Cloning glory

Updated: Jul 30 2006, 05:30am hrs
Its better than Othello. Thats what Naseeruddin Shah is supposed to have told Vishal Bhardwaj after reading Omkara, his adaptation of the 17th century bards classic tragic tale of love and loss. While Shahs comment may be apocryphal, Omkara does have a life all its own. The script and movement is faithful to the original, but I placed the characters in the political badlands of Uttar Pradesh somewhere they left their Shakespearean roots far behind and surrendered to me, says Bhardwaj.

So, you have Omi Shukla (Othello), Dolly (Desdemona) and Kesu (Cassius), Langda Tyagi (Iago) played with great conviction by Saif Ali Khan, Billo (Bianca), dancing to the show-stopping, Gulzar-penned Beedi jalayale.

I always wanted to show a different side of Saif something dark, scary and he has lived the role to the hilt. I based the character on a childhood friend who transformed into a gangster in front of my eyes, adds Bhardwaj.

Its not that Bollywood has taken to the bard for the first time, but it hasnt been an easy relationship. While Kishore Sahus Hamlet and the Bimal Roy-produced Do Dooni Char (The Comedy of Errors) flopped, Gulzars Angoor his adaptation of The Comedy of Errors has reached cult status and Bhardwajs Macbeth (Maqbool) were critically acclaimed.

Outside Bollywood, Kerala filmmaker Jayarajs 1997 adaptation of Othello (Kaliyattam) got rave reviews in the festival circuit. I have seen it. Its marvellous, especially the way he uses dance (theyyam) as a medium, says Bhardwaj.

As for Bollywood, if you leave adaptations aside, it has borrowed wilfully from Shakespeare, especially his Romeo & Juliet. As Saif Ali Khan puts it: Shakespeare has something for the front-benchers and the classes its a surprise we have adapted so few of his plays.

The multiplex culture is changing all that, points out trade pundit Komal Nahta. We didnt really take easily to foreign literature but now a lot of new subjects are being tried. After Maqbools critical acclaim, Bhardwaj has been motivated to do a big-budget, multi-star Shakes-pearean play.

In fact, he plans to do a third. I love all his plays but I am interested in three: Julius Caesar, The Tempest and Hamlet. I am drawn to Shakespeare to his exploration of timeless human emotions to his great study of human psyche.

But first, he wants to take a break. I started writing Omkara last August, began shooting in January and released it in July. I am tired.

In Maqbool, we watched in awe at two soothsaying cops (the three witches of Macbeth), a guilt-ridden Tabus version of Lady Macbeths famous lines Out, out damned spot, Irfan Khans hallucinations. In Omkara, watch how a slighted Langda Tyagi plays on Omis jealousy, watch what he makes of Iagos famous, ironic lines: O, beware, my lord, of jealousy/ It is the green-eyd monster which doth mock/ The meat it feeds on(Act III, Scene III).

The worlds a stage for Shakespeare this year. Two Hollywood studios are also filming versions of Macbeth, UKs Royal Shakespeare Company is staging all his 37 plays throughout the year, Shakespearean UK director Kenneth Branagh is making a Japanese-influenced As You Like It, and of course, then theres Omkara.