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Indianizing Othello: Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara

Abstract

In the wake of a long-established tradition of Shakespearian plays performed on Indian stages, and following the rather recent appropriation of some of the most canonical authors of English literature by Indian cinemas, this paper purports to focus on Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara, a 2006 filmic adaptation of Othello set in 21st century North India. What I would like to show here is how this film, after others, writes back to the racial opposition between a black Moor and a white cast by choosing an all-Indian set of actors, and favours a more national and political agenda by raising the question of skin-colour and social stigmatisation in contemporary India, especially when it comes to marriage and love. What is more, Omkara (like Othello) opens on an extra-marital passion, but this time in a Hindu environment where the issue of “honour crime” is obviously meant to be questioned as the  film ends with the murder of a seemingly unfaithful Dolly, the subsequent suicide of her aggrieved lover and the final stabbing of the designer of the whole plot by the woman he used to rob Dolly’s belt. Bearing in mind that the film is meant for a domestic audience caught between radical preservations of Hindu ways of life, internal moral changes and foreign influences (especially through film and image consumption), and a diasporic audience also torn between various nostalgic and progressive aspirations, I shall try to see how the staging and re-arranging of the original Shakespearian plot enable Vishal Bharadwaj to address such gender, social and racial matters. Simultaneously, the aesthetic choice of the genre of the mafia film with a few “item numbers”, quite familiar to Indian audiences since the 1990s, will also contribute to see how the movie, by recycling fashionable filmic trends, shifts the perspective from Shakespeare’s noble hero to the villain, but provides an alternative ending to the play and re-orients the original text.
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Dates and versions

hal-02333348 , version 1 (25-10-2019)

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Florence Cabaret. Indianizing Othello: Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara. Sarah Hatchuel; Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin. Shakespeare on Screen: Othello, Shakespeare On Screen : Othello, Cambridge University Press, pp.107-121, 2015, ⟨10.1017/CBO9781316272060.008⟩. ⟨hal-02333348⟩
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