Saturday, August 26, 2006

Death Eater: Part - 1 : The Horcrux

Folks, this is my first real attempt at fiction. Fan fiction it may be, yet I am finally taking that step into writing fiction..... a very, very difficult task if I may say so. Friends of mine and a few teachers had long asked me to try a hand at fiction.... I couldn't go beyond some "inspired" stories or the trivial fiction one churns out in English Literature papers, yet they might have seen something in me.
As a tribute to these good folk, I have chosen the mysterious Lord Voldemort, born Tom Marvolo Riddle, from Harry Potter universe and I attempt to give him a backstory and more depth. It may not be the finest work of English fiction, but please see it as a attempt to hone my story writing skills (well, my url is a take on "The Storyteller", right? ;) ) . I may continue this particular saga if the feedback is good and I feel it is worth the electrons it is consuming.


Hoping not to have landed an absolute turkey,

Anand K

Chapter I

The Quest


Varanasi the ancient, the place of atonement for man and god, the cleanser of spirits..... the path to the other side. The hordes of tourists, hawkers, wannabes, faux "holy men", the Ganga turned into a veritable Vaitarini by the avarice of man, the dirt-ash-garbage and feces stained gullies of the city couldn't hide the true nature of Varanasi to the sensitive ones. Those few sentient beings, human and otherwise, who could hear the sounds and see the colors normal beings cannot have always felt the surging power at Varanasi... despite her appearance they recognized her for what she was. Varanasi is older than history, older than legend, older even than myth. The power existed even before the first altars were built by sons of Manu, it existed even before Lord Shiva himself came to atone for his sin of Brahmahatya epochs ago. Very few places in this world still function as doorways to the higher and nether planes, only these spots still have residues of the "magic" of those ancient ages; the ages where gods and demons walked the Earth. Varanasi was a veritable Motherlode for all those interested and steeped into the philosophic and the esoteric. Yet, Tom Marvolo Riddle had never been more afraid in his life.

Unlike most denizens of the wizarding world, Riddle was rather well acquainted with the ways and the arts of the mud-bloods. Once, during his childhood in the orphanage he had stumbled upon the works of a budding writer named J.R.R.Tolkien.... those books belonged to a literature student working as a part time apprentice at the orphanage. The fantasy world woven by the master storyteller Tolkien had offered respite from the dreary modern world; the grey, mechanical world little Riddle somehow realized he had *no* place in. In these works he read about Valinor, the undying lands of the Gods and appreciated that concept. Now, immortality and the prospect of godhead appealed to the blood of Salazar Slytherin.... as much as it was disturbed by the “unknown” that awaited mere mortals. Tolkien suggested that the immortal Elves (and even the gods) viewed death as a gift by the Supreme Godhead, Eru Illuvatar, to his favorite children. Even the first, uncorrupted mortals welcomed death at the end of their time as a last adventure……… but Riddle was afraid of the unknown. The prospects of being consigned into the “nothingness and oblivion” as he perceived it had disturbed him no end. It was no “childish” trifles like spiders or the dark or bullying older kids which terrified little Tom Riddle, it was death.

And in Varanasi, death was everywhere….. death was all around him. He could feel the souls and voices of thousands if not millions drift into the unknowns, he saw throngs of elderly pray earnestly for death in the doorways of the endless stone cut temples….. he even saw countless thirsty spirits hover over the tranquil Ganga waiting intently for their living loved ones and descendants to release them from limbo. Some of these spirits had immense bellies and hungry, lustful eyes but mouths the size of a pin’s head, some had the content look of a person at the end of the journey while the eyes of some spirits were unfathomable pools of regret. The malevolent ones on the other hand wandered around the forsaken “disgraced” cremation ghats and the forests on the banks of the rivers of Varanasi.
Death and transition to the beyond did not feel like the cold scythe of the Grim Reaper as commonly thought in the west, it was not even that painful and terrifying experience birth is.... Riddle could see it now. Yet, Riddle was afraid. Like all those scurrying, vain tyrants who fear what awaits them in the beyond, that great equaliser where one is no different from his vanquished victim from the mortal plane, Riddle was afraid. His august predecessors who harbored the same fears tried to cheat death and postpone their punishment or "ordinary" existence or obliteration in the beyond.... in vain. And here he was, in Varanasi the citadel to the other worlds, beholden to the splendor of death, salvation and Karma.

