Tag Archives: Vivek Oberoi

Movie Review: Company (2002)

company3 Stars (out of 4)

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Thanks to Just Me Mike for lending me his DVD copy of Company! Check out Mike’s film and TV reviews here.

Having seen four of his Hindi films dating back to 2008’s Sarkar Raj, it’s fair to say that I am not a fan of director Ram Gopal Varma. Still, wanting to know how he earned his acclaim, I watched one of his earlier movies. 2002’s Company is easily the best Varma film that I’ve seen, yet it also confirms my aversion to many of his directorial quirks.

Company‘s plot is based on the lives of notable Mumbai dons, and the story certainly feels authentic. A high-ranking gangster named Malik (Ajay Devgn) recruits a goon named Chandu (Vivek Oberoi) to act as his lieutenant, and together they wrest control of Mumbai’s most powerful gang from its aging patriarch. They expand the gang’s influence into movies, real estate, and politics, only for egos to get in the way and ruin the fun.

Criminal enterprises of this sort — where legal and illegal activities are intertwined across borders — are complex, thus the burden falls on filmmakers to explain them in the simplest way possible. Writer Jaideep Sahni’s story gets better as the film goes along, but only after a confusing setup that should have been condensed.

Malik’s emotional detachment enables him to kill without batting an eye, but it makes him a hard character to love. Instead, the audience is supposed to empathize with Chandu. We watch him transform from street thug to attaché, dealing with the internal conflict the change awakens. We also get see his romance with Kannu (Antara Mali) blossom, whereas Malik’s relationship with Saroja (Manisha Koirala) preexisted.

The women’s role in the narrative can’t be minimized. They follow their other halves to Hong Kong, where the gang sets up a base after police pressure in Mumbai becomes too strong. The friendship between Kannu and Saroja makes Hong Kong feel like home away from home, but it also causes a catastrophic misunderstanding.

Back in Mumbai, chief of police Srinivasan (Mohanlal) waits patiently for the gang to implode. Mohanlal’s performance is as laid back as that of Devgn, but it makes sense in the context of his character. Srinivasan chips away at the enterprise, knowing that one day, cracks will form that he can exploit.

The sprawling landscape of characters — played by some of Bollywood’s best supporting actors — leads to surprising twists as the story moves along. Patience is rewarded in Sahni’s story. He deserves additional kudos for making the women in the plot integral to the story, rather than just window dressing.

Yet time after time, I find my attention being drawn away from the story to Varma’s distracting camera techniques. Whether it’s crazy angles, garish filters, or blocked lines of sight, the techniques seem to exist only for their own sake, not to serve the narrative.

Lighting is a persistent problem in Company. The camera alternates between closeups of two characters having a conversation in a sunny room, with one character’s face brightly lit while the other is grainy with shadows. When Malik delivers one important line, you can’t even see his facial features, he’s so covered in shadows.

Probably the worst example is a reaction shot of Chandu late in the movie. As he mutely reacts to bad news, a spotlight illuminates only his mouth and nostrils. How is one supposed to judge Oberoi’s performance in this scene? By the quality of his nostril-flaring?

I may never be a Ram Gopal Varma fan, but I appreciate Company for its riveting exploration of gang politics. It’s a more enjoyable way to encounter his quirks than many of his more recent films.

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Movie Review: Krrish 3 (2013)

Krrish32.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Krrish 3‘s great flaw is not that it’s a derivative mishmash of X-Men, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and Superman. It’s that Krrish 3 is boring. Why does a standard superhero plot — bad guy wants to takeover the world, good guy needs to stop him — need so much exposition?

Krrish 3 starts with a helpful recap of the previous films in the series — Koi… Mil Gaya and Krrish — narrated by Amitabh Bachchan. Rohit (Hrithik Roshan) inherited superpowers from an alien and passed them on to his son, Krishna (also Hrithik Roshan), who moonlights as the superhero, Krrish.

Bachchan’s narration disappears for half-an-hour so that we can see Krrish rescue some folks, only to return unexpectedly to introduce the villains. After that, we don’t hear from Bachchan again.

The primary villain is Professor X, er, Kaal (Vivek Oberoi), a telekinetic quadriplegic who somehow retains the use of both index fingers. Bachchan assures us: “Unbelievable as it is, but it’s true.” As a byproduct of his experiments to cure his paralysis, Kaal creates an army of animal-human hybrids: his “manimals.”

