At last! Vishal Bhardwaj’s take off on Macbeth and The Godfather, Maqbool, shows that a good, sensible film can indeed be made within Hindi commercial cinema parameters. Setting Macbeth in Mumbai’s underworld, Bhardwaj comes up with a gritty, dark tale of Maqbool, the right hand man of Abbaji, destroyed by his ambition for power and involvement with a woman- his boss’s mistress Nimmi, that he could well have done better without. The film, aided by its well-written dialogues and superb performances, mark Vishal Bhardwaj as a director to watch out for.
With Maqbool, Bhardwaj does an inspired adaptation of Macbeth in the world of crime in Mumbai. But apart from following the basic plot points of Shakespeare, he also makes the Lady Macbeth character into a strong femme fatale adding sex and desire to fuel the narrative rather than just sticking to the power games of the underworld. This gives the film an additional noirish layer that works beautifully and gives it much heft. Bhardwaj also artfully combines the mediums of theatre and cinema in his treatment of the film to give it a unique look and feel. The ambience and backdrop of the gritty Mumbai underworld is convincingly created and becomes yet another character of the film rather than just its setting. And while the film is aptly cast, in particular, the casting of Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri as two corrupt cops on Abbaji’s payroll as the ‘witches’ of Macbeth works brilliantly – especially Om Puri with his various prophesies. Several sequences like Nimmi’s final breakdown with Maqbool, the killing of Abbaji, the development of the affair of Maqbool and Nimmi are all handled extremely well adding to the dramatic tension that runs through the film’s narrative flow.
With such a fine ensemble of actors in place, the performances in the film are expectedly extraordinary. They lift the already fine film a further notch or two. Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah reaffirm yet again what fine artistes they are. Both are spot on with their sense of wry humour. Pankaj Kapoor as Abbaji successfully creates a Brandoesque Dawood. Finally getting a deserving role of his calibre, he is brilliant as the short-statured, potbellied, shuffle-footed deadpan dialogue delivering Abbaji. Irrfan gives perhaps his best performance, to date, as the title character. Watch him as he goes ably from being Abbaji’s loyal servant for whom he would gladly give his life to taking charge of the film once he falls prey to greed and lust and then see his resignation as he sees his empire around him crumble. He is consistently good right through his entire character arc, making the most of his incredibly expressive eyes. From lust, desire, doubt and anguish – they express it all. Tabu as the femme fatale is as good as ever. Be it her flirtatious scenes with Maqbool earlier on in the film or her enticing him to kill Abbaji and thus free herself from the old man or then her subsequent guilt over Abbaji’s killing and her descent into madness, she captures every nuance of her character. In the midst of such performances, Ajay Gehi and Masumi are totally overshadowed and are at best adequate.
While Maqbool has much going for it, it isn’t perfect. Yes, there are snags – The film takes its time to settle down as the various characters are established haphazardly thereby often confusing the viewer. There is too little shown of the dynamism of Maqbool, which has supposedly made him Abbaji’s right hand man. You see a detached man from the rest bothered about his work but not really him in action. So you wonder why is it that Abbaji singles him out as his main man and not anyone else. The tracks with the upright cop who is transferred to customs and with the Hindi film starlet are handled quite clumsily. And while there is a build up of sorts to Maqbool’s character leading to his hallucinations, Nimmi’s bloody delusions comes out of the blue as if remember, we have to bring in this aspect of Lady Macbeth also. Also, the film is too Urdu dialogue heavy at times alienating itself from the normal viewer. Technically too, the film could have tighter and appears a tad too long but the acting and Bhardwaj’s evocative musical score more than makes up for it.
All in all a fine effort by Vishal Bhardwaj and certainly the best Hindi film in a long, long time.
Hindi, Thriller, Drama, Color