When someone mentions Bollywood, the mind quickly thinks of a film where the plot is based on love triangles and romance which often ends happily ever after. This thought is accompanied with characters singing and dancing in authentic traditional costumes, like the sari (a costume for women), in an attempt to highlight a situation or mood more. Watching Bollywood is like watching recorded cultural dance shows because of how well cultural aspects are embedded in each routine.
In Bollywood films, love is usually the driving force of each plot, so it is interesting to watch a film like Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello, and see how it uses love of a politician to the love of a military hero. Omkara sets in a conservative Indian Society which is more contemporary than that of the play Othello which was set in a Venetian society between 1500 and 1750.
Even though the settings differ by years and culture, the director of the film, Vishal Bhardwaj, managed to include the backbone of the story.
This includes the themes revenge, deception, and love. The only obvious difference between the play and the movie is the characterization of the characters. The major one being Omkara (Othello) not being a moor. Through an analytic comparison between the play and the movie based on the plot and the characterization of Omkara reveals that Omkara successfully transforms a Venetian society-based play into one that an Indian society could enjoy, understand and relate to without removing the essence William Shakespeare.
The beginning of the movie differs greatly from the play. In the play, the plot begins with Iago planning a revenge on Othello for choosing Cassio over Iago for a promotion. On the other hand, the introduction of the movie is stretched and is longer than that of the play where it jumps straight into Iago’s plans. The movie begins with an arrange marriage which was eventually between Raju, a character who represents Shakespeare’s Roderigo, and Dolly, a character who represents Desdemona, which was disrupted because of Dolly’s love towards Omkara.
The scene where Dolly’s commitment with Omkara is revealed is when Dolly runs from her home in her way to go to Omkara. The second revelation of this is when, Raju accuses Omkara for forcefully taking Dolly, but Dolly responds by saying that it was her who wanted to be with Omkara. The introduction is further prolonged with the scene of Omkara’s rise of political power and where he chooses Kesu over Langdu as his successor. It was after this scene where Langdu’s plan against Omkara is revealed for denying this long-waited promotion.
Though prolonged, the movie brings in the theme of revenge which becomes the driving force of both the movie and the play. Without “revenge” the movie would have lost the essence of William Shakespeare. The introduction was not the only difference of the plot. Another difference, but more minor, is that in the beginning of the play, Othello is already married to Desdemona, while in the movie, Omkara marries Dolly after his promotion. To me, this was done because marriages are important in the Indian society and also to add to the plot by showing that the love between Omkara and Dolly was official.
This also showed the giving of the heirloom to Dolly, a gift of high importance and the gift that was used to deceive Omkara. In the movie the heirloom was the handkerchief of William Shakespeare’s play. Throughout the movie Omkara’s evolution as a character parallels with Othello. In the beginning of the movie, Omkara is a man with great honor for himself and shows his love for Dolly. After Iago initiates his plan, we start to question Omkara’s ability to trust. In one scene Langdu takes advantage of Kesu because he cannot handle his alcohol.
So Langdu makes him drink to the point where Kesu becomes irresponsible. Omkara is given the news of Kesu’s irresponsibility and scolds Kesu, the man who he appointed as his successor. Being away so often, Omkara is not able to watch over his friends and his family and therefore he relies on advices from Langdu; like Iago, Omkara trusts in his advices and his word. Langdu uses this to his advantage as he can easily manipulate each story and quickly cause problems for Omkara. Omkara is seen as the typical possessive man of the society and one that trusts his acquaintances more than his wife.
Omkara begins to show his distrust for Dolly when Langdu tells him that Dolly and Kesu had been having an affair during Omkara’s absence. Omkara sees for himself that the heirloom was in the possession of Kesu, a set-up of Langdu, which enrages him enough to eventually kill Dolly. Once Omkara has killed Dolly, he is told that it was Langdu who devised such plan, he kills himself because of guilt. Omkara was not capable of handling the situation just like Othello. Which means, in both the movie and the play this character was a victim of his own distrust towards the people who care about them most.
A clear contradiction for soldiers and political officials whose qualities are based on trust. In the play, this was more understanding because Othello was a soldier, a man who was clearly unfit to love. The movie ended the way Shakespeare would have ended it, with a tragic death of the main character along with the death of others. The plot was clearly studied by the producer and so was the characters, but the most interesting aspect of the movie is how it incorporated Indian culture. From arranged marriages to the heirloom, the movie stayed in the realms of the Indian Society.