One of the manimals is a chameleon-hybrid shape-shifter named Kaya (Kangana Ranaut). In addition to looking sexy in a strapless latex catsuit, Kaya can pass through walls and possesses super-strength.

Kaya’s storyline is the highlight of the film. Her role in Kaal’s evil scheme requires her to impersonate Krishna’s wife, Priya (Priyanka Chopra). While gathering intel for her boss, Kaya gets to live a life she’s never experienced, one in which she’s a beloved member of a family. This causes her to question her loyalties to her creator, Kaal, who’s always treated her like a tool.

Kaya is a better developed villain than Kaal, whose plans seem scattershot. He spends the first hour of the film infecting countries with a virus, and then charging high prices for the cure in order to fund his paralysis-cure research. The movie is half-over before Krrish and Kaal have anything to do with one another.

After exhausting his animal research, Kaal becomes obsessed with bone marrow. When he says, “I need your bone marrow,” he dramatically emphasizes the tissue as if he were saying “heart” or “brain” or some other vital organ. It’s as if no one told him that a bone marrow transplant is a relatively common, non-lethal procedure. Boy, is he going to be bummed when he finds out.

Kaal’s not intimidating enough to be a super-villain, and he’s not as complex a character as Kaya. He’s about as scary as his henchman, Frogman (Gowhar Khan), who gets way too much screentime for a guy whose only weapon is his tongue.

Krrish/Krishna is kind of a dud, too. There’s a germ of a running gag in which Krishna keeps getting fired from service jobs because of his superhero duties, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Krrish rescues a boy, only to lecture him not to try superhero stunts at home.

That lecture, plus a bunch of speeches about how we’re all like Krrish whenever we do something nice for someone else, make Krrish 3 too self-aware to be truly engrossing. Whenever scenes show a glimmer of emotional truth, the camera zooms soap-opera style into a close-up of a character’s face, just to make sure the audience knows that this is an emotionally significant moment.

The performances by Roshan and Chopra are corny, and Oberoi isn’t villainous enough. Ranaut’s compelling turn as Kaya makes the film bearable.

The musical numbers are also a letdown. About half the audience at my showing headed for a bathroom break as soon as “God Allah Aur Bhagwan” began. “Dil Tu Hi Bataa” is so wacky that it’s almost charming. Why is Ranaut dressed like she’s in the Ice Capades?

But, wait! Isn’t that my boy Sushant Pujari from ABCD bustin’ moves in red sneakers in “Raghupati Raghav”? Maybe Krrish 3 is worth watching after all.

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Movie Review: Grand Masti (2013)

Grand_MastiZero Stars (out of 4)

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If there is any country in which one would expect filmmakers to steer clear of rape jokes, it would be India. Nevertheless, on the same day that four of the perpetrators of last year’s horrific gang rape and murder were sentenced to death, director-producer Indra Kumar released Grand Masti: a movie that features a joke about gang rape.

The rape joke is the perfect example of Grand Masti‘s tone-deafness and sexism. In attempting to push the boundaries of what Indian audiences are willing to accept in an adult comedy, the tone of Kumar’s film feels like what passed for funny in Hollywood films in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In exchange for squeezing a record number of masturbation jokes into his film, Kumar reduces his female characters to nothing more than sperm receptacles.

(Correction: all of the sperm remains safely contained within ManForce condoms, a brand whose corporate sponsorship purchased a bizarre instance of product placement in the film.)

Grand Masti focuses on three asshole best friends: Amar (Ritesh Deshmukh), Meet (Vivek Oberoi), and Prem (Aftab Shidasani). Six years after graduating from college, the three assholes aren’t having enough sex with their smoking hot wives as they would like, so they travel to their college reunion — who the hell holds a college reunion after just six years? — hoping to have a lot of sex with a lot of co-eds.

Why are the guys so love starved that they’re driven to cheat on their wives? Amar’s wife, Mamta (Sonalee Kulkarni), is busy taking care of their infant son; Meet’s wife, Unatti (Karishma Tanna), is working overtime so that they can afford to buy a house; and Prem’s wife, Tulsi (Manjari Fadnis), is at the beck-and-call of Prem’s demanding parents, who live with the couple. All of the women would like to have sex with their husbands, but their other responsibilities keep getting in the way.

