This line reverberates in Omi’s head.
The hierarchy of hoodlums has the local politico (Bhaisaab/Duke of Venice), played excellently by Naseeruddin Shah, on top. Right under him is Omi. When Bhaisaab (literally ‘elder brother’) wins the local elections and comes into power, Omi must choose a henchman. He chooses Keshu/Cassio (Vivek Oberoi), overlooking his longtime aide and brother-in-law, Langda Tyagi/Iago (Saif Ali Khan). Wracked with envy, Langda (literally ‘lame one’) plays on Omi’s insecurities to destroy Keshu’s reputation, Omi’s marriage and, of course, eventually, Omi himself. For his underhanded schemes, he enlists Raju/Rodrigo (Deepak Dobriyal), who was jilted at the altar by Dolly, as well as Omi’s sister Indu/Emilia (Konkona Sen Sharma), who helps him unknowingly.
Watched alone, the movie makes for excellent viewing. However, just as it is impossible to prevent yourself from comparing siblings when you meet them, it is impossible to review Omkara without comparing it to Maqbool. And this is, unfortunately, where Omkara falls short. While Maqbool was phenomenal in direction and acting, it is sad to say that, Omkara, while, very well-directed, is comparatively much more insipid as far as the acting is concerned. The cast of leading characters in this movie is from the top tier of Bollywood stars and perhaps this is why the movie fails. They lack the requisite versatility and depth to make the Shakespearean drama enticing. The best acting comes from Shah and Dobriyal, who are in the smaller roles and while the former is a big name on the arthouse scene in India, the latter is lesser known.
While trying to fuse arthouse with Bollywood, Bhardwaj ends up having the film become neither. To misquote another great writer, “Oh, Arthouse is Arthouse, and Bollywood is Bollywood, and never the twain shall meet.” Despite this, though, the soundtrack is fantastic since Bhardwaj was, before his movie debut, a highly competent music director. Although it comes highly recommended for watching, it is disappointing when compared with Maqbool.
Sholay, on the other hand, is unabashedly Bollywood. The creators of this film had no grand ideas of fusing arthouse and Bollywood. They just wanted to make a lucrative and successful film. And boy, did they ever. Sholay is the highest grossing and most profitable Hindi movie ever made. It ran to packed houses continuously for five years at a cinema in Bombay and several others across India. If you ever wish to befriend an Indian, it is recommended you bring up this film, and they will be able to quote its dialogue verbatim, over thirty years after its original release. It changed the face of Bollywood and, arguably, was responsible for creating the phenomenon that was Bollywood through the late seventies up to the early- to mid-eighties.