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Friday, 10 October 2014

Reel Reviews: Vishal Bhardwaj's Shakespearian Trilogy; Maqbool (2003)

Magneto's Movies

Reel Reviews

Movie: Maqbool

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

Cast: Irrfan Khan as Miyan Maqbool, Tabu as Nimmi, Pankaj Kapur as Jahangir Khan/Abbaji, Piyush Mishra as Kaka, Ankur Vikal as Riyaz Boti, Ajay Gehi as Guddu, Masumeh Makhija as Sameera Khan, Shammi Narang as Mr. Bhosle with Naseeruddin Shah as Inspector Purohit and Om Puri as Inspector Pandit

Genre: Crime/Drama

Score: 9.0/10

Pros:-A near perfect brooding look into Shakespeare's tragic Macbeth with dominating themes of sin, lust, greed, power and family
          -The dialogues are well engaged in the culture of the characters and the sub text of the meanings of each plot point and motivations
          -Bhardwaj and Tyrewala make commendable changes to the play that help add depth and weight to the film plot. The change of Nimmi (Lady Macbeth) being Abbaji's (Duncan) mistress gives way for more layers to characters
          -As equal as Macbeth, Maqbool is unsatisfied with his impotency and is a character eventually arrogant but drowned by his guilt. The complexities create for a compelling arc.
          -Lady Macbeth is equally well adapted into Nimmi. The extension of Abbaji's role allows him to be a much more fleshed out character than Duncan as a ruthless and respected man that helps juxtapose between him and Maqbool
          -Bhardwaj adapts the play into a criminal element with gutso. He adds his own commentary through the relations of his characters and the changes to their stances from a female Malcolm to a feisty Fleance and two cops for the Witches
          -The camera dives into the darkness of the world but more importantly its protagonists actions. It works best when tying itself to the riveting pace of Maqbool's guilty conscious.  
          -Irrfan Khan is sensational as Maqbool, capturing his insecurities and his prowess with aplomb. He works his eyes magnificently in the damning moments of silence. Tabu matches him as she revels in Nimmi's sexuality, seductiveness, evil and wrenches your heart with her deep despair, regret and eventual madness. Their chemistry is electric.
          -The showstopper though is Pankaj Kapur. With more time in his hands, he presents the aura that drives Abbaji to be the central figure of pursuit and respect in this game. He has a brilliant command over the language and a skillful delivery.
          -The supporting cast is mostly effective especially Shah, Mishra and Puri
          -The score equally chilling as it is thrilling, while profoundly conveying the dread in both the loud moments with drums and the silences
          -Music is well versed in the cultural origins and the backgrounds of its characters...                             
Cons:-While it adapts its source perfectly in the second half, the setup has been so brilliant that the film sinks once Kapur is off screen. This is due to the unraveling of the play rather than the other actors
           -The crime and political element have trappings of clichés due to the commentary the writers try to make   
           -The film runs overlong and could have done with some better editing to bring a certain dynamic to sparklingly written and visualized scenes while cutting parts that disrupt the flow.
           -Masume is too over the top with her expressions and really takes you out of certain scenes where we are to sympathize with her plight where as Gehi despite given the scope with Fleance lacks in matching the intensity necessary
           -...yet none of the songs are particularly memorable and some are clearly unnecessary to the situation

Best Scene: Maqbool carries out his plan to murder Abbaji amidst his breaking mind and ominous weather. Killing Abbaji, he sees his former father figure die while staring at him as an accusation towards Maqbool, of his crimes

Best Performance: Pankaj Kapur as Jahangir Khan/Abbaji

Best Dialogue: 'Aag ke liye paani ka dar bane rehna chahiye'-Purohit and Pandit, (The fear of water must always be there for the fire)

Here's my first review for Vishal Bhardwaj's sensational Shakespeare trilogy, this his adaptation of the tragedy of Macbeth


Maqbool is the first of Vishal Bharadwaj's Shakespeare Tragedy Trilogy, based on his play Macbeth. In this version Maqbool (Macbeth) is a Mumbai gangster working for Abbaji (Duncan) alongside his brother in arms Kaka (Banquo). When he visits the local cops cum astrologers (the Witches), they promise him that he will be the future leader of the gang.

