Sunday, July 30, 2006

Go watch Omkara...’s brilliant! Vishal Bharadwaj’s eye for composition and detailing is outstanding, I loved the salty dialect (though I didn’t understand all of it) and this was the best ensemble acting I’ve seen in a long time: a nod in particular to Saif Ali Khan’s Iago/Langda Tyagi. The effeminate touches he gives the character in places – the red nail-polish, the earrings, the way he puts a cummerbund around his head in one scene – reminded me of the things I’ve read about Laurence Olivier’s interpretation of Iago (he played him as secretly lusting for Othello).

A few months ago I wrote a post about Ram Gopal Varma’s overwrought attempts at manufacturing realism. Well, watching Omkara, I realised that Bharadwaj gets a lot of the things right that RGV often struggles with, especially in the intense scenes. Extremely impressive though his framing of shots is, it rarely becomes an end in itself – it doesn’t cry out “Look what I’m doing here!” to the viewer. (Also, Ajay Devgan’s broodiness in this film is far more convincing than it was in Company.)

Was about to write a full-fledged post on Omkara but then I read this superb long review by Baradwaj Rangan and I threw my hands up. This is one of the most perceptive pieces of writing I’ve seen about an Indian movie in a very long time; do read it all the way through (preferably after watching the film).

Quick notes:

- Warning for anyone who’s conservative about these things or who plans to take elderly family members for this film: there’s plenty of profanity, including a large sprinkling of “chutiyas” and “bhenchods”. (Need I add that sections of the audience burst into spontaneous applause and whistling each time one of these words was heard?)

- Is there anything Konkana Sen Sharma can’t do? I’ve seen her in four completely different roles in the last fortnight and am awestruck by how she keeps pushing herself as an actress, all the while managing to seem effortless.

- Chap next to me spent the final 10 minutes chattering into his cellphone – thankfully he wasn’t too loud (or maybe the film’s soundtrack drowned him out) but I did gather that he was relating the onscreen developments to the poor wretch at the other end. Since this was the point in the film where the bodies start to pile up in the best gory Shakespearean style, the descriptions were mainly suchlike:

Ab woh isse bhi maar dega.”

Ek aur mar gaya.”

Lagta hai sab ke sab hee mar jayenge.”

Arre, itni serious picture hai.”

And while exiting the hall, this snatch:

Yeh toh real story hai. Shakespeare ka hai na – woh bahut real stories likhta tha.”

Link: Omkara official site


  1. why don't i get to sit next to such people when i go for movies? life sucks. :-(

  2. Very interesting review and what is mentioned in the end is part of a cinegoer's experience. Call it bonus or by product.

  3. Jwock

    Was surprised to read your gushing review. I saw it today and didn't like it as much. to wit:

    1. I thought the whole brooding thing was actually overdone (here you and I are opposed - I thought Ajay Devgan was much much better in Company). I would've wanted a more fast-paced action thing with the only buildup in the psychological bit. But then I liked Baz Luhrman's Romeo & Juliet, so what can i say?

    2. Saif did a decent job but to me he was still too urban. Where Manoj Bajpai when you need him?

    3. While the diro made some good attempts to show us the basis of Omkara's insecurity, I don't think he did a good job on that too much. And there was asuch a cool msimath there - Ajay Devan and kareena Kapoor...

    4. .. though it gave me immense satisfaction to see the end of her. Honestly couldn't he have got someone better to play that role? But then my movie watching partner reminded me that she was probably the only one who loked suitably dumb to play the part.

    5. And finally, what was with those horrid songs? I think the movie could've been shortened by at least an hour without losing anything.

    and am sooo upset. I think my hero, Ajay Devgan, has gynecomastia. Someone please tell me that thats' just muscle?


  4. I meant mismatch of course. bad typing.


    oh, and bips was just very very bad. but the only cool thing I liked was how the director brought back the ajay devgan-vivek oberoi rivalry. smooth. very smooth.

  5. yeah. heard the movie's brilliant. And Konkona can effortlessly pull off anything under the sun. The next Kajol, one might as well say.

