Once in a decade there comes a masterpiece that serves as an artistic montage. Vishal Bhardwaj’s on – screen adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello is a film that needs to be widely studied by connoisseurs of cinema, theatre, dance, music, literature, language and sociology. The Shakespearean tragedy co – scripted by Bhardwaj, Robin Bhatt and Abhishek Chaubey is a crime drama set in Meerut, Western Uttar Pradesh. The film garnered huge laurels and accolades at film festivals and award shows despite of not being a money spinner. The film was ahead of its time as in 2006 there were not too many multiplexes and people were still driven to popcorn entertainers. But what stood out for the film was Saif Ali Khan’s unbelievable convincing portrayal of Langda Tyagi, the Indian version of Othello’s traitorous Iago. Ajay Devgn as always gave one of his best on – screen portrayals as the protagonist Omkara, yet Saif outshone everyone in the film. Not that the other actors on board were any less talented, but the fact that it was the very first time Saif attempted a non – urban character. It was unexpected that any filmmaker would even consider Saif as a UP goon. Bhardwaj’s gamble became one of the most defining and game changing moments in Saif’s career.
Apart from Saif Deepak Dobriyal as Rajju and Konkona Sen Sharma as Saif’s wife Indu Tyagi are the underrated gems of Omkara. Among the female cast Konkona gives it her best shot in limited screen presence. Her dialogue delivery, body language and expressions amicably complement the narrative and backdrop of Western UP. Dobriyal was remarkable throughout the film while sharing screen space with heavyweights like Devgn, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Saif, Vivek Oberoi and Bipasha Basu. Basu as singer/dancer Billo Chamanbahar not only adds up to the glam quotient but is also impressive in emotional moments. Her dance sequences and sultriness in ‘Namak Ishq Ka’ and ‘Beedi Jalaile’ became a rage at parties, clubs and marriages. Naseeruddin Shah as Bhaisaab, the Indian version of Duke Of Venice essays yet another landmark roles in his filmography. Oberoi as Cassio’s Indian character sketch Keshu Firangi has given one of the most subtle yet underrated performances in his career.
Kareena’s Dolly Mishra gives an aesthetic edge to Desdemona. Dolly’s vulnerability and innocence has been effortlessly showcased by Kareena in heavy duty intense sequences. Dolly’s character is pivotal to the drama that unfolds in the story. Kareena does justice to the script as she gets immersed into her character. The protagonist Omkara, played by Devgn gives more depth and intensity to the Othello adaptation. Instead of reflecting upon glimpses of Shakespeare or Devgn’s on – screen persona the audience is introduced to the psyche of Omkara. Even those who have read the original work see the film from Omkara’s perspective. The rage, dilemma, suspicion and guilt of Omkara show the subtle nuances in Devgn’s artistry.
Bhardwaj, Bhatt and Chaubey have done an exceptional job not just with the drama and tragedy but also their research. The showcasing of Western UP as a backdrop for a Shakespearean tragedy is almost an impossible vision that has been successfully executed by Bhardwaj and the team of Omkara. Gulzar’s lyrics give a rustic feel to the plot and Vishal Bhardwaj’s music score is the soul of the film. Bhardwaj has extracted decent performances from each and every actor on board. The drama and tragedy in Omkara has uniqueness to it although it’s a Shakespearean adaptation. The grey element in almost every character except Dolly has been well crafted in the film. Tassaduq Hussain’s cinematography has been in sync with the filmmaker’s vision of Indian Othello. Chroeographers Bhushan Lakhandari and Ganesh Acharya have executed the dance numbers without getting overboard. The artistic finesse is visible in Basu’s exuberant dance moves in ‘Beedi’ and ‘Namak’ songs. Rekha Bhardwaj and Sunidhi Chauhan’s playback singing in Namak and Beedi created a sensation among composers and singers.
The film is certified A by the CBFC due to its strong language, violence and concept of adultery. The early 2000s were the times of pushing the envelope and adapting to bold and expressive filmmaking. The love making scenes filmed on Ajay and Kareena bespeak the passion and sexual tension in the plot. Bhardwaj captures sensuality not for mere titilation but as a silent character that takes the story forward. So is the case with Konkona and Saif’s brief intimate sequence that doesn’t end up explicit and retains the novelty of the screenplay.
Omkara is still considered one of the best works of Bhardwaj. The acting, music, direction, choreography in Omkara couldn’t be replicated in Bhardwaj’s future projects. Although the filmmaker has done outstanding work post Omkara, but none has been able to be a game changer so far. Post Omkara Bhardwaj became one of the most preferred filmmaker in every mainstream actor’s wish list. A must needed revisit for aspiring actors, filmmakers and scriptwriters.