I prefer Ajay Devgan’s “Omkara” to Lawrence Olivier’s “Othello”. Let me take you on a journey to show why I mean what I say.
“Words such as Fantastic, Marvelous, Great, can not sum up the work of art Vishal (director of the film) has shown in his adaptation of Othello” said BBC Asian Network. Rachel Saltz of the New York Times highlighted Omkara in her interview with us on July 12 as a path-breaking film for Bollywood.
Omkara, played by Ajay Devgan, is a “bahubali“, a sort of clan General of the political clan led by Tiwari Bhaisaab, played by Naseeruddin Shah. Saif Ali Khan plays “Langda” Tyagi or Iago to Devgan’s Othello.
The character of Iago and his ability to poison the mind of a strong leader like Othello had always confused me. It did not seem rational. The chilling reality of how this can be done was revealed to me by the film “Omkara”. Watching Langda Tyagi slowly poison the mind of Omkara is disturbing and frightening. You see how evil can be introduced and spread in a man’s soul as you watch the great performance by Saif Ali Khan.
Brabantio, Desdemona’s father in Othello says of his daughter “A maiden never bold; of spirit so still and quiet that her motion Blush’d at herself“. You can this Desdemona come alive when you see Kareena Kapoor in the role of Dolly Mishra. Brabantio continues “and she in spite of nature, …..To fall in love with what she fear’d to look on?” (alluding to Othello’s black color). Brabantio accuses Othello of some witchcraft in winning Desdemona’s heart.
Dolly’s father accuses Omkara not of witchcraft but of kidnapping his daughter and raises the same question “how can such a pure vision of beauty and virtue choose a dark, half-caste ruffian like Omkara“. As in Othello, only Dolly or Desdemona can answer this question.
Unlike Othello’s defense “She lov’d me for the dangers I had pass’d, And I lov’d her that she did pity them“, Omkara does not offer any defense. He simply lets Dolly answer. The answer of Dolly has been beautifully portrayed in the clip below.
(Naina Thag Lenge)
After her answer, her father has nothing to say. However, unlike Desdemona’s father in Othello, Dolly’s father does not bless the union. Instead, as he leaves in his car, Dolly’s father beckons Omkara and says “Jo ladki apne Baap ko thag sakti hai, woh kissi aur ki sagi kya hogi?” (A girl who can deceive her father, can she ever be loyal to any one else?). This statement is ignored by Omkara at that moment but it gets buried deep in his subconscious.
Omkara is congratulated by all his friends and supporters. In a rustic coarse way, they celebrate his victory by using words like “milk in a coal pot” to describe the pair of the pristinely beautiful fair maiden Dolly and the dark, ruffian Omkara.
The love between Omkara and Dolly is real. It is captured exquisitely in the clip below. This clip is sparked by Omkara laughingly asking Dolly whether she is a “lool“, a naive fool or a “chudail“, a witch? Laughing but upset, Dolly tries to hit Omkara and he evades her.
(O Saathi Re)
Watch the scene in the middle of this clip. Dolly catches Omkara and lays on top of him. She asks Omkara “now tell me, why am I a lool?“. Omkara answers that “because, despite being such a vision of loveliness, you fell in love with me“. Then she asks “why am I a chudail?“. Omkara answers “inside this beauty of yours, (I wonder) if there is some black magic hidden?“
This sense of inferiority of his looks, his lack of refinement and his nature continues to make Omkara wonder why a girl like Dolly loves him so much? This nagging self-doubt is Omkara’s weakness and one that is exploited by Langda to sow the seeds of doubt in Omkara’s mind. The final remark of Dolly’s father, buried deep in his soul, always comes to the fore in these moments of self-doubt.
Omkara is promoted by Bhaisaab to a higher position. Now, Omkara has to choose his own “bahubali“. Like Othello who chose Cassio over Iago, Omkara promotes a younger man called Kesu “Firangi” (“English”) Upadhaya over his long time number two, Langda Tyagi. Omkara assumes that Langda would understand and accept. This promotion of a junior man over him inflames Langda, yet he reveals nothing of his feelings.
In Othello, Iago gets Cassio drunk and gets him in to a fight. Othello gets upset with Cassio and strips Cassio of his new rank.
The corresponding episode in “Omkara” is far superior to that of the play “Othello”. The clip below shows Kesu’s mental state and actions after Langda gets him drunk and just before the fight. After all, what better reason for a man to fight than to beat up another man who bothers his lover? The song below was a phenomenal hit.
(Beedi- Watch the brief scene between Omkara and Dolly about the jeweled belt in the middle of the song)
After the fight, Kesu is banished by Omkara. Langda gets him to ask his old college friend Dolly to intercede with Omkara on Kesu’s behalf. This further sows the seed of doubt in Omkara’s mind about Dolly.
Unlike Omkara, Kesu is fair and urbane. He had gone to the same college as Dolly. Kesu can speak English (the reason he gets the nickname “English”). Dolly asks Kesu to teach her English words of endearment to surprise Omkara. Because of the surprise element, Dolly keeps these learning sessions with Kesu, a secret from Omkara. As a viewer, you watch all this play out with a sense of dread of the consequences.
The play “Othello” uses a hankerchief as a “proof” of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness. Othello accuses Desdemona “That hankerchief which I so lov’d and gave thee; Thou gavest to Cassio“.
The film “Omkara” uses a jeweled belt, a cherished family heirloom in Omkara’s family for many generations. Omkara gives it Dolly and explains the importance of the belt. Then he asks Dolly to put in on. You see that scene briefly in the “Beedi” clip above.
Langda’ wife, played superbly by Konkana Sen Sharma, steals this belt from Dolly’s room. Langda borrows it from her. He then gives the belt to Kesu and asks Kesu to give it to his lover, the dancer Billo, as a thank you gesture for trapping their enemy. The trap and the killing of the enemy by Omkara is shown in the clip below, another big hit.
(Namak – Notice the belt worn by Billo)
For Omkara, the belt was a cherished possession of his family. That his wife-to-be would give that belt to her lover, who would then abuse Omkara’s family honor by giving it to a public dancer was intolerable. Like Othello’s hankerchief, the belt proved Dolly’s unfaithfulness to Omkara.
The final scene in which Omkara accuses Dolly and Dolly’s stunned surprise is exquisite. I find it superior to the final scene between Othello and Desdemona in the play.
I hope I have been able to convey my journey with this film. I do hope you get the DVD of this film and see it for yourself. Be warned that the dialog is realistically coarse and rough in the Khariboli dialect of Hindi (literally “salty” dialect). The treatment of the topic is chilling realistic and will leave you spiritually numb. That is what makes Omkara a phenomenal and an absolutely must watch film.
To repeat, I liked the film “Omkara” over the play “Othello”. I liked the performances of Saif Ali Khan, Ajay Devgan, Kareena Kapoor and Konkana Sen Sharma over that of the Lawrence Olivier led cast of Othello.
Get the DVD and judge for yourself. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.