice cuts from shots facing Bhaisaab and Omkara to Langda’s back and later to Kesu’s back), just for Saif’s act.

4. The killing of Inder Singh (?) in a train signal amidst heavy rain. The way the narrative is weaved with killings, which are mostly unrelated to the main plot, but yet serve as an undertone of the characters’ state of mind, is commendable.

5. The climax with the quick fade-outs and fade-ins, ominously portending the imminent tragedy. Not to mention the finely nuanced “ambiguous” act of Kareena Kapoor as Dolly shocked for life at Omkara’s accusation which also appears as if she is trying to save herself now that she is exposed. The way “Jag Ja” song is used here, and the haunting shot with which the film ends.

And, ah, the language! No, I am not going to just call it “appropriate”, “earthy” or “realistic”. It’s all these, but it is too good to be just that.
Call me silly, but it was a real pleasure to hear the characters mouth cusswords in such an unrestrained fashion in an Indian film. (Only a handful of films of the past come to mind that come any close as a precursor.)
Not to forget the classic line with which the film begins – “Bewakoof aur Chutiye mein dhaage bhar ka pharak hota hai, bhaiyya! Dhaage ke unge bewakoof, aur unge chutiya…” (Please correct the spellings.)

Casting Saif Ali Khan as Landga – Though not totally at odds with his image (as many claim to be); he has already played his villain act so well in Sriram Raghavan’s Ek Hasina Thi (The recent Being Cyrus is also worth a mention) – is bang on. In a role which is almost the lead role of the film (so much that the “Tragedy of Omkara” plays in its entirety during the end of the bridge scene), Saif is fantastic as the unruffled and scheming Langda Tyagi, nonchalant (check out the casual way he shoots sitting on his jeep as Omi and Kesu fight it over with Captaan and co.), confidently conniving and unmoved, and walks away with the top acting honours of the film. Konkana Sensharma is just what she can be – impeccable. Ajay Devgan as Omi is an extension of his Malik Bhai in Company, with the characteristic ominous languor and broodiness.
Even the fringe characters turn out be very memorable – Captaan with Omi in the lorry (the one who is “bestowed with a haraam ki kamaai!” Watch out for him) just before the film’s title-song-cum-action-sequence, the old lady in the household.

Vishal, at the surface, stays with the original play (this, I say, from what I garner about the play on hearsay; I haven’t read Shakespeare at all), but adds some very Indian subtexts to his script.
Take, for instance, the gender issues he tackles as passing notes. Captaan places a sharat, or so he says to poke Omkara, with one of his sidekicks that Omkara will ditch Dolly. Omkara silently walks up to the lady who is filling water in a pail from a pump (usage of sound in this sequence and many others are straight out of Leone), fills water for her, places the pail over her head and asks her to tell the village that Captaan has lost his bet.
(This subtext gets more overt later when Indu talks to Omkara on what is pricking his mind and in the film’s climax.)

With such a good soundtrack, it will be quite difficult to place all of them seamlessly in the film, and that shows up. In Maqbool, the songs were almost used as a showcase of the environs in which the film is set. (In this film, if that was the case, the village ladies’ folk songs should have been in the soundtrack.) Where as, this soundtrack, though appropriately rustic, is universally appealing and more mainstream. And hence, some songs play out as independent tracks.

I find it quite surprising that some critics are making a hue and cry over the parts in which the film departs from the original play. Isn’t that part of a reinterpretation? In Maqbool, Mia Maqbool isn’t the lieutenant, consumed by his ambition, who wants to be the king, à la Macbeth, but more consumed by his love for the mistress of his king who is also his father-figure, thus almost giving an oedipal angle to the story; which is, quite simply put, fantastic! But, apparently, it seems, Scorsese can do that to a B-film, but Vishal can’t do the same to Shakespeare.
In one of those many reviews I read on Omkara, Falstaff pointed out a deviation from the original play. Langda Tyagi lets Rajju go and get Dolly even before he is denied the post of Baahubali. This, I think on hindsight, is significant, in the sense that he isn’t particularly keen on Dolly joining hands with Omkara and he is just reluctantly doing his job. Combine this with the effeminate touches he has, it gives a whole new dimension. Langda is very “loyal” to Omkara in his own way, despite betraying him. (Recall what Langda says about his jhoot and sach in the film’s climax.)

Vishal Bhardwaj largely seems to be a self-made filmmaker. (Or, as Tarantino would put it, while some go to film schools, he went to films.) I am saying this because it’s hard to see where Vishal Bhardwaj learnt his art from, as many have wondered already; but for the Urdu lines with a tinge of poetry, which we can attribute to his mentor Gulzar saab.
Here, he was a music director a few years ago. When we heard he is going to make Makdee, it was perceived more as a cineaste’s dabbling effort (at least I did), attempting a new genre quite untouched in India.
But, look at what he is now. This unbelievably amazing transformation is quite baffling given that nobody, and I mean nobody, else around his period has quite made the same impact in Hindi cinema as he has made with his 3 films.

Other random notes:
Vishal refers to his own shelved film Timbuktu, in a nice terse joke which Bhaisaab, Naseeruddin Shah so effortlessly superb that it’s blinding, cracks.
Baradwaj Rangan, in his excellent review, wonders if the shot of a fly buzzing around an idling man was homage to Sergio Leone (I think he is talking about a brief shot of Deepak Dobriyal in his house which doesn’t seem to befit the quintessential Leone setup). I was quite oddly reminded of Will Ferrell in Melinda and Melinda as Saif is here playing Iago “with a limp!” which, again, is much more unbefitting a reference :).

The bottom line: Omkara is certainly the best film I have seen this year, and most certainly, will remain so.

[1] – Vishal, may I add, is one of the best dialogue writers in the country today with his sparkling double-act in Maqbool and Omkara.

[2] – He is given an “introducing” card in the credits, though he debuted in Maqbool. And, yeah, definitely watch out for him!

Cross-posted at


  1. Nice post, Zero. I'm still on two viewings, so you have the lead. Can't wait for a DVD (hopefully with dir's commentary).

    Couple of points:
    1. Do you know what DD appears as in Maqbool? I don't remember him and couldn't check the vcd. IMDB says as "Thapa" - who is that?
    2, The "self-taught" bit is significant. There are unconscious references galore - but they do not deflect. It is merely an eklavya-like devotion :-)
    BTW, for the Urdu-ness, I remember reading a VB interview in which he talked about the Muslim influences in his life. The UP origins apart, IIRC, he talked about having friends in that culture and spending a lot of time hanging out in the Muslim quarters of the city he was in (Meerut?)

  2. Hey Ramanand,
    DD plays a henchman of Maqbool who guns down an old man (whose son later kills Maqbool) in the beginning of the film (after Maqbool taunts the fellow with an unloaded gun and walks out). And, I revisited the film recently :).

    Sure, the "self-taught" bit makes him an amazing talent! His films, with due respect to Gulzar, are in a completely different mode.

    His Muslim connection shows up in his loving portrait of the milieu in Maqbool.

  3. Omkara DVD features Hindi subtitles also. I don't know if it is funny or ironical.