Still, he HAD to stay. Even evil has to face its tremendous fears and supreme loneliness. He had come to the city of death precisely to do the impossible task. He was there to cheat if not defeat death….. the mysterious power various cultures depicted variously as a dark lady in red, the grim reaper, the dark god on his terrible buffalo or more “conveniently” as psychopomps like Charon, the raven and even St. Peter. Attempts by the puny human mind to understand this phenomenon by casting death into easily digestible anthropomorphic forms…

His quest for invinciblity, if not true immortality, had taken him to the ancient lands where magic and the occult had been a way of life; the groves and stone circles of his homeland and Ireland, the necropolises and pyramids of Egypt, the catacombs of East Europe, the dark alleys of Istanbul, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Persia and now India. Till now, all his efforts had been in vain, the old religions and the arcane knowledge of those lands had been all but obliterated by the new faiths. The prophets and seers massacred, the books of the dead burned, the runes scraped off, the metal plates melted.... all by the ravaging Jihads, reconquistas, crusades and inquistions. Even the wizarding world of those lands were not spared. The new faiths that seeped into the sequestered wizarding community had made them forsake the occult and the dark. The demons and the Jinns were trapped in crystals and hidden away for eternity... if not destroyed; the dark tomes burned by holy fires; the Golems returned to clay and rock; the black eggs of the phoenixes destroyed by powerful incantations.... it was a merciless massacre. Priceless knowledge, "good" and "bad"collected through millenia of efforts had been destroyed at the exhorting of a few priests who were terrified of what they couldn't comprehend. An aged Dervish in Isfahan advised him that it is perhaps only in the ancient land of India (where every juggernaut had ground to a screeching halt) that he would find his answers. Yes, India with her unbroken tradition and arcane teachings might have something to give him.... hadn't she blessed so many knowledge seekers from all corners of the globe? Didn't she still hide the magical realms, the ancient sages, the Nine and their arcane knowledge, the immortals from the earlier age? Didn't she stay away from the so-called international wizarding community with their ridiculous "ministers of magic"? This is perhaps the only land where the powers keep to themselves, unhindered, immutable and magnificient..... Yes, he would find his answers here.

Tom Riddle's mind was buoyant as he walked to a cremation ghat and settled near the burning pyre of what once used to be a man. His thoughts raced back to that last year at Hogwarts, to the chain of events that led him into his dark quest and pilgrimage....


It was not that sixteen year old Tom Riddle was a stranger to darkness.... hadn't he killed his own father and his grandparents, hadn't he framed his own slow-witted uncle and did he not release the terrible Basilisk and killed a filthy mudblood? Most importantly, did he not pour a part of his self, his malice and his wisdom into an ordinary diary which could outlast even his mortal self.... long before he actually killed? Riddle himself not knew exactly know how he achieved it, people would later say "Riddle sealed a part of his 16 year old self in the diary", but one wonders even if HE knew what he was doing. Was he trying to emulate his old hero, Sauron who poured his entire self into the "indestructible" One Ring? Sauron was a powerful Maiar, a Demigod.... and he was fictional too! Tom Riddle on the other hand was real, he was still human... well, atleast for the moment he was. However, Riddle had sensed something; a palpable sundering of his being when he killed his father (and such a likeness of his father he was) and his grandparents a year later. The sundering of the soul actually started when he opened the chamber and started cleansing Hogwarts of the Mudbloods.... The death of innocent Myrtle, though not by his own hand had caused the first gash in the fabric of his soul. The warping of his soul amused Tom Riddle more than anything... the chaos and the distort of the being that would have driven any lesser person insane was embraced wholeheartedly. It was like a challenge, a new dimension had opened.... he was not just Tom Marvolo Riddle anymore.
It was actually the weak sundered part of his self that he manifested into the diary. He still did not know how he was able to do that, all he did was listen to the voices of the generations of Slytherins surging through his veins.... quite serendipitous that episode was. Riddle himself began to understand the nature of his diary only in bits and pieces.... it took hours of introspection and experimentation before he realised that the diary indeed contained that sundered part of his soul. Now that his horizons were further expanded with his multiple murders, Tom Riddle needed to understand what was happening to him. He HAD to know if he could go further.....

