Saturday, August 26, 2006

Omkara: incoherent, foppish

Director Vishal Bhardwaj won critical acclaim with Maqbool, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth. In Omkara, Bhardwaj has adapted another Shakespeare play, Othello. Omkara had once again got good press. But the film disappoints tremendously.

It is fake like Karan Johar's a Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. But in a different way. While Johar indulges in his dandyish tricks in his portrayal of the Indian diaspora in New York, Bhardwaj reaches back to the rural badlands of backwater Bihar, with an incogruous nasalised dialect which is more Haryanwi than Bihari.

Bhardwaj attempt to project a violence-ridden, male-dominated lawless rural India is really the fantasy of a city-slicker more than reality. In his attempt to present a stylised picture of rural violence in the manner of Akira Kurosawa's adaptations of Shakespeare's Macbeth in Throne of Blood and King Lear in Ran, Bhardwaj makes the actors with their pseudo-rusticity to be dandy figures more than earthy. As a consequence, Naseeruddin Shah as a ruthless Brahmin politician with shaven head, gold ear-rings and starched dhoti and upper cloth, Ajay Devgan, Saif Ali Khan and Viveik Oberoi with their straggly stubble do not represent the macho rural hoodlums that they are supposed to be but appear as comic figures walking their parts in a village drama, lacking in authenticity. Something like the comic Arab characters played by Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia.

The further falsity of Bhardwaj's Omkara is reflected in the dialect he has adopted for the dialogue, and the tame expletives that punctuate them. He thought that he was breaking fresh ground by incorporating expletives. That is a childish way of being radical and innovative. An umimaginative Bhardwaj goes for the easy option of being radical. But it all sounds pretty hollow. There is a deep rhythm and utter sincerity in the speech of rural India, which could have been used to convey the subtle emotions of love and jealousy, which form the leitmotiv of Othello/Omkara. Bhardwaj is incapable of true artistic effort. He is caught up in his own make-beoieve of being authentic.

Bhardwaj indulges in other incongruities as well. He has Dolly/Desdemona (Kareena Kapoor) hold a guitar and sing Stevie Wonder's number, I just called to say. Then there are the mobile telephones, including the mobile phone cameras, which play an imortant role in Omkara. Bhardwaj is not really treading on uncharted ground in his bizarre attempt to make a contemporary version of a Shakesperean play. The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has done those foolish contemporary costume presentations while retaining the old text. Bhardwaj has completely abandoned the Shakespearean text which is a pity because in Othello, Shakespeare has used language in a sensuous manner.

Kareena Kapoor who is radiantly innocent truly fits the Dolly/Desdemona role. All the others are misfits. It is indeed an injustice to credible Konkona Sen Sharma and the beautiful Bipasha Basu, who are capable of giving a better performance if they have meaty roles, but who are made to perform like marionettes. Naseeruddin Shah has no role to play, something like that of Amitabh Bachchan in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. Saif Ali Khan and Viveik Oberoi remain in the shadows. Ajay Devgan's brooding intensity does not go well with the simple-hearted character of Othello of Shakespeare.

What marks the Shakespearean play is the gentle and intense romance between Othello and Desdemona, and it serves as a basis for the tragic reversal in the second half of the play. Bhardwaj has no time for the protrayal of romance because in his arty view of film-making, the camera angles and the light are more imortant than story-telling.

Omkara is no doubt a film festival product, and it should not come as a surprise if it is lapped up by uneducated and foolish critics of the festival circuit.

1 comment:

The Sunshine Woman said...

Actually, I thought Omkara really broke new ground as far as Hindi films go. It certainly grabbed my cinematic eye -- untrained though it may be. As for Alvida, will somebody please do us a huge favour and ban KJ from making any more films. I still occasionally get up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night thinking I'm sitting in a cinema watching Alvida. A close second on the traumameter is the torrent of blogs on the film. Even my exam nighmares weren't so traumatic!

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