What about Shakespeare do you find so compelling?
I think his dramatic stories are so universal in their emotion that they cross boundaries of countries, genre and language. I think they can be adapted to any time. You can make it futuristic. I could have made Othello a futuristic film also, 2050, say. Basically the story remains the same. It's about how rooted human traits are, and how it's been relevant for the past 400 years. It'll be relevant for the next 400 years.
Why did you pick Uttar Pradesh (UP) for Othello?
Because I was born and brought up ther. That part of the country has not been seen in mainstream cinema. I thought it would be interesting to bring that flavour to the mainstream, giving a Shakespearean colour to UP - it could be a unique combination.
When did you decide on Othello becoming Omkara?
It happened in October or November 2005. I was not sure of which one to pick up, whether it would be Julius Ceasar, Hamlet, or Othello, or something else.
The reason I asked was because that part of the country has been seen in a few films. There's Tigmanshu Dhulia's Haasil, for one.
What Tigmanshu did wasn't mainstream. And the language [the local dialect], I don't think it was used there. It was more... I used a heavy dialect of western UP. That movie did not have a dialect of its own. Do you remember any mainstream films with stars being done in UP?
There's Gangajal, but that's set in Bihar.
Yeah, Gangajal. There's a lot of difference between Bihar and UP. I think. Yeah, there's a lot of difference. If you travel in UP, every 50 kilometers you get a different dialect. [Pause] There also Ajay was not speaking Bihari. He spoke the normal, clean hindi. The rest of the characters spoke in bihari, and that too was an the honest dialect. I have been totally honest with my mainstream actors. So I don't want to compare.
How'd you get the mainstream actors to prepare for the dialect?
I dubbed all the dialogues in my voice, sent them cds and they kept listening to them. We did some workshops, some rehearsals. Ajay's hindi was very good, there were no problems there, but Saif had to go through a really rough patch.
When you read Shakespeare, there's a certain poetry in the language. How do you get that across in Hindi?
I didn't follow his language or his dialogue or his sequence of drama. I just picked the plot and made it my own. I didn't follow it word by word or scene by scene. I'm more into the spirit of the play than the play.
Shakespeare has been done and been seen many times. When you took up Macbeth...
It has not been done in the Indian context in Indian cinema. Hardly any Shakespearean thing has been done.
How did you approach the interpretation of it?
One thing I knew was that it hadn't been done in India. People have not even heard of Macbeth, if we talk about the common man. And in the west the plays have been adapted in the classic manner. So I knew it would be unique. I picked up the story and put it in contemporary times.
Have you seen Roysten Abel's interpretation of Othello?
What about Habib Tanvir's adaptations?
No. I have not seen any adaptations in the Indian context. I saw the films made by Orson Wells. He adapted Othello. Then the latest was 'O'.
What did you think of Orson Wells' adaptation?
It was set in the same period, the same time, and my intention was not to do that. I wanted to bring my own creativity into it. So that's why I was not really kicked about Orson Wells. Those were greatly shot, greatly made, and greatly performed, but they didn't interest me.
Tehelka, August 5, 2006.