If Shakespeare's genius lay in borrowing material from minor authors and transforming them into suggestive expressions of the human state, Vishal Bhardwaj has proved his competence in providing them with a modern Indian context. While Maqbool (Bhardwaj's take on Macbeth) was the story of Mumbai's underworld, Omkara is a commentary on the rampant lawlessness and gangster feuds of Uttar Pradesh.
Bhardwaj makes his hero in his second Shakespearean outing a gang leader with political connections. Omkara (Ajay Devgan) names Kesu (Viveik Oberoi) his chief lieutenant. Seething with fury, the other pretender to the post, Langda Tyagi (Saif Ali Khan), hatches a conspiracy to systematically destroy Omkara and everybody he loves. He has two allies: His wife, Indu (Konkona Sensharma), who helps him unwittingly and Raju, his crony.
In love with Dolly (Kareena Kapoor), Omkara falls into Tyagi's trap as he poisons his chief's mind with tales of her supposed love affair with Kesu. Tyagi engineers a tragedy that sucks everyone into its vortex and ends with Omkara realising, only too late, his tragic error of judgement. Indu also discovers how she had played into her husband's hands.
Bhardwaj opens the film with Omkara's gang stopping a wedding procession (Dolly's father is marrying her off) and 'rescuing' her so that she can marry the chief. The action of the film tragically ends on the night of her wedding with Omkara. As the plot comes full circle, one is left marvelling at Bhardwaj's masterful control over his medium.
He is ably aided by his star cast, all of whom seem comfortable in an interesting mix of Hindi and Bhojpuri. Devgan puts in a restrained performance, while the crude and crafty Tyagi is perhaps Saif Ali Khan's best portrayal ever. Oberoi looks like he is all set for a resounding comeback. Konkona, Kareena and Bipasha lend credence to their roles.
Bhardwaj also pulls off a coup by composing the music himself. Gulzar's lyrics and the folk forms of Uttar Pradesh provide the framework for the evocative music that is a winner starting from the theme song, Omkara. He shows the same competence in executing the script and dialogue, which is sprinkled with a humour that one recognises as Bhardwaj's own.
When Maqbool released, Bhardwaj was a one-film-old (admitted, that film was Makdee) director with little to lose. In Omkara, Bhardwaj has a Rs-25-crore multi-starrer that works just as well as his earlier film had.
An intelligent adaptation, Omkara disappoints on one count. A lot of Othello's insecurities — his hamartia, or traffic flaw — came from his being a Moor (a black outcast) in Venice, whose 'otherness' made him stand out. Couldn't this have provided Bhardwaj an opportunity to play around with the caste politics and factionalism of Uttar Pradesh?