  6. The nest Kajol? One sincerely hopes this is some sort of joke.

  7. Neela: A couple of my friends disliked it more than you did. Again, similar complaints that it could have been faster paced, and also one major one (which I partly agree with) that you lose much of the resonance of Shakespearean tragedy when everyone (at least all the male characters) is a goonda to begin with. Difficult to sympathise with anyone.

    Nazim: With due respect to Kajol, Konkana is entirely in a class of her own. I can't think of another Indian actor or actress who has tried to do as many different things as she has in a relatively short span of time, and successfully managed them all without letting the effort show.

  8. i loved it, two people stood out for me, saif and konkona, very mediocre performances otherwise. raju was quite a surprise(who is this guy?)

    horrible editing, no build-up to the climax, i thought the film lacked any sort of cohesive structure, individual scenes were great in themselves though, great comic relief, satire, and i liked the subtext of the class/caste problem and the crude language, beti chod!!
    also how vishal used various objects as cinematic devices.

    the background score was too operatic, and sometimes overstated, why dont they use more local sounds?

    p.s - i wonder if the 'pataudi' connection helped saif pull this off so well.

  9. Oh I loved Konkana, and yeah! there is nothing she can't do. Surprise everytime... i am even beginning to find her hot after seeing her in sweat :-)

    Only I couldn't stand kareena.

    And neela, not to worry, those were muscles, happens when slender armed men do a lot of bench press.

  10. well omkara is surely a cut above...esp. liked the scene in the temple with naseeruddin shah when the bahubali is chosen...wonder where in India is the movie shot...very very authentic north indian....but I expected it to be somekind of a political movie with a background of OTHELLO...was proved wrong on that count...

  11. BTW Konkona was into dog defenestration as a child. One reason why her performances as an actress leave me cold. For several years, there was a nice red patch on the concrete under the Sen's flat in Alipore.

  12. Jai, nice observations, especially regarding the effiminate touches to Iago, which I wouldn;t have noticed had I not read your review before rushing forth to see the film. And thanks for the link to Baradwaj's review, it's quite excellent.

    I enjoyed Omkara thoroughly, though I did have misgiving about parts of it. My post is here.

    Dog-fenestration sucks, but DD, we should judge actors only by their work, no?

  13. I thought Saif, Konkana and Bipasha were a bit too urban for the roles. Saif looked great for the part, but there was still a hint of class in his voice. Same with Konkana - somehow the dialect didn't seem to suit her. Bipasha looked too glamorous for the role. Considering the film was shot in UP, there's no way in hell that some small village would have such a hot dancing girl.

    I couldn't connect with Omkara's character at times. He didn't seem like the central figure which I can't decide is a good thing or not. It felt as if the film was named that only because it in some ways rhymes with Othello.

    Despite these flaws, I thought the film was amazingly shot, with attention given to the tiniest of details.

  14. I picked up the Maqbool DVD in India and was looking forward to seeing it but it just didn't quite work - though in VB's defence Macbeth is a difficult play. So my enthusiasm for Omkara is slightly tempered though I will watch it. Coincidentally just saw the Laurence Fishburne Othello - I think the angle of Iago secretly lusting for Othello is pretty much built into the play. Foul language and authentic dialect apart, it would also be interesting to see to what extent Shakespeare's poetry is built into the Indian movie (Branagh chews up the scenery with his dialogue whereas Fishburne looks the part and does his best but falls a bit short in the delivery of lines).

  15. Have yet to see the movie,your post makes the need all the more urgent.
    That apart - I came here from India Uncut, I must thank you.
    I came to know that Defenestration is a word in the English language and also that Konkona Sen is guilty of doing it to dogs - Thanks man and thanks anon.

  16. Amit: I suspect DD's comment was tongue-in-cheek... unless he's a bigger softie than any of us knows ;-)

    More seriously, sure, we should judge actors (or authors or musicians or sportspersons, or whoever) only by their work - but how often does that really happen?