So, again, these three assholes don’t magically swap bodies with some single guys, nor do they find themselves facing temptation against their will. They actively seek out extramarital affairs because their gorgeous, willing wives are overwhelmed with the burdens of earning money and caring for their children and parents. It’s impossible to feel empathy for lead characters as loathsome as these three jerks.

Just as a bonus, the trio attempts to murder the dean of the college to keep their wives from discovering their cheating ways. What sweethearts!

These three tools become even less appealing whenever they are in the presence of any women other than their wives. They ogle and drool like animals, heads bobbing in time with the bounce of a woman’s breasts as she walks by.

This cartoonish horniness is particularly pronounced when the guys are in the presence of white women, of whom there are a lot in Grand Masti. All of the white women in the movie wear skimpier outfits than their ethnic Indian counterparts. They are ogled more freely by the male characters and are more likely to be groped or humped during dance numbers. It reinforces the Indian stereotype that Western women are immoral and willing targets for sexual predators. It’s offensive.

Not willing to limit the stereotyping to white women, Meet warns Prem about an angry East Asian woman: “She might know Kung Fu!”

In addition to being offensive and lacking sympathetic main characters, the immature, tired gags in Grand Masti go on way too long. Bits that are mildly amusing the first time are repeated for minutes at a stretch, blunting their impact. The acting is uniformly lousy.

It’s hard to believe that a movie this out-of-touch could be made in 2013. It just goes to show how far society still has to go before women are seen by all men as humans of equal status, and not just sex objects.

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Opening September 13: Grand Masti

Only one new Hindi movie is set to open in Chicago area theaters on September 13, 2013, and it looks painful. The bawdy comedy Grand Masti stars Ritesh Deshmukh, Vivek Oberoi, and Aftab Shivdasani as three guys trying to cheat on their wives. If you have to include this many exclamation points in your official plot synopsis, your movie probably isn’t that funny.

Grand Masti opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. (Note: At the showing I attended at the Cantera this morning, the film had no English subtitles.) If you just can’t wait until tomorrow to see Grand Masti, the River East 21 has a pair of showings tonight. The movie has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min.

Sadly, John Day isn’t opening in the Chicago area.

The charming romantic comedy Shuddh Desi Romance gets a second weekend at all four of the above theaters, plus the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Last weekend’s other new release, Zanjeer, carries over at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17. The Golf Glen 5 is holding over the film’s Telugu version, Thoofan, for a second week, but not the Hindi version.

Satyagraha gets a third week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17, having earned $672,951 in the U.S. so far. With total U.S. earnings of $5,220,926, Chennai Express chugs along for a sixth week at the Cantera 17 and South Barrington 30, which also holds over Madras Cafe for fourth week.

The Golf Glen 5 is also carrying over the Tamil film Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam.

In other news, the late-June release Ghanchakkar is now available for streaming on Netflix. It’s funny and worth checking out.

Movie Review: Zila Ghaziabad (2013)

Zilla_Ghaziabad1 Star (out of 4)

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When a movie is as crude and inept as Zila Ghaziabad, it’s hard to know what to prioritize when describing why it’s so horrible. The bad acting or the nonexistent story structure are both good places to start, but they miss what the film is really about: cigarettes.

Zila Ghaziabad is preceded by a two-minute video that graphically showcases the ways cigarette smoke ravages the human body. A voice-over implores the audience not to smoke. Then, throughout the entire film, every single time a character is shown smoking a cigarette or puffing on a hookah, a subtitle appears in the bottom right corner of the screen that reads: “Cigarette smoking is injurious to health.”

Because the vast majority of the characters in the film smoke, the warning appears on screen through almost half the movie, becoming the dominant image of the entire film. With just a hint of foresight into the likely dictates of the Censor Board, director Anand Kumar could’ve trimmed out a few shots of his characters lighting up and kept the audience focused on the story.

However, perhaps the focus is exactly where Kumar wants it to be. I posit that Zila Ghaziabad is really an anti-smoking parable and not a gangster movie. Vivek Oberoi plays the presumptive hero, a teacher named Satbeer. He’s admonished for smoking early in the film by his elder brother, and he abstains ever after. By the end of the movie, Sanjay Dutt’s maverick cop character, Pritam Singh, takes pity on the teacher because, “There was something about Satbeer that touched my heart.” Avoiding tobacco equals moral righteousness.

The short version of Zila Ghaziabad‘s story is that a guy named Fakira (Sunil Grover) gets jealous of his boss’s increasing reliance on Satbeer and causes a whole bunch of problems because of it. Lots of people get killed and nothing is solved by the end.