This begins to bear heavy on Maqbool's mind as he contemplates betrayal on his father figure and too find a way to be with Abbaji's mistress Nimmi (Lady Macbeth) who manipulates him to accomplish his goals. As the deed is complete, Maqbool and Nimmi fall into the abyss of guilt and Maqbool begins to be questioned by his gang until his very end.

With the modern adaptation of the play, there are quite a few staggering changes made. The most important is that Lady Macbeth is Duncan's mistress rather than Macbeths wife. Ducan's child is a girl; Sameera (Malcolm) who is in love with Banquo's son Guddu (Fleance). Also the weird sisters are turned into two male cops with an affinity to use astrology to predict coming events, while their role is extended and they play around with everyone including questionable loyalties towards Maqbool. 

The change from three witches to two cops, makes for an intriguing commentary on the strings behind crime and the gang wars and adds to the idea of finding balance for the cities sake

The first half moves at quite a deliberate pace, introducing the audience to the world with keen insight on each characters situation and mindset especially with Maqbool, Nimmi and Abbaji. It doesn't work up to the plays main aspect until the second half.

This is thankful to the change made in Nimmi's character as it allows the writers to unravel the facets of each character with thought while also giving space for a character such has Abbaji to grow and to be understood.

The second half then takes over as writer Bhardwaj and Tyrewala delve into the play with equal reverence and creativity. They handle most of the main scenes of the play with dexterity; early on in the movie the prophecy for Macbeth does take play as in this case the two police officers tell him so amidst a jolly atmosphere.

Another scene is of course Abbaji's death that is unraveled with glory (see Direction) but is written with a very intriguing angle. Instead of seeing daggers, Maqbool begins to vision the blood of his so called father strewn across the palace. As he fires on Abbaji, Abbaji for a second opens his eyes and slumps onto the floor staring at him, already wracking him with guilt.

These parts really highlight certain angles of the characters and the themes littered through the film.

At the center of the script are the three main characters of Maqbool, Nimmi and Abbaji.

With the extended time we delve into Abbaji very well. The writers highlight the man's affinity to family early on, with the way he treats both Kaka and Maqbool while his twisted love for Nimmi shines through.

There's also a sense of ambiguity as to whether the man in front of us is human or monster. Two consecutive scenes reflect a lot about the character and juxtapose it later against Maqbool as the leader, as is in the play.

In one Abbaji proves how powerful he is as he maliciously stuffs beetle nut into the mouth of a politician, showing the fear he exudes over everyone. The second is when he is making a deal with a man Boti (Macduff) brings to him. The man offers to pay up front on his delivery, because he want to be friends with Abbaji. It shows the kind of respect the character commands. Abbaji dismisses this deal that sends his product around the world as he says that the sea is his love and that Mumbai is his home, a clear indication of how grounded he is and how greed does not affect him.

This development of the Duncan character, helps us understand better the Macbeth in Maqbool. The juxtapose later used as Maqbool approaches the man for the same deal but isn't paid up front because Maqbool came running to him. After which as the deal falls through due to police raids, Maqbool asks for help from the politicians of the gang who deny him any. An example of how Maqbool tainting his hands with Abbaji's blood doesn't make him Abbaji.

There's other ambiguous mentions to Abbaji's legacy. Including in one particular scene where he laments the death of his mentor, only for one cop to turn the tables and tell Maqbool that Abbaji was also there when his mentor was killed but was the only one who walked out unscratched.  That mention also reflects in Abbaji's own death as Maqbool was also there, but no one truly knows if he was. Perpetrating the idea of a cycle of betrayal and violence.

While it also presents the motif of snakes, poisoning the garden that bears fruits to the success of both Abbaji's mentor, Abbaji and Maqbool-Nimmi's love. The latter being the poison from the snake that Maqbool himself is when he kills Abbaji.