    DD: what were you doing hanging about Aparna di's flat at all hours?

    Shama: yes, there was just too much of a contrast between Branagh and Fishburne's acting styles - made the film seem schizophrenic. On the whole I found Fishburne's performance more interesting though.

    Cowlick: wrt "He didn't seem like the central figure which I can't decide is a good thing or not" ... that's occasionally the case with the original too, mainly because Iago is such a powerful character. Othello never feels as central to things as Hamlet or Lear.

  17. Yes, the two styles didn't quite gel - Fishburne was more an actor in a film whereas the English actors looked like they were in a play. As you said Fishburne was more interesting - he somehow personified the idea of Othello, arguably its one adaptation where Othello seems the central figure.

    Note that Rangan seems to be happy with that rearrangement of Kareena's character living in with Othello/Omkara (I think he went a bit overboard with the milky white hyperbole!!!). I have my reservations on Desdemona's role being spiced up and having the wedding at the end....I think Parker's version copped a lot of flack for a related reason i.e. placing sexuality (especially Desdemona's) as central to the story.

    I think the main problem with Maqbool (and perhaps with Omkara too) is that it is set amongst the criminal classes. It seems odd to me that viewer fatigue has not set in - my first reaction to Maqbool was "not another gangland saga" :-)

  18. Neela talking of gynecomastia-if today's Indian express website is an indication, Mr. Bacchan has also joined the list!!!

  19. ok, here's my 2p.

    a.Maqbool was a finer film - turning the witches to soothsayer constables was a touch of class. This is a great effort but maybe too much hyperbole ?

    b. Bips was way too urban and her English too convented .

    c. I missed seeing the "duvidha" that Omkara should have been feeling. Somehow Devgan is below par esp. after the contrived cummerband episode - which was the one thing that struck a false note - it was too complicated and one little hitch and Saifi boy would've had his throat slit !

    d. Can someone pl tell kareena that even if she's upset/crying she should try not to look like she's smiling. Kajol/Madhuri have the same problem with their teeth visible in emotional scenes but they change their facial expressions in such a way they dont look like they're grinning.

    e. FWIW, i'm pretty sure this will be india's oscar entry .


  20. Thats the trouble! Why compare it to Macbool.. anyway.. your reco means a lot Jai, will def go watch it .. :) and the review you linked to.. he does write very very thoroughly...

  21. My comment was NOT tongue-in-cheek.
    It is the straight truth. I would not accuse somebody of something like this without direct knowledge or proof
    Amit - anybody who has that sort of psycho streak and has succeeded in meshing in with society is an extremely good actor.
    Explanations of my connection would be tedious.
    But if you want confirmation about the dog defenstration, ask Ramananda Sengupta ( He was certainly around at the time and it made him just about as sick as it did me.

  22. Good review there Jai..but I feel that with all the hype that surrounds it (this being a follow up to his much better Maqbool), there is a sense of disproportion to teh praises it has been recieving.

    The best part of the movie to me was the cinematography and individually there are quite a few stand out scenes. But...

    1. The movie was too least by an half an hour.

    2. There was way too many coincidence and some of the major plot points looked contrived. Especially...teh cummarband scene and Billo's confrontation with Keshu. There were some more...but I dont recollect it off hand.

    3. The most jarring aspect was the motivation of Dolly's character to fall in love with Omkara. I know that 'Love is blind' and all that..but there doesnt seem to be any rational explanation given...especially as Omakara is just another unclean looking gangster.

    4. Ajay Devgan is Ajay devgan...some may call it understated acting..but to me he was just the same brooding Ajay. Me thinks he was better in Company though...

    5. Bipasha was playing herself..and Mr. Oberoi was totally clueless...

    6. Konkana and Saif was the best alongwith that 'dumped' groom, though I must say Saif tended to slip up occasionally into his polished metrosexuality...

    7. ...and the swearing and the profanities in some places were an attempt at making it realistic..but the 'effort' showed

    Enuf nitpicking...but it was a brave attempt and were it not for teh senseless might have turned out to be a better experience.


