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Sunday, September 26, 2021

15 years of Omkara: Deepak Dobriyal revisits the scene which launched him in Bollywood

Omkara turns 15: Vishal Bhardwaj's iconic retelling of Othello starred Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan and Vivek Oberoi. The film was Deepak Dobriyal's debut in Bollywood.

Written by Komal RJ Panchal | Mumbai |
Updated: July 29, 2021 8:25:43 am
Deepak dobrial and Saif Ali kHan in Vishal Bhardwaj's OmkaraOmkara was Deepak Dobriyal's debut film. (Photos: Eros Entertainment, Express Archives)

Vishal Bhardwaj’s gritty crime drama Omkara, starring Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Vivek Oberoi, Konkona Sen Sharma and Deepak Dobriyal, completes 15 years today. Adapted from Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello, the story is rooted in the Indian heartland. The film received critical acclaim for its taut script, and lead performances. In an interview with, Deepak Dobriyal, who played the role of Rajan Tiwari, talks about the experience of working in the film and with Vishal Bhardwaj.

Prior to his debut with Omkara, Deepak was a theatre actor who had struggled for years to land a role in Bollywood films. Calling Omkara his big break, Deepak says, “This was my first film, so when you’re a struggler and you are getting to work with such big directors, you want to give it your all, thinking, ‘kaam milege, main dikhaunga’. When you are offered such a great role, you also become so full of enthusiasm and want to do your best, so there is a kind of truthfulness in your performance because you have struggled so much to be a part of something like this.”

As an actor who struggled a lot before landing his first big break, Deepak was eager to prove his mettle. He says, “So in this situation, the toughest part for me was how to be normal, because playing a character means you have to be that person, not you, who is so excited and nervous. The film has given me an immense reach and whatever I am today is only because of Omkara. I consider Vishal Bhardwaj as my godfather, today whatever I am in the film industry is because of his vision.”

Yet, a year after Omkara released, Deepak was still unemployed as he ‘expected too much’ from other scripts. He says, “Omkara also worked against me, ‘thoda nuksaan bhi hota hai’, in one way, I started expecting too much out of other scripts that came to me after Omkara. Vishal Bharadwaj’s script was like literature to me. And since acting is my profession, any film that comes to me, however bad, I give it all because that’s what I have learnt in my first film.”

Deepak credits the work he has done in the years following Omkara to the renowned filmmaker. He says, “Vishal ji lives in my heart. For the opportunity that he has given me, I feel obliged to him. He is what he is because he keeps himself surrounded by artists of all kinds — musicians, writers, lyricists, painters, best of filmmakers.”

Omkara is the second film in Bhardwaj’s trilogy of Shakespeare adaptations, which began with 2003’s Maqbool and ending with 2014’s Haider. Deepak says, “So many of his films are based on Western literature, and how beautifully he Indianises them and hence they seem so relevant to the audiences. When I watch his films, I feel I’ve seen his Macbeth and Othello also. Maybe I wouldn’t consume Western literature as is, but I watch his films because I feel connected to these stories, they don’t seem like stories that aren’t rooted to our history and culture. He is the Shakespeare of Indian filmmaking.”

“Working with him is like attending and immersing in his masterclass,” he adds.

After winning praise as Rajan Tiwari, Deepak has played some memorable roles, including Pappi in Tanu Weds Manu, Genda in Dabbang 2 and Shyam Prakash in Hindi Medium. Despite working with different acclaimed filmmakers in varying genres, Deepak believes that Vishal’s ‘rugged and raw’ style of telling stories is the best. He calls Vishal one of the best filmmakers he has worked with.

He says, “Vishal Bhardwaj is a big man for me, as a director, as a composer, as a storyteller. Anything he says or does is backed with powerful research based on history and literature. Many filmmakers talk ‘Bollywood ki bhasha’, some tell emotional stories like Anand ji (Anand L Rai), whereas Vishal ji’s style is raw and rugged, and organic, and I believe that is the best way to tell stories.”

Speaking about Bhardwaj’s directorial vision, he said, “Any actor who features in Vishal ji’s films turns into a performer from an actor or star. Once you surrender yourself to him, he brings out the best in you, nurtures you but doesn’t control you.”

Deepak also opens up about his memorable scene from the film where his friendship with Saif’s Langda Tyagi is put to a test. Sharing an anecdote from the film’s set, while giving this shot, he says, “The first/muhurat shot of the film was featuring me and Saif Ali Khan, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable shots. It was the one where both of us are on the bridge and I had to jump into the river. That was my first shot in my first feature film. I was quite loud and put in a lot of effort.”

However, Vishal had to ask him to tone it down. Deepak added, “While doing that shot, I removed all the ‘bhadaas’ from my struggle days. The shot was effective in the first go. Vishal ji came to me and said, ‘see, I’ve got my shot, but will it be possible for you to take it a pitch lower?’ I took that direction so seriously, that I took it a few pitches lower, I acted how Rajju (the character) would have acted, and that was perfect. Vishal ji may have his language a little different than others, but he tells you what the shot needs, and now what you as an actor needs. If we had gone with my first shot, it would have been over the top, but what we finally saw on screen was seamless.”

He continues, “If I had continued playing Rajju the way I did in my first shot, he could come across as someone who is full of angst, not someone who is a real person and is unknowingly sly. That’s his vision, and I believe him completely. So however bitter the truth, Rajju tells Langda Tyagi and it pricks him because Rajju tells that to him softly, without actually meaning to demean him.”

Calling Vishal Bhardwaj a magician, Deepak says, “The way he (Vishal Bhardwaj) makes his actors perform, makes his films timeless classics. He totally involves himself with his cast and crew and the story. If everybody is in sync, one would realise how Vishal ji, as a magician, will bring out the kind of performance from you that you’ve never thought you would do. He will leave you surprised. We had some of the most commercial actors in Omkara, but today, all you see are characters of the story. Vishal ji can create magic every time, he sits on a director’s chair, or even with his music. I learnt to act as an actual human on screen from Vishal ji, I am not an actor when on set.”

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