Movie Review: Omkara, Disappointment and Dismay of the Season

August 10, 2006
Mayank Austen Soofi

Swearing maa-behen curse words after every ten seconds won't translate into an authentic Uttar Pradesh lingo. Playing an eerie flute tone as a background score won't make the mood sinister. Making male actors dance after Satya's Bhiku Matre fashion won't make the settings of item numbers real. Picturising water being drawn from hand pumps in a scene or two won't transport the soul of a North Indian country side to the nearest multiplex.

Harsh comments for Omkara might be unfair to Vishal Bhardwaj who has bravely (itmustbesaid) attempted to transport Venice's Othello to a politico-mafia gangster locale of, say, Bijnor. In the unfertile grounds of Bombay cinema where Yash Chopra's stale Mont Blanc romances are counteracted by pseudo-real plots of Ram Gopal Varma's Factory, where Mahesh Bhatt's sex-song thrillers are balanced by Priyadarshan's rehashed family comedies, where the last really grand-good film was actually a re-release, the re-colored Mughal-e-Azam, Mr Bhardwaj has tried to be innovative. At least.

The compliment and the praise end there.

Mr Bhardwaj who launched his career as a music composer with Gulzar's Maachis, perhaps the best politically provocative film to hit the Hindi screens in the 90s, later went on to impress with his daring directorial ventures - a children film (Makdee) in which the then Member of Parliament Shabana Azmi was made to play a witch, and a Shakespeare adaptation (Maqbool) in which the conspiracies of Macbeth's palace were so brilliantly evoked in the hideouts of Mumbai's Muslim mafia.

Macbeth, err Maqbool, was a delicious production by a director at the height of his visions. Admittedly, the vision was rooted-to-earth and the budget was limited: No big stars graced the screen with their presence. Art house actress Tabu and theater actor Irfan Khan, along with an inexpensive Pankaj Kapur, enlivened the film with their non-filmi portrayal of Lady Macbeth, her Lord and the King Duncan.

The scope being small, Mr Bhardwaj and his team made the feature with all their passion, but with no consciousness of producing a classic.

And therefore Maqbool became a masterpiece.

But the Bard of Bombay could not become the Bard of Bijnor.

This time he was a big man. Arreji, he was the directorsahebwhomademaqbool. The way was only up at the top. Othello had to outdo Macbeth. Desdemona had to outstyle Lady Macbeth. Venice had to outshine Scotland. Bijnor had to outsmart Bombay. So, bigger but not better actors were called in. From Ajay Devgan to Kareena Kapoor to Saif Ali Khan to Vivek Oberoi to Naseeruddin Shah, the screen had to light up into the blinding glare of a thousand stars. The theatre had to be set on fire. There had to be glitter, glamour and the ultimate glory.

With so many distractions, Omakara inevitably ended up in shambles.

Big stars demand big money which demands big production label which demands big expectations which demands big profits which translates back to big money. Such considerations so omnipotent in a script-writer's consciousness, the script (penned by Mr Bhardwaj himself along with a team of two writers) could not help but sacrifice its straight, narrow path to make way for Bipasha Basu item numbers, and to cater to the egos of the participating film stars.

That is why Omakara turned out to be a disappointment.

A story that should have ended soon after Kareena 'Desdemona' Kapoor's murder dragged on, thereby spoiling the impact of the oh-so-artistically-done death scene. The Hindustani gaalis only contributed in painfully marking out Mr Bhardwaj's inability in not being able to do a Bandit Queen. Besides, too-many unnecessary scenes seemed to have been included for the sole purpose of forcing the viewers into noticing that 'please, please look at that string cot and at those cow dung cakes which we have employed to make the film so North Indianingly real'.

Togivethepeopletheirdue, everyone worked very hard, but oh-ah, it showed.

However, the biggest boo-boo must be reserved for Mr Saif Ali Khan. The presentation of the character, based on Othello's evil villain Iago, and Mr Khan's portrayal of this character, together conspired to make a seriously embarrassing example of how things could go wrong even in an earnest effort.

Mr Khan put in a hundred percent villainy in a hundred percent villainous character. If Ms Kareena Kapoor was sugary sweet, he was lemony sour. His acting had no dubious shades, incidentally a trait so typical of Shakespeare's peoples. Instead, Mr Khan's Langda 'Iago' Tyagi was plain black and devil incarnate. Coupled with a rather juvenile urge to prove that he is not a mere Ole-Ole boy, Mr Khan enthusiastically invested his screen presence with non-stop leer, bloody-bad eyes and a scheming mind.

Unsurprisingly, Langda Tyagi ended up as the most boring and predictable aspect of the film. It was obviously a Mogambo act and while it would have worked well in an ordinary Bollywood action-fantasy, such acting was completely out of place in this wildly pretentious three-hour long play.

This condemnation of Mr Khan doesn't leave the performance of other actors in a brighter shade, though.

Ajay Devgan and Naseeruddin Shah sleep-walked through the script. Bipasha Basu did not look like a cowbelt nautch girl. Kareena Kapoor mimicked the Manisha Koirala School of Acting which dictates when there is nothing much to do except to appear sad, simply shed all the make up, apply rouge on the nosetip (as if one has recovered from a fresh bout of crying) and stare longingly into nothingness. Fortunately, Ms Kapoor has the advantage of her innocent looks, so she did not have to struggle hard in capturing the essence of Shakespeare's Desdemona.

A word must also be thrown for Konkana Sen who played Langda Tyagi's wife. She got the best lines that made the necessary impact even though her accent was the most artificial.

While nothing praiseworthy could be said about the score and the lyrics (Mr Bhardwaj being unfairly burdened with the past baggage of better music, and it being sinful for a supremely-gifted Gulzar to compose such mediocre words), one could be gracious about the cinematography which was by a gentleman called Tassaduq Hussain who happens to be Mufti Muhamamd Sayeed's son.

However, in spite of this reviewer wasting three hours of his precious life that could have been better utilized in reading one of V S Naipaul's recent unimpressive novels, it would be in bad taste to show any disrespect to the sincere dedication of Mr Bhardwaj towards the art of film making. After all, an acclaimed film-maker is not judged by his last film alone.

Mayank Austen Soofi owns a private library and four blogs: The Delhi Walla, Pakistan Paindabad, Ruined By Reading, and Mayank Austen Soofi Photos. Contact:
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Movie Review: Omkara, Disappointment and Dismay of the Season


Author: Mayank Austen Soofi


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August 12, 2006
09:43 AM

After reading a lot of reviews praising the film akin to a sacred work, the current review seemed too harsh to me. The film falls somewhat in between the two extremes I guess.

I have to agree that the current review has spoken more truths about the film than any other review, according to my opinion about the film atleast, but its the tone of the review I think Omkara doesn't deserve. Agreed, there was too much emphasis in making a mark, in leaving an impression in the film, and hence the over-emphasis on individual bits and pieces and NOT on the story as a whole I believe. I rate Maqbool in my all time top 10 favourites and this one, though not as bad as wasting my time for watching it, wouldn't be anywhere near being memorable.

I watched Maqbool 3 times within the first week of its release not able to get enough of it and not being able to believe that such a film could be made by an unknown filmmaker. I wish Vishal Bharadwaj goes back to low budget film making if that is what translates to good film making.

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