When India does well, everything Indian does well. Not only is the economy doing well, the cricket team and the film industry have struck a purple patch. I can't remember the last time I have seen so many decent-to-good-to-excellent movies in Bollywood with such regularity. I have seen many amazing movies movies first-day-first-show. Lagaan was one, as was Dil Chahta Hai. The latest in the series is Vishal Bharadwaj's adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Macbeth". And like the previous two, this one is a masterpiece that will be remembered by Hindi film buffs for decades to come.
When you have "the bard" as a storywriter, you have already started off on the right note. Vishal builds on this by coming up with one of the most refined scripts ever seen in Bollywood. I was doubtful whether co-script-writer Abbas Tyrewala, whose previous works include the competent Ashoka and the entertaining Munnabhai MBBS, could rise up to the challenge. But they have exceeded all expectations to give us an engrossing narrative. The characters and situations analogous to those in "Macbeth" have been so brilliantly conceptualised that one understands the true import of the saying "Naqal ke liye bhi aqal lagti hai".
If the outlines of this sketch were adroitly demarcated by the script, the vivid imagery is further enhanced thanks to performances that are spectacular triumphs for the actors. Tabu does full justice to the spirit of Lady Macbeth; scheming, greedy, manipulative, yet not stonehearted enough to drink wine laced with blood. She also looks fabulous enough to make a loyal lieutenant betray the hand that fed him. Irfan, who has already shown promise in 'Haasil', has finally "arrived" with Maqbool. His portrayal of various emotional stages such as bully-ish haughtiness, impulsive rage, transition from loyalty to opportunistic lust, guilt, and the abject realisation of imminent defeat is enough to earn him a bucketful of awards and another bucketful of plum roles. (*just a small note - If the 70s and 80s belonged to Film Institute graduates, then the 90s and 2000s seem to belong to NSD alumni)
Pankaj Kapoor, who has thusfar been relegated to television and/or slapstick roles delivers to Bollywood filmmakers a resounding slap, whose echo says "YOU HAVE WASTED ME ALL THESE YEARS!!". From the posture he adopts and the accent he mouths to the controlled expressions he wears, the role is miles ahead of Marlon Brando's performance in Godfather(he is even given his own Luca Brazi :)). As Om Puri says in the movie, albeit in a different context, "Kya actor hai Abbaji!!!".
Another stellar performance, which will probably get overshadowed by the big three, is that of Piyush Mishra, who plays Kaka, the equivalent of Banquo. (The first thing I noticed about Kaka was that he had close cropped hair, thus eliminating any literal depiction of the famous "never shake thy gory locks at me" scene....but I digress). So far I have seen him in only 2 movies, Dil Se and Ek Din 24 Ghante, and in both movies he plays the role of a suave police officer. This role was very different and difficult, since Vishal added more facets to it than that of Banquo. Mishra however delivers, and he too, will hopefully be noticed by more filmmakers.
Om Puri and Naseer play Inspector Purohit and Inspector Pandit, Vishal's idea of the witches. This analogy has me totally sold on the movie. Only a rookie director could come up with such a brilliant idea. A few movies later, originality and creativity gets adulterated by influences and market considerations, not to mention the urge to emulate one's own successes. I have not seen any other adaptations of Macbeth, like the one by Kurosawa, but I doubt if any of them had such an innovative way of depicting the witches.
From my personal viewpoint, the biggest triumph of the director is the fact that my attention never wavered despite the songs. This is the first time I have been so engrossed in a Hindi movie with so many songs. Even the Lagaan's and the Dil Chahata Hai's had one misplaced song each that disrupts the tempo a bit. Each of the melodious songs is however perfectly placed. Jhin-min-jhini is among Vishal's best compositions. "Ru-ba-ru" is a top notch qawwali, probably the first one in a Hindi movie after Rahman's "Haji Ali" in Fiza.
Maqbool is the sort of movie you watch again and again. My favourite "Mumbai underworld" movie used to be Satya, and I have seen it 5 times. Calling Maqbool a "Mumbai underworld" movie would be like ignoring its multidimensional richness, for it is miles ahead of Satya or Company or Ardha Satya. That is not because it was mostly shot in Bhopal (hardly a couple of scenes were shot in Mumbai), but because the story here is much larger than just the underworld. The other movies were rooted in the gangs on Mumbai. Take the gangs away and you have no story left. However Vishal's use of the underworld setting as a mere backdrop, rather than the source of the story, takes the movie to a higher level, both in terms of the plot maturity as well as the cinematographic depiction.
I could just go raving on and on about Maqbool, but I have a few CV's to submit. :) So I will stop here with a hearty "Go Watch it!!".
elsewhere: Ramanand's thoughts on the film