Nimmi's character change is one of the better things to happen to the narrative. As her hate for Abbaji and her pursuit and seduction of Maqbool helps add a very important theme to the script from a different dimension than the play. The idea of sin is engraved deeply into the films plot as is seen in the last scene between the lovers, when Nimmi questions the purity of their love to Maqbool and succumbs to her madness when he is unable to answer.

For the first half her character is kept as this spirited individual teasing and flirting with Maqbool until her eventual seduction of him bears fruit and her manipulation of events begins. Lady Macbeth is one of the finest characters in literature and she is aptly adapted here, working through the layers of Maqbool to find the poison within that will help him succeed as a 'Man' but more importantly poison that will leak through their relationships and minds.

I also like that the writers never fall into the trap of having Nimmi outright blame Maqbool for their downfall and keep distance from him, rather catapult between the cavalcade of emotions quickly giving the impression of madness that has grasped her mind. 

Of course the main character here is Maqbool. There's quite a few genuine instances where Bhardwaj and Tyrewala sub textually play with the notion of Maqbool's manhood, an aspect that drives the original to provide Lady Macbeth the kingdom as a means to satisfy her when he cannot sexually.

The motif of the gun symbolizing his manhood is a clear example of this. A first shot is when Maqbool confronts Mughal (Macdonwald) and his gun refuses to fire bullets and work. As the laughter of Kaka rings around him, it's a clear indication of his impotency. Another key scene is when Maqbool and Nimmi are finally left alone at the throes of sharing a passionate night.

On a stony hillside enveloped by the magnificent sea, Nimmi pulls Maqbool's gun on him and forces him to surrender and accept his love for her. It's a scene where we see how powerful Nimmi is and how she holds the keys to Maqbool's manhood and thus the love and ambition that drives him to commit the deeds he does. Eventually its Nimmi who hands him the gun after which he slaps her, a little to late attempt to try and salvage his dignity and an example as to even how despite gaining the confidence the idea of his lost manhood still plagues him. This is in clear reflection to the original, where Macbeth is unable to father a child or man up to do the deed that he need to as Lady Macbeth points it out.

This is also seen in a confrontation where Nimmi declares she is pregnant but Maqbool need reassurance it's his son and not Abbaji's, since he still doubts himself.

The adaptation constantly rears its head successfully, as many of Macbeth's characteristics come into play with the addition of the exploration of the Maqbool-Abbaji relationship. Maqbool's growing arrogance is displayed as he climbs the ranks like Macbeth did. His guilt perfectly captured in the second and faithful half with the constant sight of blood stains and his vision amidst people of seeing Kaka open his eyes, despite his body lying dead still to others. Even the isolation is perfectly captured in scenes as his gang members are tense in examining how the foundations of his relationship with and devotion to Nimmi are rotting his empire. A macrocosm for his own mind and soul.

One of the bigger changes is that it's the love for Nimmi rather than his ambition that drives Maqbool to do what he does. It adds a greater layer to proceedings and enforces the theme of sin to the film. Making the forbidden love and lust a catalyst for the events that cause the two characters lives to spiral out of control. 

Here it is the sin of forbidden love that breaks both Maqbool and Nimmi rather than Maqbool's ambition to be King and provide for Nimmi because of the smart changes from source 

Mumbai also takes on character. With the first step to Maqbool's acension as he takes control over a hub of Mumbai in the form of Bollywood (Cawdor in the original). It reflects the glitz that Maqbool is presented to and the shininess as a reflection of Maqbool's greed for power. The last predictions also come into play wonderfully as the forest of Scotland is replaced by the sea of Mumbai, as it inches closer in drowning Maqbool. When he heads to the seas for one last chance at saving his criminal empire.

There's also an indication to Mumbai's history, paralleling the relationship between Abbaji and Maqbool to that off Haji Mastan and Dawood Ibrahim in their dressing sense and characteristics.

Yet this also produces certain been there done that moments of gangster film clichés in the script.