Arshad Warsi’s character — a hoodlum named Fauji — reunites with his gang in Ghaziabad and is welcomed home in spectacularly homoerotic fashion. Dozens of dudes break into a song about what a bad-ass Fauji is while firing long-barreled shotguns into the air and thrusting their pelvises with abandon.

The air-humping doesn’t stop there. Two item numbers feature a lone female gyrating while surrounded by dozens of horny guys. Since the lovely lady is obviously heading home with whatever rich guy hired her to dance in the first place, and there aren’t any other women in sight, one can only guess as to how the lathered-up lackeys will expend their sexual energy.

Fakira tricks Fauji into fighting with Satbeer in order to get back into the good graces of his uncle/boss, The Chairman (Paresh Rawal). This sets off a string of retaliatory attacks that draw national media attention to Ghaziabad. The overwhelmed police force turns to the only man who can fix this mess: Pritam Singh.

To say that Singh is a maverick is putting things mildly. While Singh has the requisite super-human strength of other movie supercops (e.g., those played by the likes of Salman Khan and Ajay Devgn), Singh lacks the moral righteousness supercops always have. Singh is at best a trickster, and at worst amoral.

A flashback shows how Singh resolves a dispute between a trio of lawyers who beat a food vendor demanding that the lawyers pay their bill. Singh slaps the lawyers around before handing his gun to the vendor and forcing the man to shoot one of the lawyers in the face.

That’s just par for the course in Zila Ghaziabad, a movie that has no moral center whatsoever. If anything, it appears to advocate violence over non-violence. When Satbeer decides to stop being Mr. Nice Guy, a song proclaims, “Forsaking his studies, he’s out to wage war.” Satbeer, with tears in his eyes, roars and shoves one of Fauji’s guys onto a pile of spikes. He then uses the dead guy’s own cell phone to break the news to Fauji. Satbeer tosses the phone over his shoulder, and I was disappointed when it didn’t explode on impact.

The point is that it doesn’t matter how many people Satbeer kills. He’s the hero because he doesn’t smoke.

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Opening February 22: Kai Po Che and Zila Ghaziabad

There are two new Hindi movies opening in the Chicago area on February 22, 2013, though, sadly, Rise of the Zombie is not one of them. Kai Po Che is a coming-of-age story about three friends trying to establish themselves in Ahmedabad in the early 2000’s.

Kai Po Che opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 10 min.

The political action thriller Zila Ghaziabad is this week’s other new release. It stars Sanjay Dutt, Arshad Warsi, and Vivek Oberoi.

Zila Ghaziabad also opens on Friday at all of the above theaters except the River East 21. It’s rated PG-13 and has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 24 min.

Special 26 carries over for a third week at the Cantera 17 and South Barrington 30, which also holds over ABCD for a third week.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Aadhi Bhagavan (Tamil), Annayum Rasoolum (Malayalam), and Jabardasth (Telugu).

Retro Review: Yuva (2004)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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My recent (and long overdue) viewing of Dil Se sparked my interest in other films by Mani Ratnam. I thought 2007’s Guru was okay, and I was interested in watching some of the director’s previous films. I was pleased to discover a copy of Yuva at my local library and even more pleased by the movie itself.

Yuva (“Youth”) begins with a drive-by shooting on a bridge. Arjun (Vivek Oberoi) sees Lallan (Abhishek Bachchan) shoot Michael (Ajay Devgan), the stranger who’d just given him a ride on the back of his motorbike. The context for the shooting is provided in three flashbacks, one for each of the young men.

Lallan is a career criminal who does the dirty work for his older brother, Gopal (Sonu Sood), an aide to the corrupt politician Prosonjit Bhattacharya (Om Puri). Violence permeates his life. When Lallan isn’t beating up student protesters, he smacks around his wife, Sashi (Rani Mukerji), who clings to the hope that he’ll find a respectable job. That becomes unlikely when he’s contracted to kill Michael.

Michael is a student leader who inspires disenfranchised village voters to stand up against politicians like Bhattacharya. When need be, he’s not afraid to resort to violence, just like the politicians he opposes. The contract for Michael’s death is issued after he and dozens of students invade Gopal’s home as a means of intimidation.