The Hogwarts Library turned out to be useless in his quest for a greater understanding of the phenomenon...... it was woefully stocked when it came to tomes of the Dark Arts. Probably it had something to do with the official policy of Hogwarts which stresses teaching *defense* against the dark arts..... or maybe Dumbledore's cliche might have succeeded in keeping the resources out of bounds of curious students. It was a chance encounter with a grizzled wizard at The Hog' Head pub that same year where he stumbled on a possible answer to his questions. The said wizard, a decorated veteran from the Great War of the wizarding realm was totally sloshed and bloated with alcohol that fateful night. In the course of Riddle's toadying and innocuous questions on the finer aspects of the Great War, the veteran boasted on being on "a part of this super secret mission with Dumbledore to the forests of Saxony to locate something called the Horcrux..... a demonic talisman that was the source of Grindelwald's immense powers". Apparently, they were briefed only that destroying the talisman would hasten the defeat the of the dark wizard who was causing untold mayhem in the wizarding as well as the muggle world. Riddle had questioned the wizard endlessly, to increasing frustration..... the wizard-soldier knew nothing more than the grunt work he was assigned to. He did not know who or what this Horcrux thing was, he did not even see it. It was seen only by Dumbledore who went right through that terrible door or fire and returned in about an hour, his face flush with victory and relief... while the rest of the team stood guard against any devices of the Grindelwaldist Ahnenerbe and the Thule Society.

Contacting Dumbledore was out of the question, he had been wary of Riddle since the day he first laid eyes on him. The Head Master was aloof and quite unaccessible, he was close to Dumbledore and Riddle did not enjoy a personal relationship with the headmaster either. But Professor Slughorn might know something......


Riddle snapped back to the present at the sounds of a group of ascetics chanting lustily to... whichever power they were invoking. A wild, ash smeared and naked ascetic was foraging the still warm embers of the pyre while the rest gathered in a circle around the pyre and called to the heavens in a primeval voices.
"This land was so strange, the conventions so different, the occult more unbridled and developed..... no statist Ministry of Magic peeking over your shoulder either", mused Riddle once again. He was certain the quest for power over death, the quest that took a definite form in Horace Slughorn's office so many years ago will be successfull here.
"I already possess receptables to hold a soul like mine and I have done what is required to go further than any wizard ever had.... " said Tom Riddle to himself, "..... but I do not know the way. I have traced the footsteps of my predecessors and I have finally come to the land that holds the answer. I swear on the name of Salazar Slyther, my quest shall come to fruition here!"

Riddle solemnly rose up from the stone cut steps that led to the river and walked into the night, apparently yet another white man who had come to India seeking answers to esoteric questions. The ordinary locals, the beat police, the false priests and the faux "sages" paid no attention to him... yet there were some in Varanasi who sensed the Black-Hole that was Tom Marvolo Riddle.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Omkara: The Review

There's this wise saying in Arabic, "Never ever let your dog go hungry"..... "dogs" might be loyal but the strands of loyalty (at the basic level) are mostly built on implict understandings of give and take. Strands which might strain and even break if the equation is kept unbalanced. Only in the rarest of spheres will sentient links like love and loyalty be absolute and total, but these are exceptions rather than the rule. The tragedy of Omkara is in the cardinal mistake of taking his loyal lieutenant, Ishwar 'Langda' Tyagi for granted. This master-lieutenant equation is one instance where Vishal Bharadwaj's Omkara departs from Shakespeare's Othello and it's adaptations by talented artists like Oliver Parker, Orson Welles, Tim Blake Nelson and our own Jayaraj. Though Omkara is an adaptation of Othello, a product of one of the greatest minds of Humanity viz. Shakespeare, it does exhibit distinctive features and provides even more depth to the original characters. This is no mean feat in itself.... not everyone can improve on the Bard of Avon, but Vishal Bharadwaj does it with aplomb.

