Vishal vs. Jayaraj: I'd like to claim an honourable draw here. While 'Omkara' is steeped in the milleau of rural UP, 'Kaliyattam' is based on the fascinating backdrop of temple artforms and the beliefs surrounding it. Both directors were equally successful in integrating the premise into the backdrop convincingly; both directors deserve full marks in choosing an unconventional cast and making them perform exceptionally well. However, I felt that Vishal scored slightly better in rounding off his characters better; Jayaraj was guilty of ignoring the other characters (look at how well Vivek Oberoi's Firangi is moulded, for instance). Vishal also dishes out nuances (the green tinge for Saif, the black shawl for Othello) that enhance the overall appeal of his version.
Verdict: Vishal has the slightest of edges.
Ajay Devgun vs. Suresh Gopi: As the dark Moor, Ajay is as grim as ever. Despite tantalising glimpses of the affection Omkara feels for Dolly (this is Devgun at his most romantic, I think!), Ajay fails in conveying the depth of Omi's love for Dolly. Moreover, Ajay has done this sort of thing far too often, and he merely performs upto everybody's expectations. Suresh Gopi, on the other hand, vastly derided by one and all as an actor who could do only the gun-touting, foul-mouthed act, put in a humdinger of a performance as the deformed Perumalayan (Othello) who feels that the trust he placed in Thamara (Desdemona) has been betrayed. Gopi's love for Thamara is worn on his sleeve, and his sense of betrayal is all the more effective for it.
Verdict: This one goes to Gopi.
Kareena vs. Manju Warrier: I admit I might not be objective here, but this one is a cinch. Kareena puts in an amazing performance as Dolly. The gaiety, bewilderment and anguish are all conveyed with finesse. One wonders how an actress can be so effective in one movie, and equally lacklustre in others (read 'Khushi', 'Main Prem Ki..' etc). However, despite Kareena's sterling effort, she is no match for the natural performer that Manju Warrier was (she no longer acts). To run the risk of repeating myself, Manju was sheer magic on celluloid - what else can one say about an actor who even managed to overshadow MohanLal ('Kanmadam')? 'Kaliyattam' was but one of her minor roles, and she shone in even that.
Verdict: Kareena, despite a fine performance, is no match for Manju.
Saif vs. Lal: Saif has put in a lot of effort to get under the skin of Ishwar Tyagi. Be it the rough dialect, the chipped yellow teeth, or the crafty grin - Saif Ali Khan ensures that his persona never ventures even a peep. Particularly noteworthy is that pivotal scene where Omi passes him over as successor; Langda betrays his emotion only by a flicker of the eye. Envy, sadness and finally rage play across his eyes, and he smiles a trifle bitterly. Lal, on the other hand, was terrific alright; but subsequent movies have diluted the impact that 'Kaliyattam' had created. Lal perhaps made a better Iago, but Saif had the tougher act to carry off. The only area where Saif failed, I felt, was in not making Langda repulsive; Lal's Paniyan was downright repulsive.
Verdict: Saif scores over Lal for his sheer transformation into Ishwar Langda Tyagi.
All the other protagonists in 'Omkara' - in particular, Vivek Oberoi and Konkona Sen (who is just remarkable) - score over their counterparts in 'Kaliyattam'. Oberoi finally turns in a noteworthy performance after 'Company'; his grief and anguish are palpable. Konkona seems utterly incapable of being bad - she just seems to belong with all the other women there, that you don't even recognize her for a minute - and that, is the ultimate compliment.
The few downsides of 'Omkara' are in the commercial devices it resorts to. Bipasha is a huge misfit and so are those stupid item numbers (what a figure she has, though!). Konkona's Kali-act was also a bit too predictable, I thought. Overall, a tremendous movie though.