Maqbool (2003)

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Every year I get to go to some schools to introduce P6 kids to the world of Literature and I am always very stoked when the schools choose William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This play is my absolute fave because it has all the ingredients of a dark story – witches, murder, treachery, big battle and the mother of all twists. Almost all the kids love this like some kind of guilty pleasure! I have watched many film adaptations of Macbeth and I feel nothing could surpass Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. Kurosawa transposed the whole story to the time of the samurai and it is so frigging awesome that you will believe that Shakespeare is a Japanese. But today that all changed… I have just seen an amazing Hindi adaptation that I can attest sits up there with Kurosawa’s, but not quite side by side. Perhaps just a couple of notches below Kurosawa’s masterpiece. However make no mistake… Maqbool is very very good.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool (2003) transposed the story to present day Bombay. When the film opened I struggled to keep pace with who is who in Shakespeare’s masterwork that I got lost. After a while I gave Maqbool its due respect and watched it unfold without comparing with Macbeth and it worked like a charm. Bhardwaj didn’t do a straight adaptation which would be boring (case in point being Roman Polanski’s Macbeth which is so humdrum). The kingdom here is the Bombay gangland underworld. Macbeth is Maqbool, a senior henchman of Abbaji (King Duncan). Nimmi (Tabu) is Lady Macbeth but here she is the mistress of Abbaji. She is in love with Maqbool. There are no 3 witches here but the prophesying role are taken by 2 corrupt police inspectors played deliciously well by Naseeruddin Shah and Om Pari. Maqbool is amazingly portrayed by Irrfan Khan whom I last saw as the storyteller in Life of Pi. He really disappears into his role and his descent into hell is quite something to watch. Veteran actor, Pankaj Kapur played the ‘Godfather’ with awesome relish. His portrayal is one of the reasons this adaptation ranks quite high IMHO. Most films only focus on Macbeth and King Duncan is treated like a byline, like a throwaway character so that Macbeth can do his thing. Here, lots of screen time is given to Abbaji to really flesh out his deep character. So much so that when the murderous moment finally occurs, it will hit you like a ton of bricks.

This is a well-conceived film with big aspirations. A very worthy adaptation of the Scottish play. Everything about the film surprised me in a profound manner – nothing about it feels like it was trying to be more clever than Shakespeare’s play. It uses the groundwork laid by the play to tell the same story but in a fresh and accomplished approach that transcends cultural and language barriers. I think Shakespeare would have been very proud of this.

There are 3 songs featured but they are not those that embraced gaiety. The tone from start to finish is dark. I am not sure it did well at the box-office because judging from the usual output from Bollywood, Maqbool won’t make you come out from the cinema in a happy mood. So in that respect, this is a very bravely made film and it’s definitely one of the best I have seen so far.

PS – This is the first of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare Hindi-trilogy. The other two are adaptations of Othello and Hamlet, which are also outstanding films. I will post my reviews of them soon.

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