This brings me to the last batch of characters who make a true impact. Guddu's (Fleance) involvement in the business is also fun to see as it makes his characters rise more credible and gives a genuine reflection of a younger version of this angry and hungry Maqbool, which helps add to the fears Maqbool has in serving him. Also his relation with Sameera adds a great context on the idea of family.

The real power of characters lies in the commentary Bhardwaj makes by turning the original witches into cops. The two police officers have an expanded role as they flit from Abbaji to the loyalty over Maqbool. Yet as their key dialogue points out, their motive as with the original is to create a balance of power.

Pandit (Witch 1) constantly creates an astrology board to predict dozens of things. The first on a window pane is smeared with blood when Purshotam (Witch 2) shoots a traitor and indicates to the bloodshed that will follow in Maqbool's path to his destiny. Another one is made of foods and Purshotam wants to eat a part to which Pandit says;

'You cannot eat Saturn, Saturn eats you (in astrology terms)'-Pandit.

To which Purshotam asks; 'So who will saturn eat'

'Anyone you want'-Pandit

It's a clear indication that not only are there astrological elements at play but these two men are manipulating the game the way they see fit, as a method to provide balance. Balance to the criminal element they must sustain, in order for the Police to have their jobs. A sort of necessary evil. Which is why they throw Maqbool to the path they want, in order to cut down the rising power of Abbaji and to bring it to an acceptable level where metaphorically the fire can fear the water as their dialogue indicates.

One character I wish the script didn't short change is Riyaz Boti (Macduff), his quest for revenge really elevates the thrill of the third act. The thrill the film loses, due to the script meandering in political and criminal elements and the psyche of its protagonist for one too many times.

Of course Guddu has bigger reasons to pursue vengeance but the writers let Boti pull the trigger on Maqbool in an anti-climatic and disappointing ending.

It is why that despite certain changes where the second half still follows the play faithfully as it can, is when the script lags and meanders.

The dialogues are a great backbone of the film. Bhardwaj has a surprisingly great ear for dialect but also the cultural origins of characters and how their natural conversations would follow. He adds elements of great Shakespearian detail to the dialogue, with tons of foreshadowing, irony and dark humor that isn't lost on the viewer especially if you've read the play.

Overall the changes and the faithfulness to the play make for an intriguing script, that dives deep into Shakespeare's most interesting  characters and play for me. There are issues with the script that is rough around it's edges but it really has a grasp over it's main plot and the theme of sin revoliving around it and the relations of the three protagonists. 

Score: 8.9/10

This was Bhardwaj's second film and of course you could see some instances of the amateur production value, as it was after Maqbool that he left his mark as a director and producers sought him out for his unique vision.

One of the great things is that Bhardwaj conveniently understand the literature in this Shakesperian classic. He doesn't have his actors speak in the old English language, but when making profound statements or alluding to the many symbolic natures of the character Urdu provides the perfect lingo.

His tight reign over the work is reflected in the flexibility of his performers, who mine the depths of the material with his guiding hand watching closely at the veterans who need not be told to pull of their best work.

The camera is worked wonderfully as it extracts every little detail from the grime and grit of the setting especially in the interiors of Maqbool's mansions.

Key scenes that stand out are;

-The first passionate night between Maqbool and Nimmi

Maqbool's distance is captured with a worms eye view look at a man's guilt in committing the sin. Nimmi lays in a bed covered by a mosquito net acting as a veil, symbolic of the barrier decency that prevents them from committing this sin. First Maqbool touches her from across the veil, indicating the pleasure of what he wants but cannot have.

Finally the lighting is worked brilliantly in capturing the two figures in the throes of passion as silhouettes. Providing the idea that for Nimmi, Maqbool has accepted the darkness to envelope. The thing that will ironically kill this love.

-The next day

The next scene sees the veil once again between them. Here Maqbool is laying in bed shirtless and Nimmi in a white Hijab praying.

This is the scene where Lady Macbeth begins to convince Macbeth to follow the path to killing Duncan.

Maqbool is bare and therefore vulnerable. Where as Nimmi is in the embrace of god who she believes, believes in her love. However this white symbolizes the purity his and her hands still have and how tainted they may get from the actions they are about to commit and how hard it will be to wash off this blood.