  23. readnright: I still haven't seen Maqbool and I knew nothing about all the hype surrounding Omkara. I went in, saw the film, loved it and wrote a couple of things about it (this post wasn't a review btw!).

    I don't agree that the "effort showed" - or if it did, it wasn't to an extent that hindered my experience of the film.

    ...especially as Omakara is just another unclean looking gangster

    Um. Yes. But by that same token, Dolly is bloody Kareena Kapoor! Like you say, love is blind - no rational explanation required. The bigger problem I think is that one doesn't get a sense of how she feels about the underhanded work he does.

  24. DD, dog-defenstration is sick. I wouldn't want my flippant comments on it to indicate that I could think otherwise. I'd still hold that it should have nothing to do with evaluations of her acting. But it's sick all right.

  25. DD: by tongue-in-cheek I meant the connection you were drawing between the lady's acting and her offscreen defenstration of dogs. Not doubting that the defenstration occurred.

  26. Jai: Fwiw, it was better than I'd expected, but very far from brilliant. For a Bollywood movie, I thought it was quite promising, but the Shakespeare lover in me was screaming blue murder from start to finish. My review here:

    For the record, I think Bharadwaj is improving. I thought Maqbool was pathetic. It wasn't just that the story was set among the criminal classes - the more serious crime was that he turned a story about a man driven by ambition to a story about a man driven by love. That, to me, is unforgivable - it completely destroys the whole point of Shakespeare's play. For all Bharadwaj's careful attention to the text of the play, Maqbool is, in spirit, closer to Anthony and Cleopatra than it is to Macbeth.

  27. I think Bharadwaj is one of the better directors we have today!
    I just absolutely loved Maqbool when I saw it..I think it was adapted superbly and it fit into the Indian context seamlessly!
    While I liked Omkara, I certainly didn't love it. It was a tad slow, and adapted so faithfully to the original play that it lost part where it was supposed to interpretted/adapted to the Indian scene. It just was too easy.
    Or maybe the bar was set too high with Maqbool?

  28. Falstaff, I think your reverence of the Bard is leading to some amount of prejudice here. Whether you liked Maqbool or not, and whether you agreed with the changes Bhardwaj had made, are you sure you want to call it 'pathetic'? Pretty strong, that.

  29. Maurader's Map: Yes, possibly. But I would still call it pathetic. Or perhaps bathetic would be a better word. Macbeth driven by an overvaulting ambition is a tragic figure. Macbeth (Maqbool) driven by his hots for his boss's girlfriend is a character out of a Shah Rukh Khan movie. If Bharadwaj doesn't even get that much about the play, or if he's so spineless that he feels he has to change the central motivation of the play's main character in order to make it acceptable to his audience, then he should keep his paws off the Bard, or at least have the decency to restrict himself to adaptations of the Merry Wives of Windsor. It's not a question of whether I agreed with or liked the plot of Maqbool, it's a question of what it means to say that Maqbool is an adaptation of Macbeth, when the central logic of the plot is entirely different. Maqbool had about as much to do with Shakespeare as Troy had to do with Homer.

  30. Well, that's the eternal debate over literary adaptations. And when the literary source is especially well-liked, we tend to react like this. I guess it just doesn't seem possible to detach the film from the book or play, though ideally that's how a film ought to be watched. But I would react the same way if someone did something unpardoneable to, say, P&P (which is why I've never watched the Keira Nightley version).

    Sorry to sound all preachy and stuff, but I do feel like saying 'there, there, you'll get over it'. :D

  31. It's not a question of whether I agreed with or liked the plot of Maqbool, it's a question of what it means to say that Maqbool is an adaptation of Macbeth...

    Uh Falstaff, when you're judging Maqbool as a film (which you have, by calling it pathetic), the question does become what you think of it on its own terms, not what you think of it as an adaptation of Macbeth.

