Let me start off by admitting that I did not go berserk over Vishal Bharadwaj's "Maqbool" like most others. I found the concept very interesting, the adaptation of the script very imaginative (especially the two witches as corrupt policemen), the performances absolutely first-rate (Pankaj Kapoor's act has to be one of the best of the new century). Still, I thought the movie was very slow to my liking (I down-grade a lot of movies because of the pace). Most importantly, the sheer dark ambition of Lady Macbeth, on which the entire drama is based, is not captured truly in Tabu's character, in spite of her superb performance. And this I thought can only be the story-teller's failure.
It was easier to watch Omkara, because I have never read Othello. I had read Macbeth a long time back, so just had faint memories of it basis which to compare Maqbool. In Omkara, I could start afresh, with no basis for comparison.
Omkara also moves at a slow pace, but that is just right for the requirement of the movie (maybe the Maqbool thing also had to with the mood I watched it in). Again, the entire adaptation is super-imaginative and apt. Cassio becomes Kesu, wow!! I had been warned of the difficulty in picking up the lingo, so was extra-careful to follow it carefully.
The entire story-telling is quite good, and I will like my readers to go through the attached review by a superb journalist of " The Sunday Express" - Baradwaj Rangan - to get a fair jist of the movie. http://brangan.easyjournal.com/entry.aspx?eid=3011791. The best thing about Baradwaj's writing is his total non-cynicism, which simply enhances all his reviews.
As for the performances, Ajay Devgan plays his usual brooding self, but is competent for the role's requirement. Anyways, I did not expect too much of a layered performance from this fairly average actor. Viveik Oberoi (hopefully that's the way his name is spelt at the time of putting up this piece) has started playing chracters so true to his latest public persona, it is not funny. As the reviewer who lambasted the movie extremely pettily in HT wrote, how the hell can one expect this chutiya to sleep with one's beloved. His belle is played by Bipasha Basu, in a small role but very impactful in both the item numbers.
I like Kareena Kapoor, inspite of her apparent dumbness and at times forced sex-appeal, there is something very classical about her beauty, best captured in Refugee , Asoka and Yuva. Her performance is competent, but more importantly, she provides a superb contrast to Othello's ugliness and roughness with her urban, sophisticated demeanour. Baradwaj mentions the few lines in his review of their romance, and it is just Vishal Bharadwaj's and Gulzar's sense of prose and poetry which captures it so aptly. In spite of their age difference, I think both Kareena and Ajay have a great chemistry, you can identify with the underlying sense of passion, and the song Naina Thag Lenge (what lines man!!) captures the same.
The king has to be Saif Ali Khan, in a role where for me he finally becomes Bollywood's best leading actor. To my mind, Anil Kapoor and Ajay Devgan have taken up the most versatile range of roles in the last two decades in Bollywood, but noone has put his own stamp on versatility in performances as Saif has. Apparently, Vishal Bharadwaj did not let Saif bathe for five days for his role as Langda Tyagi, and the effect shows. There is no way this foul-mouthed, ugly creature could have been the Nick/Nikhil of Salaam Namaste. If I thought his Ek Haseen Thi was super-nuanced, boy you have to see his facial expressions when he is passed over from being declared the Bahubali. Aamir Khan might be known as a method actor, but there is no way one could have got into the skin of Langda Tyagi's role better than Saif.
Equally impressive is a debutant called Deepak Dobriyal, who plays Kareena's original suitor. The interaction between Saif and Deepak is superb, where Deepak simply keeps coaxing the evil within Saif. The only apprehension will be that Deepak does not get typecast like Rajpal Yadav has.
The relative weakeness in the movie. There are too many songs in the second half, especially as the pace quickens there. Maybe it is my bias in operation here: it is okay if the lead pair's romance gets established through songs; for their problems, song somehow slow down the pace. However, the lyrics of all songs are superb (vintage Gulzar), so one cannot crib about the music.
The entire process by which Ajay Devgan starts suspecting Kareena and Viveik is slightly superficial, but frankly these judgements can get quite subjective. Moreover, if the process of suspicion and its ratification is questionable, the climax, where Ajay brutally suffocates Kareena under a pillow, is superb. It puts a punch in the climax, and the main reason for the lasting impression it left on me. A befitting ending to 'celebrate' the legendary Shakspearean tragedy!