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Rewriting Shakespeare

Vishal Bhardwaj is documenting the making of the much-awaited film in a book to be released soon.

india Updated: Jul 04, 2006 13:21 IST

I had read Othello a long time back. After Blue Umbrella finished I was combing around for a new idea when I decided to revisit the play... The more I kept reading it the more fascinated I got... I decided to write a script of it... Once my mind was set, I forgot the play and resolved to weave my own story... I took the basic thread of Shakespeare's story and made the characters my own... Maqbool had bolstered my confidence as far as adapting Shakespeare liberally was concerned.

I chose the Othello because it has all the necessary requisites integral to a drama about the sexes — love, passion, jealousy and crime.

Thus, Omkara was born out of Othello... I set the story in the political mafia of Uttar Pradesh... a strife ridden political melt pot in North India... I spent my childhood in the small town of Meerut in UP... This interpretation of Othello as my characters populate a place and language that I have known closely... Somewhere they have left their Shakespeare roots far behind and surrendered to me... For example I based the character of the central antagonist, Langda Tyagi, on a childhood friend whose growth as a gangster had happened in front of my eyes.


 The more I kept reading Othello the more fascinated I got, writes Vishal Bhardwaj

Here, in the great unknown, the political underworld is very different from the corporatised underworld one sees in Bombay... I took the help of the local police and the CBI and met up with some people in the jail… One particular high profile political convict I met had been kept in isolation for days… I partially based the character of Naseer's Bhaisaab on him.

When it came down the look I am a big fan of the "wild west" genre of Hollywood films. I reworked Othello and his gang, on page, into a band of outlaws from the great outback. The workings of the gang would be rooted in reality. But the mood of the film was deliberately chosen to resemble the dusty westerns of the 60s.

We then went ahead and chose the semi desert terrain of a UP as a backdrop to unspool our story. We wrote in violence as a steady consort of the character's daily lives. The characters also got to speak a certain dialect, which is peculiar to the geographical region they were set in.

Ajay (Devgan) was the first to be cast, not to speak, the easiest. His tough as nails presence speaks of an unspoken authority and righteousness that characterises my Omkara… Ajay was the trigger point instrumental in getting the film made.

In the play Desdemona's breathtaking beauty forms the basis of Othello's sexual jealousy and eventual breakdown. I was on the lookout for a pure face who could play my Dolly — someone who is completely besotted with Omi and completely unaware of the workings of his jealous mind. In Kareena (Kapoor) I found that perfect balance of innocence and sensuality and she's quietly taken centre stage with her sensitive performance.

Viveik (Oberoi) surrendered himself to the script and surprised me with his diligence… For one sequence he had to play the guitar and sing. He practiced non-stop for a month and on the day of the shoot, blew everyone with his performance. It's turned out to be one of the best scenes from the film.

With Saif (Ali Khan), his character needed to be reptile like and yet, physically, look like a rugged fighter. It was critical that he cut his hair. He had been reluctant to do so... I left the decision to his conscience… Finally on Eid, a day before we began shooting, he chopped it off, calling it a 'qurbani' (sacrifice) to Allah… In that single moment of truth my Langda was born… Evil had rarely looked so cool on screen… Saif 's intelligent exploration of Iago's demons dignifies the arch villain.

I met up with Naseer at the film festival where I just happened to mention that I am making Othello, and I still remember, that he remarked that Othello is the bard's weakest play. I asked him to go through my version and after reading the script he liked it so much that he insisted on casting himself in the role of Bhaisaab — a miniscule but a pivotal part… Naseer saab actually went ahead and shaved his head to establish his character… It was humbling to see his enthusiasm and involvement in the project.

Thus, like Shakespeare would probably say "All's well that ends well"… At the end of it all, every film is a big journey into your self and leaves you completely drained emotionally. But the spirit survives… And waits… waits till the next subject comes along and tickles the pen into scribbling some more…."

(The movie is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello. The book will release along with the music later this month. This is an exclusive extract from the book written by the director.)