Shakespear's Era of Tragedy is a reflection of the post Elizabethean England.... a darker period which could showcase his true genius, viz. his understanding of human nature. The original Iago was a jealous malcontent who hates his master Othello, the Moorish general of Venice. The reaons for this demonic hatred is not explicitly explained, but the reader can gather that it is a mix of racism, jealousy of Othello's talent and his fairy tale love story, hatred of Othello's second in command Cassio and his confidence in his own resourcefullness and intellect which is obviously higher than his superiors. He is no different from Cassius of the Bard's Julius Caesar play who is "lean and hungry" by Caesar's own astute observation. However, Caesar trusted his compatriot who once saved him from death by drowning in Hispania and refused to take heed of warnings from those close to him. The original Othello trusted Iago, even let him poison his ears against his trusted 2nd in command and his wife.... trusted him to the point of the audience's disbelief! Maybe there's a backstory to back up this trust but Shakespeare doesn't tell us.

While Shakespeare chose to put up Iago as the bigoted, crafty and slimy malcontent who has no "just cause" other adaptations of Othello have given more depth to Iago. Tim Blake Nelson, a very very talented actor/director had made this movie title 'O' which is a high school sports drama take on Othello. 'O' is Odin, a black basketball star of his high school while Iago character played competently by Josh Hartnett is his team-mate. This Iago resents O 'coz his own father, the coach, shows affection towards the vastly talented O. Iago goes on a steroid course to increase his prowess and earn the respect of his dad, only to descend further into rage fuelled insanity. Jayaraj's Iago, Paniyan, played by Lal is closer to the original as he harbors hatred for Perumalayan from the very beginning..... though he claims it is compounded by Perumalayan choosing Kaanthan over the much senior Paniyan for the coveted Theyyam title. However, the Othello character Perumalayan Kannan is more insecure owing to his smallpox stricken face and low caste origins.... he himself acknowledges his temerity in whisking off the beautiful high-caste daughter of the feudal lord and rues his deformity on more than one occassion. The original Othello only expresses a doubt that Desdemona desires Cassio for Othello is a swarthy moor and much older than she is. However, he is not wracked by insecurity and childish possessiveness like Perumalayan Kannan.

Coming to Omkara the movie, our Iago, Ishwar 'Langda' Tyagi is perhaps the most capable and dangerous person in the whole gang. Omkara himself needs to empty whole magazines to kill his enemies while Tyagi, a DEAD shot needs just one bullet per person. His sniping skills are extraordinary.... as depicted in a scene where he picks off an entire enemy gang one by one *while they are fighting a hand to hand battle with his comrades*. He is intelligent, strong, determined and is a team player but he is slightly lame (hence the nickname 'Langda' ) and a boorish rustic. Omkara, aiming higher (state level politics in this movie) probably sees the future in Kesu, a capable student leader and a recent entry to his band. He chooses the kid over Langda Tyagi in a dramatic fashion...... in a somewhat cruel manner to Tyagi. At least a word beforehand might have ameliorated Tyagi's pain and sense of betrayal, but Omkara rather chose to surprise everyone in public. Maybe the Chief has to use his own discretion and make independent, hard choices without confiding with anyone else.... but hello, he is your *trusted advisor* and friend, right?! Perhaps it's because the suave, smooth talking but tough kid who holds the key to the foreseeable future rather than an illiterate, battle-scarred Langda who is only streetwise and good for wetworks. The "Duke of Venice" character played by Naseeruddin Shah, who knows human nature better than anyone else asks Omkara "What about Tyagi?". For a Bhai of the UP badlands, Omkara makes the surprising and apparently naive assertion that "He is my *brother* and would understand!".
Now this Omkara is not so trusting of anyone like Shakespeare's or Nelson's or Jayaraj's versions.... he demands concrete Proof of Infidelity before his wedding (the "proof" which was brilliantly staged by Tyagi at very short notice) against Tyagi's life. Other Othellos didn't make this "do or die" demand if I remember correctly. However, Omkara does respect Tyagi's opinions and analysis, his neutrality as an observer and his experience in the "dhanda". Tyagi's machinations are not much craftier than the run-of-the-mill Narads in TV soap operas, but he senses correctly that when it comes to Dolly (our Desdemona), Omkara's passion and love clouds his judgement. Couple it with Dolly's father's cold Parthian Barb that "she who has betrayed his father can betray ANYBODY" which resonates in his mind, the fact that Kesu is a natural charmer when it comes to the lay-dees and Dolly is the most gorgeous woman in that corner of the globe..... one can't blame anyone for taking leave of his senses.
As wise people have observed, "Men who are otherwise brilliant and rational beings can be utter dorks when it comes to women" and of course the other famous (sometimes derogatory) uvaacha, "God has given man a brain and a penis, but unfortunately enough blood to operate only one of these at a time". When it boils down to basics on suspicion of infidelity, the echoing self-judgement in his mind is "He (the third man) is a better *man* than I am..... He is a better *man* than I am...." Now when your wife's father and your closest pal imply that she is insulting you (after all, infidelity is the worst insult one can give his spouse) it probably becomes very difficult to let go of that sliver of doubt. Compounding circumstancial "proof", self-goals by Dolly and Tyagi's coup-de-grace weighed against sage advice from truly well-meaning friends and the repeated implorations of the bewildered Dolly finally snapped Omkara..... which leads to the Greek tragedy.