-Duncan death scene

This is the perfect adaptation of the scene of Duncan's murder from the play. Wracked with guilt and nervousness Maqbool sees blood on the floors of his house, he is told by an old wise woman that the heavy rain weather is an ominous sign. The crackling and thumping elevating the scene itself.

Eventually we get to the death scene.

Constant lightning flashes cause for shorts cuts to black that show how far and fast Maqbool is falling into the abyss of the prophecy and the sin he is about to commit to. The bullet piercing the net so as to kill Abbaji symbolizes his death breaking the barriers between Nimmi and Maqbool. Blood on Nimmi's face is an indication of her own hand in the crime. While Abbaji's long stare at Maqbool in death a declaration of Maqbool's crime, one that will haunt him further cause he knows he did it.

There's also a very intriguing dichotomy between Abbaji's death and the death of his mentor. As Pandit explains to Maqbool, Abbaji was also present in the room when his mentor died yet he walked away scot free and no one noticed. The crime setup by Maqbool and Nimmi doesn't indicate to the world at large, but someone else (Maqbool) was also there when Abbji died and walked away scot free. It's a cycle of greed that results in each protégé stealing the power from his mentor.

The lighting and editing here is simple brilliant, capturing the horror and thrill of the situation

-Into Darkness

Maqbool in a rush to escape carries a sickly Nimmi to the house but is stopped in his tracks when he notice the pitch black of one room.

As Maqbool carries a dying Nimmi, he looks into the pitch black room (his darkened heart) and witnesses the dead circling around Abbaji, a way for his conscious to convey his guilt as he is enveloped in the darkness.

Once again the cinematography plays its magic in breaking the psyche of its character.

-Maqbool's death

The camera captures this from a complete POV on Maqbool's part as he is shot in the back and the camera tumbles across the floor, awash with red color and then brightness and finally black. Making for a very engaging shot.

So many scenes exemplify how wonderful Hemant Chaturvedi's cinematography is and how profoundly it conveys layers of subtext in the film.

I just wish the editing could have been better, since like my review the film tends to run overlong and really lag by the end. Better cuts could have given rise to a sense of thrill to the proceedings that the film lacked. Certain points weren't required and editing should have seen to the faults of fixing the flow in the screenplay.

Overall Bhardwaj is smart in playing to his strengths by really wrenching the most out of some iconic scenes and overlaying them with his exquisite control over his performers. The cinematography is stunning and works best with brilliant cuts of editing, despite the film running a bit longer than it should.

Score: 9.3/10


The cast is a whose who of terrific character actors of most who have left great impact in the current state of Hindi cinema.

First the worst. Masumeh Makhija is terrible as the Malcolm replacement in this film, her acting has no sense of nuance as she does the love struck shy girl and the anguish with an over the top sense of emoting and facial expressions. Her scream at Maqbool never force the pity from the audience rather an unintentional laughter.

I'd say thank god she doesn't get to be anywhere near the climax, but then those traits are given to her male counterpart in Guddu AKA Fleance. Ajay Gehi despite getting an extended role and moments to collide with stellar actors such as Irrfan Khan and Piyush Mishra , just lack the intensity his character needs.

He keeps the rage at a one note point of totally overblown without really conveying any depth to the heroism or worthiness of his ascension. The smarminess is also equally misguided as it prevents from rooting for him in some form.

Now onto the good.

Despite limited scope, Ankur Vikal proves that if Bhardwaj had gone the root of Macduff in the play then he wouldn't be disappointed. Deepak Dobriyal (one of my favorite Indian actors) makes a great cameo before he was famous.

Piyush Mishra is unabashedly funny and heartbreaking as the touch Banquo type Kaka. Delivering his dialogues with a rough and tumble attitude.

The real meat is in the five electric performances of the films veteran cast.

As the duo of prophecy spouting cops, both Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri capture the kind of whimsical and satirical tone the director is aiming for. Their extended role allows them to play it wonderfully manipulative and different from the Lady Macbeth character. It's sad that the change has to occur to female character, but it works because of the commentary made and the performances provided.