Arjun is a recent college graduate who dreams of moving to the United States. He considers changing his plans after meeting Mira (Kareena Kapoor), who’s engaged to someone else. He stops Michael on the street and begs him to chase after Mira’s taxi, which they catch up to on the bridge.

The trend in American movies and TV shows with a similar construction is for the opening scene to double as a climactic scene, but Yuva’s opening scene returns to end the first half of the movie. The second half sees the three men decide whether to continue on their present paths, or make a change for the future. Their lives intersect again in the climax.

While the plot is generally about politics, Yuva‘s main theme is violence. It’s a gory film, compared to other Hindi movies. Even though most of the violence involves fists, it graphically shows just how much damage a punch can do.

The three main characters relate to violence in different ways. It defines Lallan, who learned to fend for himself after being abandoned by Gopal at a young age. He can’t get away from it, even for the sake of his pregnant wife.

Arjun fights as a matter of self-preservation. As the witness to a violent crime, his life is in danger unless he’s prepared to defend himself.

Michael’s relationship with violence is the most complex. As a student leader, he opposes the brutal tactics of intimidation employed by some established politicians, yet he’s happy to pick a fight with their goons to achieve his own ends. He’s more of a populist than Bhattacharya, but one wonders if he’s really interested in changing the political culture.

Yuva is engrossing and fascinating, as it seems to present a practice of politics so different from that in America. But with a man bringing a gun to a presidential rally last summer and an armed march in April to demand Second Amendment rights, it might not be as different as we think.

Movie Review: Prince (2010)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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2008’s Drona aspired to be an original, inspirational Indian superhero movie, but failed to reach its potential. Prince, while derivative of Western superhero movies, succeeds as a fun action flick sure to spawn a sequel.

Prince (Vivek Oberoi) is an anti-hero who makes James Bond look like a slacker. Prince is the world’s greatest thief, capable of pulling off outrageous international heists while avoiding capture. He has an arsenal of high-tech gadgets. He’s unbeatable in a fight. Women love him. And, to top it all off, he can dance.

The morning after a job, Prince wakes up to find a butler he doesn’t recognize tending to a mysterious bullet wound on his arm. He can’t remember anything about his life, not even his own name.

Prince is kidnapped by a secret Indian government agency operating covertly in South Africa. The agency leader, Colonel Khanna (Dalip Tahil), explains that Prince lost his memory while stealing a valuable antique coin. Of course, Prince doesn’t remember where he hid the coin.

His girlfriend and criminal partner, Maya, offers to help him. Prince doesn’t recognize Maya but accepts her help. Things get confusing when two other women show up, also claiming to be Maya.

Everyone Prince meets gives him conflicting information about why the missing coin is so special. Is it a tool to entrap a master criminal named Sarang? A magical artifact? A nano-weapon? The only way for Prince to learn the truth and recover his memory is to find the coin.

Prince works because it is self-aware. Hanging inside Prince’s “batcave” of gadgets and costumes are posters of Batman, Spider-man and Iron Man, American superheroes whose movies obviously inspired Prince.

The film is an improvement on one of producer Kumar Taurani’s previous efforts, Race. While Taurani hasn’t lost his love of preposterous explosions that make vehicles flip in midair, Prince‘s lead characters are more appealing that the jerks in Race.

When writing the inevitable sequels to Prince, there are a few flaws from the original that the filmmakers would be wise not to repeat. First are the disappointingly slow chase scenes. If terrain is too bumpy for jeeps and mopeds to operate at high speeds, shoot the scene in a different location.

Second is the woeful misuse of a shark tank. There is but one use for sharks in movies: eating people. That no one falls in the shark tank during a late scene is unforgivable.

Another underused prop is the villain Sarang’s bionic hand. While it looks like something out of Terminator, is doesn’t do anything apart from giving Sarang’s punches a little extra oomph. He could’ve at least, you know, crushed a guy’s throat with it or something.

Apart from a few missed opportunities for grisly deaths, Prince is a fun action movie that, while not mentally taxing, at least makes sense within the rules it sets for itself. In order to enjoy a 2 hour 15 minute Bollywood action movie, that’s often all that I require.

Opening April 9: Prince

Finally, Chicago area Bollywood fans have a reason to return to the theater. Prince stars Vivek Oberoi as the world’s greatest thief, who loses his memory during the course of a heist. He has six days to recover his memory and save the world. The movie is produced by the same team behind Race, so expect logic-defying action scenes and minimal story.