Konkona Sen Sharma is an amazing actress. Period! It's a pleasure watching a great actress who ain't a plastic!
She plays Indu/Emilia, the well meaning and capable wife of Iago/Langda Tyagi. She simply becomes the simple, rustic, large-hearted and yet strong character she's supposed to play. Her character is the third character who has been given more depth in this movie, and boy how does she do it! She's the big sister and mother to all the bad boys in that Daaku world (including her Husband's boss) , wise to the ways of the world, possessing the unfailing rustic common-sense and always ready to lend a shoulder to cry upon. Her sole character flaw is perhaps in not understanding her husband's rage at being superceded and not sensing the scheming monster within. She thinks her hubby is just another sleazy, gross and gruff person who should be treated like a little unruly rascal but doesn't sense the bad vibesand everyone pays for it at the bitter end. Tyagi is an Anthony Hopkins quality actor and even fools someone like Omkara who's been seeing him for 15 years..... yet wives, espeically the tough-n-nice ones like Indu, are supposed to be more intutive, right? :)
This brings us to another theory on Tyagi-Iago..... he was INDEED a good man, loyal friend and good husband till that moment when his mind snapped and was forever set against his former friends. There is also a warped sense of loyalty to Omkara despite all this as proven in a chaotic fight scene where Tyagi saves Omkara with his skills as a shooter (or maybe is it just my flawed reading..... or maybe he was fattening the pig for the slaughter?). Makes me wonder, will ordinary folks you or I break and go into the dark side when our greatest dreams are shattered directly or indirectly by those whom you love?

Another character worth mention is Roderigo/Rajju character played by newcomer Deepak Dobriyal. He stands out as the jilted bridegroom of Dolly who still can't let it go. He is consumed with jealousy and rage but is meekly subservient to Omkara (while planning his destruction at the same time) for the time being. His dad is a financier to Omkara's operations, you see..... and he has the misfortune to occasionally watch HIS Dolly being intimate with the usurper. He reminds me of a salivating, scheming but outwardly earnest Gollum who helps Frodo.... only because Frodo holds the One Ring, Gollum's "Preciousssss". But in this case, Samwise Gamgee(Tyagi) who is supposed to protect Frodo (Omkara) is actually in collusion with the slimy, treacherous Gollum. And as we know, Frodo wouldn't have gone far without Sam.
Unlike the spineless puppet portrayal of Roderigo in other versions of Othello, this one is a force to reckon with. It is his haunting chant of "Tyagi.... Bahubali, Tyagi.... Bahubali" (Bahubali is the title Tyagi was jockeying for) which first sparks the glitter of ambition in Tyagi's eyes. The way the "innocuous" comical relief/sleazeball crashes into the idyllic world of the soon-to-be-fallen-hero is portrayed in an eerie (and hilarious at the same time) scene. It is this Roderigo who wickedly rubs salt into Tyagi's wounded heart and sets him into the vortex of evil...... not the other way round as in other adaptations. One can't help but notice how this weasel "comes of age" in his own way from a chicken-hearted, spindly legged groom riding a ridiculous moped and a perpetually sobbing buffoon to a gun-wielding avenger bent on reaching his manzil.

