Mia.n ki ToDii (on Maqbool)In continuation of my PIFF Experiences
When I finished watching Makdee,Vishal Bharadwaj's debut film as director on Sunday, little did I know that I would, in 24 hours time, be watching his second venture, Maqbool. Based entirely on Shakespeare's Macbeth (incidentally, which I'm reading), one of its major attractions was the cast which featured such top names such as Irrfan, Tabu and the trio that has defined acting in Hindi Cinema over the last 25 years: Pankaj Kapur, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri. I also happen to be biased in favour of Vishal himself, and find it fascinating that he is probably the only director-music composer in films today that I know of, atleast in Hindi cinema.
Adding a sparkle to this PIFF screening was the presence of Vishal himself, who was accompanied by Pankaj Kapur (despite PTOI who would have us believe in today's report that "Tabu and Irrfan were sorely missed"). Also proving that George isn't the only blogger to keep seeing him, old Vishal favourite and local boy Sanjeev Abhyankar was there too. Vishal said this was just the second screening of the film (after Delhi), so he was pretty nervous as to what the audience thought of it. Pankaj Kapur asked everyone to make their reactions known, while Abhyankar mentioned he'd sung a song in the film a little differently than usual, in a higher pitch, and hopefully people would like it. Also present was movie critic Taran Adarsh.
This is easily one of the best films I've seen in recent times. I wonder what training Vishal has had, because he's got so much right in the film. Being an interpretation of Macbeth, the basic plot wasn't in question. The main points of interest were what variations would come up in the script and how much would the spirit be adhered to. I must confess I haven't seen any performance of Macbeth on theatre or screen, but the reading of the play was fresh in my mind and helped me derive my conclusions. Vishal has neatly adapted the plot in the setting of the Mumbai underworld. There were no loose threads and no wasting of screen time on trifles - every moment has a direct bearing on the unravelling of the plot.
Pankaj Kapur is Jahangir Khan a.k.a Abbaji, the aging and seemingly doddering don who is, in reality, firmly in charge. He is King Duncan from the original, and unlike the play, has a greater presence and impact. He plays it wonderfully - if I hadn't seen him in the flesh that day, I'd believe that Pankaj Kapur had become very old physically & infirm. I've been trying to think who apart from Irrfan could've played Maqbool or Macbeth as sketched out in this film. I've come up short repeatedly. No one else could've brought the degree of intensity required, the depiction of a tortured soul who becomes increasingly desperate. Tabu as Nimmi, the don's mistress, is great as usual, quietly and psychologically pushing Maqbool over the edge, and then slowly begins to lose her senses. Piyush Mishra is Banquo, one of the most trusted confidants to the don and turns in a memorable performance as Kaka. Masumi Makhija & Ajay Gehi along with the other members of the excellent supporting cast do their work competently.
I've saved the best for last: Naseeruddin Shan & Om Puri are truly brilliant as the soothsayers and general inciters of trouble - a cross between Narada and the three witches. They play two policemen in the pay of the mafia, where Om Puri can predict what is going to happen - a black tongue as Shah keeps saying and they end up influencing the turn of events. The scenes with them are extremely well-written. I don't want to give too much away here, so watch out for when they appear on screen.
At risk of overhyping, I would like to point to the first scene of the movie, indeed the opening shot and the closing scenes and the last shot as being very well-executed. There are many good moments, cinematically speaking, all through the film and my attention never sagged. This is one of those films where the conclusion is pretty obvious - the journey is what holds our minds. Some may gripe at the constant portrayal of Muslims as underworld characters, but the story doesn't dwell on that aspect - it is quite a cosmopolitan crowd there. It gives the dialogue writers to indulge in some mellifluous Urdu lending greater depth to the film which a more Bambaiyya version wouldn't have been able to provide. The word pool is very appropriate and not incongruous. Some of the scenes had flavours from other gangster flicks such as The Godfather, Pulp Fiction and Company, but I daresay these were mostly unintentional.
The songs were all topical, so no item numbers here. Credits include Daler Mehndi (has sung this song called "Tu mujhse Ru-ba-ruu hai"), Rekha (Vishal's wife?), Ustad Sultan Khan and Sanjeev Abhyankar among others. More listening required. Lyrics were by mentor Gulzar. Special thanks went to among others, Anurag Kashyap and Mani Ratnam (interestingly in the inevitable Bollywood reference, a la Ram Gopal Varma, names of Subhash Ghai, Mani Ratnam and Karan Johar are mentioned). And can Macbeth be staged without blood? The blood isn't in the same volumes as in Kill Bill, but whatever is seen is there for a purpose and makes an impact.
I'm probably waxing a little too lyrical because I'm favourably biased, but a second look and opinions from others would tell me if my first impression is here to stay. Vishal has got this great cast together and they do not let him down. Kudos to Bobby Bedi for producing the film and to Vishal for making great strides since Makdee (which was a very honest effort). I only hope Vishal will get more resources to make the kinds of films he wants to - I'm betting we'd like those films too.