    Won't go on about Maqbool because a) I haven't seen it yet and b) Bhardwaj did insist on it being a Shakespeare adaptation, so maybe original-text purists can be cut some slack. But please, PLEASE stop going on about Troy and Homer. Wolfgang Petersen's film never claimed to be anything more than an adaptation of The Iliad (in fact, as shooting progressed the writers drew more and more material from other sources, which is why they decided to change the original title). I thought it was a very decent film - some of its changes from the myths all of us are so familiar with (the absence of Gods for instance) were courageous ones and put me in mind of what Peter Brook did with the Mahabharata.

  32. Jai: For once, I wasn't actually criticising Troy (though I HATED it, and sat through it looking for things to throw at the screen - but then you know I'm a purist :-)). My point was actually pretty much what you're saying - Troy didn't claim to be an adaptation of the Iliad, just loosely inspired by it; and the same could have been said, in my opinion, of Maqbool and Macbeth. Except that wasn't what Bhardwaj was saying.

    On the larger adaptation thing, I think MM has it right - it's nice to say that one should ignore the original and judge the movie on its own terms, but I don't think that's possible - it's especially hard when you sit there and see the scriptwriter making the movie more cliched and less interesting than you know it could have been if he'd stuck with the original. And for what? So that he could have a few romantic scenes with Tabu in them?

    But for the record, I'm not sure Maqbool would stand up to the 'on it's own merit' test either. Let's assume we've never read Macbeth and it's not an adaptation. It's a story about a gangster who falls in love with his mob boss's wife and decides (after endless hours of brooding interspersed with fairly cliched romance) to kill his boss and take his woman. Then other mobsters turn against him and he gets killed. Not strikingly original, is it? And what's with all these strange police inspectors running around spouting dialogue and being creepy? How much sense would that really make if not for the Macbeth connection?

    The point is, I very much doubt Maqbool would have received the admiration it did if it hadn't been an adaptation of Macbeth (though admittedly, that's just my opinion). Much of what made it interesting was the way Bhardwaj adapted the play to a different context. But if that's what makes the movie interesting, surely criticisms of how good an adaptation it is are fair game.

    I suspect part of this is also because in general I'm more interested in the script of a film than in the film itself. On the whole I think Bhardwaj is a really interesting director (even in Maqbool). I just think his scripts are uninteresting and uninspired.

  33. it's fun having the last word in series of comments, the flip side being a rather non-fatal lack of attention from already tired contributors!

    Interesting thread, and very perceptive observation by..umm..Falstaff (?) that Maqbool is closer to the menage-a-trois than the sad and murderous couple!

    but have observed that most of the comments, even those extremely readable and sensitive ones by Jabberwock, are about great acting! Falstaff, I guess he is an academic, is more concerend with the plot, which is rather neutral, and easily amenable to analysis. FF makes a good point that, as an independent movie, Maqbool doean't stand any chance because, among other things, there was a severe lack of verismilitude (as in what were the policemen doing thre?)His comment is interesting also because it points out the shiftiness in our methods of critquing a work of art, especially when it has a cross-cultural baggage. I don't want to simplify this point and accuse FF of accepting all the bull Macbeth (witches)and not accepting that in Bollywood. Of course Bollywood is bad, but aren't we rather too harsh on it in this case, unless of course we are expecting Vishal B to be something like Shakespeare and create his parallel ouevre?

    A note on "good" acting: this notion is culturally constructed and time plays a major role in it. Period. Sorry for all this pontification, but you people who are familiar with world cinemas and theatre (perhaps) must surely admit that in some cultures (Germany) it is a sin not to overact! I don't know how to explain away Sunny Deol's woodenness, but finally bhodro actors (umm..cudn't find a substitute, sorry :))are whatever they are. Some like them and some not. Some actors become cultural icons and come across as great ones("brooding" Devgan is in the process) and some, I don;t know why, are never taken seriously (Kareena, here's my bleeding heart, eat it).