Other characters aren't much to write about.... except for Shah's interesting portrayal of the "Duke". Here he is a bald Bhaisaab (**who does looks a bit like Mahatma Gandhi gone evil, as Raja Sen observed in his review**), an MP who's one of those smooth players in Brahmin-Rajput politics of UP. He has some good one-liners and his drawling matter-of-fact voice is a pleasure to hear.
Brabantio, here known as Vakeelsaab, is Dolly's dad. Unlike the heartbroken curse of original Brabantio and Narendra Prasad's portrayal in Kaliyattam, the way this daddy tells Omkara that his own daughter will one day betray him is quite chilling. It sounded rather like a pissed ex-boyfriend "warning" his replacement (to plant seeds of doubt and strife); "Just between us grown-up men..... do watch out, boss! She's a whore!"
Dolly/Desdemona is kept rather unaltered, the archetype self-sacrificing doomed lady (that's what her name means BTW) and a symbol of purity, love and innocence. Only one thing stands out in the movie, the way she subtly let's Omkara know her liking for Omkara is no mere infatuation/ puppy-love. One thing that does stand out is Dolly does the cardinal sin of bringing another man to their marital bed. (Not in the literal sense..... what were you pervs thinking? :P ) This was following a chweet romantic moment in bed and she tries to curry favor for Kesu who was her classmate in college and who's presently in the doghouse. Now I ain't married, but even a Vogon like me knows some things should not have a price-tag .... some things must not be implied or demanded in moments like these. Of course, it was just a chaste request for helping out her friend now that Omkara was in a good mood, but bringing up that topic in such a situation sours the mood. I guess most men might think "Oh, was this all services rendered against a collateral payement? Is that it?!" ( Omkara had already sown the dragon seeds of suspicion unbeknownst to her. He becomes royally pissed and more suspicious when she brings Kesu's matter)
Lesser can be said on for Cassio (Kesu) and Bianca (Billo Chamanbahar), the latter played by Bipasha Basu. They are pretty much the same as the original characters and only have weakly supporting roles in the scheme of things. I must say the only eyesore in the movie is Bipasha's *second* item number.....she's HOT, but it's heresy pasting a skin show a needless second item-number in a serious movie like this! However the wedge created between Kesu and Billo as a collateral damage to Tyagi's machinations is not as grating as the eyecandy-teen romance angle.

Now coming to the performances, music etc and the movie as a whole:

Othello was set in the tense surroundings of Venice and Cyprus which were under the threat of Ottoman invasion. Most of the action is set on the wind swept isle of Cyprus with it's fortification and grim atmosphere. The adaptations have always kept a somewhat similar background, "Kaliyattam" had the rural dust-bowls and forests with the gaudy colors, the strange local deities and structures of Theyyam.... an art form which depicts paths of heroes and gory wars. One major Theyyam theme was "The legend of Kathivanoor Veeran" a folk hero and his lover Chemparuthi. They also met their doom due to treachery of another kind. "O" on the other hand had the battle-front of the American high school basketball court. Given the life-n-death image issues of teenagers in issues like this, this battle-front is as grim and dangerous as the forts of Cyprus. "Omkara" is set in THE dust-bowls..... the "cow-belt" of UP. Crushing poverty, caste politics, fallow lands, ope spaces, shanties, rival gangs, violence, politician-pandu-criminal nexus are staple features of these badlands. The settig is IMO more dangerous and foreboding than that of Omkara's counterparts.Now our Vishal has a good eye for backdrops. The way he transformed Macbeth from the fogs, Birnam forest and the rolling hills of Scotland to the modern Mumbai underworld is sheer genius. Kurosawa had it much easier with Throne of Blood 'coz he could easily supplant it to the feudal strife period of Japan. A period mirroring medieval Scotland.... down to the fog, the witches, the castles and the dense forest (Cobweb Forest). Vishal has again shown his genius by adapting it to the UP backdrop. There's almost a sepia filter as in "Kaante" plus the natural gaudy colors of the North, he doesn't overdo the color thing as Palekar did in Paheli. The cinematography, photography and choreography do justice to the story. All these have the stamp of the no-nonsense, thinking director Vishal.... no question about it. There are no perfectly sync extras dancing to the item-songs as in movies like Dum, Shool.... it is pure, raw fun, frolic, freesytle gyrations, nasha and lust. The scene of senior cops and ordinary pandus dancing to Bipasha jhatkas (Bipasha snatches the cap of an IPS officer and dances wearing that Topi) in the second item number is very.... believable.

