Monday, August 28, 2006

Omkaara

Omkaara is Shakespeare’s Othello set in the heartland of India, in UP. It translates to this setting well. Othello is a Moor and a soldier, Omkaara a half-caste and a gang lord connected to the most powerful politician in the territory. Desdemona was white nobility, her hand sought by all who matter in the highest echelons of Venetian society. Dolly is a fair and beautiful upper caste girl, daughter of a prominent lawyer. In both cases, society does not sanction their union and they are forced to come together stealthily.

The movie is shot beautifully – the vast barren landscape provides a fitting backdrop to the tragedy unfolding. It is also shot stylishly, with camera angles, the editing and the music building up tension and intrigue. The script is grabbing, though a lot of the meaning was lost to me in the mix of regional dialect and Hindi.

At the end though, this movie had to be about the actors. And the casting is quite faultless. Ajay Devgan as Omkaara is pretty good, there is a dignity to him that suits the role of the quietly efficient and confident gang leader. Kareena Kapoor exudes a certain ethereal beauty mingled with a sadness that portends tragedy. Saif is Langda Tyaagi, a fitting Iago consumed with bitterness and rage. There was a lot of hype about his acting. I found him good, not exceptional. A lot of actors could have essayed this role equally well, I thought. Vivek Oberoi as Kesu Phirangi plays the young and charming Cassio quite nicely. He looks and remains the outsider, the college educated kid who can’t quite hold his drink the way the world of Omkaara demands. Konkana Sen as Langda’s wife provides one of the few deviations from the Bard’s original storyline while Bipasha Basu as Billo is there to provide a couple of earthy item numbers. A heavy star cast that does not for once detract from the intensity of the script.

A character in Salman Rushdie’s Fury sums up the character of Othello thus: “…Othello does not love Desdemona. ..He says he does but it can’t be true. Because if he loves her, the murder makes no sense. For me, Desdemona is Othello’s trophy wife, his most valuable and status giving-posession, the physical proof of his risen standing in a white man’s world….He loves that about her, but not her…Desdemona’s death is an ‘honour killing’. She didn’t have to be guilty. The accusation was enough…She’s not even a person to him. He has reified her. She’s his Oscar-Barbie statuette. His doll.”

I thought it was a fitting description of Othello. I am not entirely sure this holds as true in Omkaara. Om, like Othello, is brave and intelligent and a true leader of men. Yet at the end, his fatal flaw is not his inability to see Dolly as anything but a possession, but a deep seated sense of inferiority – he really cannot believe he can deserve a Dolly.

Omkaara as a film is worth watching, even buying the DVD for. It has been quite a welcome relief from the mindless stuff being currently churned out.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Londonstani

Gautam Malkani

Here is chick-lit in reverse – a boy-book if I can call it that. Fun to read on a plane, not to be taken too seriously.

Set in a part of London, Hounslow, that’s more South Asian than English, the first thing that strikes us is the lingo - fresh and therefore interesting. It is an unabashed mix of English, Hindi and Punjabi – the ‘pehndu’ and ‘innit’ and ‘bhanchod’ and ‘wikid’ all flow effortlessly together. And this is probably the best thing about the book.

Londonstani showcases a fusion culture where kids grow up in Britain, yet stay Indian or Paki. In this twilight zone, arranged marriages are the norm and families are more Indian than those back home. Dads drive ‘Beemers’ and moms hold satsangs. Kids listen to Bhangra pop and integration is a dirty word. In the heart of Britain, the line dividing India and Pakistan is as strong as it has ever been – Muslim and Hindu are swear words you throw at each other across the line. It is all very laughable if you don’t get the sneaking suspicion that this is all true.

The narrator is a boy named Jas and it is a tale of him trying hard to belong. He makes sure he talks in the right lingo and does the right things, just so that he can be part of the ‘rudeboys’. The group he desperately wants an in into consists of Hardjit (right name Harjit), a Sikh boy, the leader and body perfect, Amit whose brother Arun’s marriage is becoming a soap opera and Ravi, innocuous and tactless. His plans of integration into this world soon come apart – with his obsession for Samira, a Muslim and therefore a complete no-no for his group, his advice to Arun to rebel against his mother that makes for unfortunate consequences and the group’s growing involvement in a mobile phone scam.

Jas’s story is pretty engrossing at the beginning. But after a while, the lingo no longer surprises and the situations drag. The ending of course, is completely farcical. Londonstani is, like I mentioned earlier, a decent read. Nothing more, nothing less.