    We all know, that some people CAN write well, but, sadly, we often use that power to justify our impressions, forgetting what is actually in there in the movie/book/person we critique. Jabberwock somewhere said very nasty things about people who don't watch/read and part with their invaluable comments. I harbour the same feelings about people who say, for instance, "Saif was great and so believable" (as if s/he knows quite a few gangster-lackeys who limp and paint their nails red, and ,given a chance, Saif can impersonate any of them in a gang meeting if he falls sick)

    I feel very solemn, and I like this tone. I will write again.

  34. After all this, I definitely have to go and watch Omkara as well as Maqbool---though I shudder at the thought of willingly going to a movie peppered with profanity! As for your neighbour in the audience---the funniest part was the solemn declaration that"Bahut real hai---shakespeare real likhta thha!" Which reminds me---when we were watching the first Harry Potter,a small voice piped up behind us, "Woh bachha kahan hai, jisme shakti hoti hai?"

  35. I saw the movie last saturday. It is quite good. There is a scene in which Saif talks on a mobile, at the same point of time, a fellow which sitting near me was also talking on mobile. Funnily, I overhead what that fellow was talking and could not catch what Saif was saying on the screen.

  36. As anyone who has read the Orkney sagas knows, Shakespeare's Macbeth takes considerable literary license with the historical facts of Thorfinn Sigurdson Macbethoc's ascent to the Scottish throne and his subsequent ousting.

    Thorfinn was King Duncan's grandson by his only child, Beth and also the earl of Orkney (then a Norwegian possession) by virtue of paternal descent. By the time of Duncan's death, he was the only living descendant of Duncan.

    Thorfinn didn't kill Duncan. He was the person with the clearest claim on the Scots throne. He didn't have any living siblings.

    Lady Macbeth was a Norwegian princess. She wasn't nuts.
    All the intrigue was standard operating procedure. Banquo didn't exist, Macduff was just another Scots earl.

    Thorfinn was subsequently vilifed because he claimed to be a Viking (which he was on his father's side) and while king of Scotland, acknowledged that he was a vassal of the king of Norway due to his desire to keep his northern possessions (the jarldoms of Orkneys and Caithness) safe.

    So wtf is the problem with adaptions?


  37. This is at best an average movie.I think the movie could have been a lot better with a better choice of actors,but that can be said of every movie.The director did not utilize the two fine actors that he had-Konkona and Naseer.I would disagree with others about Konkonas performance.The characters are acting out their mannerisms instead of reacting to situations.Like a typical bollywood movie when you come out you just remember their mannerisms instead of a single scene.Of course one doesnt expect anything from Devgan, Oberoi, Bipasha,Saif ALi etc. but its a travesty that in a film with actors like Konkona and Naseer the only memorable scenes are by the guy whom Kareena was supposed to get married to before.Hats off to him.Brilliant acting!
    Also, since there has been some talk about Konkona acting,I am surprized how Tabu is always overlooked when talking about good actors.I think she is the best actress of her generation and would rank in my top 5 bollywood actresses of all time.

  38. Just watched it. Decent attempt. Thats all. Definitely not a must watch.

    Maqbool was a cpl of notches higher. Here I think making UP underworld as the backdrop wasnt such a great idea after all. I think that meant some extra scenes of killings and shootings which resulted in

    a) the audience getting a bit bored of all the killings before the gory climax.
    b) story loosing the grip in the middle and deviating from the cenral plot.

    Thats why this didnt have an impact jayaraj's Kaliyattom had on he viewer.

    Great cinematography though, the scene of the "yagna" at the hilltop stands out. Good performances, the guy who played Raju was very good.

  39. Yeah! i liked Konkona very much. I enjoyed a lot this movie. I have read a omkara review of Inam ul Rehman that was also very interesting. According to him, Vishal has succeeded in giving the film the Indian look without taking anything away from the play. Rustic setting, raunchy music, riveting climax, Omkara is truly head and shoulders above the usual potboilers. The treatment meted is original. The helplessness of Omkara; the innocence of Dolly; the jealousy, ambition and greed of Langda all makes you thing how beautifully Shakespeare has weaved human emotions.

    Read full review here