Critical mass is the first thing that would occur to mind, when one thinks of the Hindi films these days. And the term justifies both the literary meaning and its figurative counterpart. Literary, because the industry has been through enough trouble and turmoil, in terms of box-office disappointments, movies that catered to only one segment of the audience at a time - multiplex, interiors, critics, masses to name a few, and somehow always fell short of universal acceptance, movies that sat well with the audiences abroad, but couldn't find the same kind of warmth with the local populace. The reasons were aplenty, but the result was still the same. But it should be duly noted that the industry never gave up on trying. Though movies like "Maachis", "Hu Tu Tu", "Hazaaron Khwaaishein Aisee" didn't receive the kind of response that they truly deserved, the makers still persisted with trying to come up with something different, something innovative and something novel. In this context, one filmmaker deserves special mention and appluase for sticking with what he thought wasn't run of mill and simply refused to stick to time tested box-office rules - Ram Gopal Varma. Whether the standard of the movies that comes out of his assembly line do not quite hold up in terms of quality, standard, and most often times, content, he needs to be appreciated for the fact that he doesn't stop trying. If run of the mill fares have the same probability of success as the rest, according to his logic, why not increase the chances of hitting the target treading the roads less traveled. Experimentations and contributions to the cinema aside, the logic makes more business sense.
Try hitting with 10 different options, and even if one of them succeeds at the box-office, it would be just enough to get back to the drawing board and come back with another set of 10 again. If it is not for his repetitive content, tired themes and fascination with similar elements, Varma at least deserves the kudos for kick-starting a movement, where the makers are forced to think differently, the makers are indifferent to the guiles of the box-office rules, the makers are rewarded richly, critically and financially, if their innovation indeed sets well with the audience. (In terms of sheer commitment to his vision and the will to refuse to budge to the box-office constraints, R.Narayana Murthy, the maker of the low-budget red movies, should be taken with the same seriousness and in the same the vein and breadth as Varma). And this is how long it look, through the years of bid-budget multi-starrer drivels of 80s, the candyfloss gloss of romantics during the 90s, to finally arrive to the real gritty realism and the much eluded naturalism of the current era. And what an year it has been to the Hindi cinema! Awashed in critical acclaim and public acceptance, Hindi cinema is on the verge of breakout into a new era - where all that the makers have to concern themselves about are the kinds of movies they are trying to make and the ways in which they get down making them, instead of worrying about what foreign locations are needed to bring the multiplex audience and how many item songs are needed to please the interiors. Yes, it is truly critical mass, when the word on some level denotes the two kinds of audiences that rarely agree upon the same thing and with the same amount of passion. And if not for the path that makers like Varma embarked upon, movies as "Omkara" would have never seen the light of the day and that would have been real unfortunate as the movie stands out as, arguably, the best movie of the year - Lage Raho Munna Bhai, notwithstanding.
Shakespearean themes have the kind of longevity that the rest of the literary worked often lacked. Romance, purity, joy, comedy, betrayal, bitterness, hatred, jealousy - the Bard's had it all and the Bard covered it all. When the lovers, broken up by their vows reunite on the top of a cliff and jump from up above, the theme of Romeo and Juliet resonates in the dying wish of the couple that they remain together in their death, if life could not offer the same choice to them. Ek Duje Ke Liye, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak - every era had a movie based on it, every language dealt with the theme of star crossed lovers that was made popular by the Bard. Identical twins separated at birth, and two pairs at that, and with the same names to complete the farce - Comedy of Errors was the primary material whenever ribtickling situations involving identical twins come to mind. It is not an exaggeration that there is human emotion left alone in the printed wor(l)d untouched by the pen strokes of the William Shakespeare. And in Omkara it is "Othello", the well known tale about love, betrayal, jealousy, all leading up to mayhem. Vishal Bharadwaj, who tackled the Bard's work in his previous outing, goes one step further and gets the tone perfectly honed in "Omkara". It is a rare classic case, where the tug between technical wizardry and the artistic prowess end up in an exciting tie. The first thing that strikes about "Omkara" is how wonderfully Vishal homed in on the perfect laidback tone, while setting the story somewhere in the feudal corridors of rural U.P. This place is so contemporary, yet so removed from the rest of the civilization, that it seems quite right and equally horrific, when the savagery of thoughts and brutality of acts, coexist with the other advancements of human progress - cell phones and satellite televisions.
This is a place where law of the land gives way for animal justice and animal justice has slightly lesser precedence, when compared to animal instincts. And what better place to transport a story about the primal instincts of human nature than this God forsaken land. Next in line, stands the somber mood, the languid pacing and the menacing silences in between. The leisurely pace at which events unfold hold a great counterpoint to the burst of violence that the moments that follow unleash. The director exactly understands the toned down requirement that is needed to starkly contrast the mind numbing mayhem. Credit needs to be given to the choice of the words - words that are greatly picked for their great poetic eloquence to represent both the romanticism and the pathos of the moment (case in point, the cimacticscene on the wooden swing that transpires between the newly wed on their first night together). By dripping the words in poetry, Visha gives the characters the munch needed menacing power, which couldn’t otherwise be brought out, had the colloquial dialect of the region be used as is. "he kaTHOr" (O Wretched), gently chides Omkara, when the waist bracelet grips his lover a little too tightly. "he kaTHOr", laments Omkara when the same bracelet causes him to take extreme action on his unwitting lover, suspecting infidelity. When the director has, at his disposal, a great script to play with, and the writer has, at his beckoning, a director who could bring out the true beauty of his words, and in cases like "Omkara", when both the credits fuse under the same name, the result is a constant battle of upmanship of who brings the better out of the other, in the best possible way. And when lines like "shart ghODon pe lagaate hain, shereOn pe nahin" are spoken out against the scenario of a great title song, some swift action scenes, quickly reducing to deafening silence, it is toss up between who had the final laugh - the writer or the director. A certain welcome, confusion of that sorts!
Words cannot do enough justice to sum up the performances in "Omkara". The simmering jealousy and the seething rage spoken in the volumes of silences in Devagan's eyes, the sense of betrayal coupled with a great deal of wiliness as Saif Ali Khan carefully balances his words, the innocence in Kareena Kapoor's eyes and the straightforwardness in Konkona Sen's simplicity - "Omkara" stands as the perfect example where subtleties count. Take the scene where Kesu, Omkara's brother, would be anointed as the "Bahubali". Against the background score of Vedic chants, Omkara slowly passes Langda Tyaagi to pick his brother as his successor, leaving Tyaagi fuming and frothing at the eyes and greatly smiling at the lips. No dialogues are exchanged, yet a lot is conveyed.
Among the technical departments, the lensman Tassaduq Hussain brought a sense of impending doom that is reflected in the lighting getting progressively grim and darker, and moving the locations more and more indoors, as though the walls are closing on the characters, as the movie moves along. Rarely have light and shadows actually meant something in a Hindi movie. With the rest of the departments paying similar kind of attention, keeping the ambience as natural and as realistic, "Omkara" finally breaks the uncertainity principle, which states that real seriousness and great entertainment are always mutually exclusive and that box-office fate of such movies remains highly unpredictable, without employing any tricks or gimmicks. Fantastic, quite fantastic!