Nimmi is a clear rendition of Lady Macbeth, as such for any actor this is a role they would truly cherish and be good in. The better it is that Bhardwaj selected someone as accomplished and unfortunately underrated as Tabu. Her portrayal adds initial cheeky spirit to the role since here she and Irrfan have to pursue each other.

There are undertones of sexiness that she clearly relishes playing with. Her delivery helps sell a lot of instances between the characters, but it's really her body language that wins you over. The elegance in which she moves around Maqbool, to the stifness in bed with Abbaji, but more importantly how Tabu carries herself and the little ticks (such as clutching her stomach once she is pregnant and susceptible to the madness of having sinned) that she adds to her performance are all brilliantly done. 

It's her chemistry with Irrfan that works best, highlighting their raw passion and dark crimes.

Irrfan himself is spectacular. This was one of his major roles at a time when Bollywood didn't understand the value of his talents. His eyes do much of the talking, initially conveying both his lust and fear of the power he is promised as well as conveying the details of his regret at not taking Nimmi for himself and the father he sees in Abbaji.

Certain key emotion scenes allow him to stretch the subtlety  of his performance. A scene at the end where the first signs of Nimmi's madness crop up, she exclaims that the child is Abbaji's to insult Maqbool. He grabs her and screams that it is his child, in that moment Irrfan pulls a voice that captures both Maqbool's intensity and insecurities in perfect motion.

It's not a performance that shows outright effort but sinks into the mind because of how effective Irrfan is in conveying the psychological aspect of his character with his eyes. 

Pankaj Kapur maintain a vacant look in his eyes that sell the ambiguity of his character and his menace

The real show stealer though is Pankaj Kapur. Thank god for the extended look at the character of Duncan through Abbaji, cause then we would not have gotten the kind of performance we do get from Kapur. His portrayal of Abbaji is perfectly in line with the written character as he pulls off a ruthless snarl with pan in his mouth and cold unwavering eyes in most scenes, except for one song as they slyly witness the dance of his new mistress. 

Kapur also adds certain nuances that just work wonders. His dialogue delivery is captured with a raspy voice that adds the intriguing of menace and out worldliness evil to his character, yet provide a sense of warmth in scenes that depict the family man aspect of Abbaji.

The way he also carries himself with conviction produces the duality of the characters waning health but aura of power. A key scene is the centerpiece to his performance;

The day of his daughters engagement, Abbaji reiterates the tale of his mentor's death. As Pandit points out to Maqbool, that Abbaji was also present in the room where his mentor and his mentor's killed died and that Abbaji walked out unscathed. He also notes that Dilip Kumar is lucky that Abbaji never became an actor, because he is so good.

If you take that to note and watch the scene again, you will notice the subtle layers Kapur adds to his performance as his crying both indicates his anguish and regret at his Mentor's death and his own push for pity and respect from his fellow men, when actually he is a snake in the garden. The motif for snakes popping up here.

Overall bolstered by a talented cast, the film has a tantamount of career defining performances headlined by a powerful turn from Pankaj Kapur.

Score: 9.7/10 

The soundtrack is a tad bit of a disappointment especially after you've heard the other two of this trilogy.

It is faithful to the kind of people and background the characters come from, but no one tune is any memorable. In fact most songs apart from the love track between Nimmi and Maqbool are unnecessary, although I think it's only two other songs and that too edited together. It’s just that the music is unmemorable coming from Vishal.

The score however is magnificent. Silence is used to profound points in detailing the characters and their minds especially Maqbool. A constant eeriness accompanies the two cops.

The best however is the use of drums that echoes chills during the death of Abbaji and the thunderstorms with it while also during the loss that Maqbool feels towards the anti-climatic end. 

Score: 8.1/10

Next time get ready for the next review in the trilogy with Vishal Bhardwaj's Omakara. An adaption of the bard's Othello, set in the crime world of the Indian hinterlands. 

'Nuff Said

Aneesh Raikundalia

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