The very fact that there are full-bodied courses to appreciate Shakespeare should tell you that it is not easy to appreciate him - you need professional help.
For most Indians, Shakespeare is just a name to be dropped if you want to sound knowledgeable - you at least Google around and mug up the big works and the important dialogues before a date with someone you really want to impress. He might have been a literary genius, but in terms of sheer utility, between him and Stephen King, you know whose works the masses would any day prefer for entertainment. You'd have to be very evolved to even recognize Shakespeare as a good dialogue-writer.
Shakespeare, basically, wasn't mass material. And neither, therefore, is Omkara.
Omkara is the kind of arty film DD used to show with a vengeance in the eagerly awaited Sunday evening slot in its monopoly heyday - think Naseeruddin Shah, Deepti Naval, Farooque Shaikh, Shabana Azmi, Om Puri... Those days when you never dreamt the 8 buttons for 8 different channels would ever be used in your lifetime, and you considered yourself privileged if you had a friend who owned a "video" and would invite you for movies once in a while.
That's what Omkara has to be viewed as - a strictly "art" film, made for an intellectual crowd. The cream of even the multiplexes. Very few people walking out a screening will recommend it as a great watch, unless they are socialites or the kind of people your boss likes to hang around with. Try this for starters - everyone dies in the end. Now you know.
Omkara (Ajay Devgan) is a chieftain of a gang of goons in the UP/Bihar hinterland, main among them being Langda Tyagi (Saif Ali Khan) and Kesu (Viviek Oberoi). When Omkara's own mentor (Naseeruddin Shah) becomes an MP and wants Omkara to take over higher responsibilities, Omkara makes Kesu his successor.
This is a big slight for Langda, and he starts plotting to oust Kesu. He creates suspicion in the mind of Omkara that there is an affair between his fiance Dolly Mishra (Kareena Kapoor) and Kesu, through some elaborate hatching. It's Othello all the way then - the framing causes Omkara to finally kill Dolly, and he then almost immediately comes to know the truth, through Langda's wife (Konkona Sen Sharma). He cannot take it, and kills himself. Langda arranges for Kesu to be killed, and Langda's own wife kills him. The film ends.
Unfortunately, nobody clapped at the end. It was a 90% teenybopper crowd at Prasads who had their high points everytime a hardcore Hindi gaali
was used. Those were all the entertainment value for them. Vishal Bharadwaj has lost all the lucrative 15-30 crowd.
Then, like we said, Omkara has too much filthy language - the MC and BC and "choo...
. If you do not like to hang around with people who speak that language, you would not want to sit through this, either - so most polished crowds are out, and all the families are certainly out. And that takes care of the entire lucrative Marwari, Jain and Sindhi communities too.
At a more fundamental level, Vishal Bharadwaj has lost all
his audiences, by trying to indulge his own creative urges rather than his financiers. If this wasn't intended to a commercial success, of course, all that is just post-script.
Now for all the art film critic comments - yes, this one is a brilliant film, has great and extremely authentic dialogues in the UP/Bihar interior dialect, has earthy, intense, simmering performances from an almost poetically perfect cast including at least 3 National Award winners (Ajay Devgan, Saif Ali Khan, Naseeruddin Shah), and is subtle in all the places that a lesser film could have been heavy-handed. Konkona Sen Sharma deserves special mention - here is a brilliant actress who you look forward to seeing each time.
Yes, if you were to rate this strictly for movie-making, it would rate more. The plot itself, however, is too unappealing for the masses who go to a film to get entertained. There are times when the proceedings are too subtle for Indian standards. Many times you cannot understand the dialect. And there is a sinking feeling of gloom in most of the second half, and you want a movie-type denouement - not a Shakespeare-type denouement. Alas.
I am trying to think of a Bollywood tragedy that became a hit in the last 10 years. Only Devdas comes to mind. Devdas was much more vibrant and visually rich, Devdas could be understood by everyone, and, quite importantly, Devdas could be watched with the family.
This film's grand mounting and starcast will get it high initials. But in 3 days, everyone will know the, er, truth. This one would probably get reduced to 1-2 shows in the multiplexes in 2 weeks, and completely leave town in 3-4 weeks.Editor's Comment