Dialogues are not shuddh Kanyakabujh/Hindi Sabha Hindi for a change..... they are in purely local lingo which is a bit difficult to follow at times. The opening Tarantinoesque dialogue by Tyagi starts with "Chutiy*" for one thing...... it sets the tone for the whole bare-naked rural criminal India movie. Of course, outlaws don't speak in classical Urdu and Hindi, do they? Now, words are to be very carefully used when you are in Bhai world, where a simple nod can be a death-warrant for some poor bugger. And if you are going to make your boss, comrade-at-arms and family to be the puppets in your demonic grand plan you better use your words wisely. The wors of Tyagi are precise but loaded, reeking with flase concern, making infra-digs and designed in such a way so that Omkara is blinded to the possibly flawed/dubious premise and thrust into Tyagi's foregone conclusion. Kudos for Vishal who has written the screenplay and dialogues himself.

Ajay Devgan as Omkara delivers a good performance. But I feel something's missing...... I felt more for Abhishek Bachan's Lallan (in Yuva) when he went downhill, for Suresh Gopi's epic descent into rabid insanity and jealousy in Kaliyattam and even Lawrence Fishburn's festering pain in Oliver Parker's Othello. Maybe it's the dark surroundings favored by Omkara and his ever present shades..... but you don't see the kind of anger and pain that drives one to destroy the love of your life.

Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi is a relevation! He showed he has the "darkness" in him in Ek Haseena Thi and now he has indeed oudone himself. Come to the Dark Side, Saif..... you belong here! :)
Unlike his pink-undies metrosexual image, the Langda Tyagi we see is every bit the raw, untamed and earthy crook. Unlike a Hritik Roshan who insisted on wearing designer dhotis and Pahadi bunyans to display his rippling muscles to maximum effect, or a Salman Khan sporting a tanned-bronzed body and a cool Marine cut in Tere Naam (as against a Vikram who starved and sunburnt himself in preparation for Sethu), Saif Ali Khan does a commendable job in booting the "image factor" and insistence on "looking cool" even if beaten to an inch of his life ( a la SRK). He fits in..... easily. His performance is excellent...... matches other portrayals by heavyweights like Ian McKellen, Josh Hartnett and Kenneth Branaugh. The way his expression changes as he is cheered by Rajju the weasel, when he sees Omkara choosing Kesu over him when he is taunted by Rajju and finally when his house of cards collapse around him are indicative of some serious talent. I always believed he didn't deserve his award for Hum Tum, but in Omkara hindsight I agree that the *recognition* is well deserved. You have come a long way from "Ole Ole" Saif Mian, congratulations!

I've already spoken about Konkona Sen Sharma's performance. Where's the hem of your skirt, Oh Most Magnificent Muse? Let this wannabe artist kiss it and attain Kaivalyajnana! :)

And Deepak Dobrival? Guys, we have a new gun in town! Move over Raghubir Yadav, you are beginning to tire us. Here's someone who can do what you can..... and more.

I somehow missed Kareena Kapoor while speaking of the performances. Sorry Ji :)

Kareena for all her spoilt brat image is a quite capable actress. Her method acting in Chameli was quite a revelation.... IMO the only reason it failed to click was it's difficult to imagine someone "peaches-n-cream" pretty like Lolo as a streetwalker. Her Dolly has few lines but she stands her ground with a wide range of expressions, the betrayed/bewildered look alone when Omkara accuses her of infidelity on their wedding night vindicates her presence amongst the stalwarts in this cast. She's no Konkona but she sure has delivered her bit.