Prince opens on Friday, April 9, 2010 at the AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min.

There are no other Hindi films playing in the Chicago area this weekend. Though it left area theaters weeks ago, My Name Is Khan just passed the $4 million mark in nationwide earnings.

Other Indian movies playing in theaters this weekend include Paiyaa (Tamil), Thanthoni (Malayalam) and Varudu (Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5. Paiyaa is also showing at Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove.

Retro Review: Omkara (2006)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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There’s something compelling about director Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies: the dark atmosphere, the impending sense of doom, the heroes who are just barely heroic. I just wish I understood Hindi well enough to fully appreciate them.

More accurately, I’d need to understand Hindi and a handful of colloquialisms from Uttar Pradesh, where Bhardwaj grew up. A knowledge of U.P. politics and the associated gangster culture would also be useful. My cultural and linguistic deficiencies hampered my enjoyment of the first Bhardwaj film I watched, 2009’s Kaminey.

Cultural differences troubled me less in Bhardwaj’s 2006 movie Omkara, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello. Prior familiarity with the story certainly helped, as did an English-language book that was written about the movie’s development.

The book — Stephen Alter’s Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief — is essential for appreciating the film’s dialogue. English subtitles are often translated in a way that compromises the subtleties of the original words. Alter, who speaks Hindi, explains the true meaning of the words and gives context for the dialogue, making sense of the movie’s otherwise confusing opening scene.

According to the scene’s subtitles, Langda (Iago in Shakespeare’s play) discusses with Rajju (Roderigo) the difference between a “fool” and a “moron.” The two words are used somewhat interchangeably in American English, so the conversation seems odd and not very insightful.

Alter explains that the Hindi words translate more accurately to “fool” and “fucking idiot.” The scene — and the message Langda is conveying to Rajju — makes more sense with the uncensored translation; it ends with Landga explaining that, while they were talking, Rajju’s fiancee, Dolly (Desdemona), ran off with Omkara (Othello). Rajju realizes too late that he’s not a mere fool, but a fucking idiot.

The rest of the story follows the original, even though the setting has changed. Instead of a soldier in the Venetian army, Omkara is a gangster working in the service of a U.P. politician. The action takes place in the modern-day, as evidenced by the fact that the gangsters carry cell phones. Yet the town at the center of events is small and rural, evoking the story’s timeless quality.

Omkara (Ajay Devgan) and Dolly (Kareena Kapoor) are happy together, even though she’s defied her father to be with the illegitimate son of a village leader and his servant. During the course of their wedding planning, Omkara is promoted to a political position. When picking his successor as gang leader, he defies expectations and chooses Kesu (Vivek Oberoi) — a college-educated city kid — over his childhood friend, Langda (Saif Ali Khan).

Langda commences an attack on Kesu’s character, subtly trying to convince Omkara that Kesu is having an affair with Dolly. He’s aided by Dolly’s spurned suitor, Rajju (Deepak Dobriyal). Langda’s wife, Indu (Konkona Sen Sharma), inadvertently gives him the piece of physical evidence to validate his lie, and the tragedy unfolds.

The acting in Omkara is as nuanced as Langda’s machinations. Dolly and Kesu are youthful, charming, and utterly bewildered by Omkara’s suspicion. Rajju is twitchy and eager to reclaim his stolen bride. Omkara’s authoritative facade only breaks in front of Dolly, who coaxes smiles out of him with a glance.

Saif Ali Khan’s Langda walks a thin line. He’s vengeful, but not without cause; devious, but not totally malicious. His only interest is ousting Kesu from the position he wants. However, he fails to consider the toll this will take on Dolly and, by extension, Omkara, his benefactor.

Konkona Sen Sharma’s Indu is the film’s most relatable character. She’s caring, funny and smart enough to figure out that something is wrong. She probably could’ve solved the problems between Dolly, Kesu and Omkara, if only her husband weren’t secretly working against her.

Another highlight of Omkara is the music, especially the sexy dance tune “Beedi.” Bhardwaj got his start in Bollywood as a composer, and the music he’s written for Omkara sets the mood perfectly.

It’s hard to recommend a movie that requires further reading to really understand, but Omkara is worth it. The acting, atmosphere and music are of such high quality that American film fans should just enjoy the ride, knowing that Stephen Alter’s book will clear up some of the confusion. Vishal Bhardwaj is a director of such talent that it would be a shame to overlook his work because of a few cultural differences.