Vivek Oberoi and Bipasha delivers what's asked of them. Nothing earthshaking..... understandable given the standing of their characters. Naseeruddin Shah's again done well.... his role is nothing like that smooth-talking and dangerous cop (an adaptation of The Three Witches) in Maqbool which was Vishal's adaptation of Macbeth. Still, he has enoromous screen presence. Dolly's dad (dunno the artist'sname) has also done a good job as i mentioned before.

The music composed by Vishal Bharadwaj is ek dum first class. "Beedi" is of course the raging favorite, but I prefer the soothing tunes of "O Saathi Re" and "Jag Ja". "O Sathi Re" is a great piece.... lifting tunes set to Omkara's and Dolly's romance. Ajay Devgan's recitation of "Jag Ja" in bed sort of tugs at your heart-strings..... but when he comes to the part where he promises a "Dashrath Boon" and tells her to ask anything she desires, Dolly butts in and demands Kesu's reinstation. (Some sense of timing, eh?) The sweetness of these songs plus the foreknowledge that everyone is doomed just adds to the appreciation. Yes, I think bittersweet would be a correct term for these two songs.
Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is one of my favorite artists. I fell temporarily in love with Paap's Udita Goswami via his unbelievably mellifluous tunes of "Mann Ki Lagan". His rendering of "Jiya Dhadak hadak" in Kalyug is something I listen to almost every day before going to sleep. Khan's "Naina" OST from this movie sets the backdrop of Dolly's and Omkara's first meeting and budding love....... great lyrics and Khan's unique voice makes a great listening. "Lakkad" is yet another beautiful song and it's in true bittersweet yearning-pathos mode. This song not featured in the movie, but obviously designed for Indu as she watches a ruthless Bhai like Omkara treating Dolly tenderly and lovingly (as against her own husband who's "quite an animal"). Hated the "Namak" item-number.... it doesn't belong here. Another song of note is "Omkara" by Sukhwindra Singh; I loved it when I listened to it standalone but in the movie it's played in a fight scene with Omkara walking away triumphantly after the dust settles. Obviously this is to highlight the heroism of Omkara, but I felt it wasn't necessary for a director like Vishal. Shaji Kailas showing Mohanlal lifting a road-roller is understandable.... but does Vishal need this? Could have done it more subtly. Bad Vishal. :p

In short this movie gets a full 80% from yours truly. Highly recommended. Not quite Kurosawa standard (anybody seen his Shakespeare adaptations, "Ran" and "Throne of Blood"? The spirit's voice in "Throne of Blood", the eternal fog, the violent deaths and the whole Noh-theatre movie adaptation of Macbeth still gives me the jitters. The climax alone is worth the money). ***The ending could have been improved I guess, a bit too abrupt and comes crashind down on your heads. I loved the ending in Kaliyattam where Perumalayan immolates himself.... he turns into fire, he becomes fire and finally fades to nothingness.
(Spoilers follow:) However I must say the scene where a pained Omkara dismisses off Tyagi even after knowing the enormity of his crime and Tyagi's treachery was quite novel. I am reminded of that scene in Saving Private Ryan where the German paratrooper who walks down the stairs after knifing Private Mellish (Adam Goldberg) looks at the cringing Corporal Upham (who couldn't muster courage to help his comrade who was calling out to him) like he's an insignifant worm. That was the ultimate insult - "You don't matter to me". Omkara, in dismissing Tyagi shows no trace of malice or anger..... just resignation to his fate, accepting his own crime and stupidity, a warped mask of pain and peace, and that "you don't matter to me anymore" look.
Vishal also falls prey to audience's prediliction towards karmic retribution for all evil and shows Tyagi getting his throat cut by his shatterd wife who is then shown contemplating suicide by jumping into a well. The latter scene is something like Tarantino's trademark Trunk Shots. The dishevelled and EXTREMELY pissed Konkona Sen Sharma in her red sari and sickle in hand is made to look like a Durga Devi who cleanses the world and eases the burden of Mother Earth by dispatching off Asuras and Rakshasas. I guess this scene could have been handled a bit differently.... was this pandering to the lay audiences who luvv the heroine destroying the evil ones? (Spoilers end here)***

Overall, a very commendable effort by Vishal Bharadwaj. Keep up the good work Vishal, I sincerely hope you will adapt Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus next time. It would be interesting to see what's your take on this supremely gory tragedy.



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