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The Bard and Bollywood-Zulfiqar and Julius Caesar

Chapter 2: The Last Rites of Caesar

by Aritra Dey

When Caesar fell again.

TLR Rating: 3 Reels.

The Premise

Composed in 1599, ‘Julius Caesar’ is perhaps the most prominent of the historic tragedies penned by William Shakespeare. Narrating the later part of Roman General and politician’s life, ‘Julius Caesar’ was a treatise on honor, friendship and patriotism. Although the titular character was killed in the Third Act of the play, his influence and ideals lingered on throughout. The impact of his death sparkled a series of events, which began and died in his name. Marcus Brutus, although the person with the maximum stage time, was never the hero of the story. It was Caesar, through and through.

Adapting a concept as intense as Julius Caesar is a tough task. Only the highly skilled should try to attempt such a venture. When Bengali ace director, Srijit Mukherjee announced his intent to club both ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’, people were enthusiastic. He is an intelligent filmmaker and knows how to keep both the critics and the audience happy. ‘Nirbaak’ showed his true class as a superb director. With each passing day, the expectations for ‘Zulfiqar’ grew immensely.

The Parallels

Srijit had decided that the underworld of Kolkata would be his Roman Republic. ‘The Syndicate’ is the democracy which keeps the mafia business running in the area. This adaption is the strongest part of the entire movie. It is seamless and somehow the credibility is not lost. Thumbs Up.

1. Julius Caesar

Zulfiqar(left) and Julius Caesar

Unfortunately, the rest of the film is shambolic at best. The characters have been made forcibly similar to the play’s counterparts. The characterization is never natural. Julius Caesar was a personality to be reckoned with. So immense was his persona, that even after his death, his soul drove the aftermath. His name was there on the lips of both Brutus and Anthony, as the pair fought hard. Srijit’s Zulfiqar is a poor imitation of this great leader. Nowhere the audience could find the power emitting from his person. He was called Caesarean in nature in the film’s dialogues. However, his behavior never reciprocated this salutation. Zulfiqar was a perverted, dialogue-throwing person with a love for the occasional daredevil act.

2. Marcus Brutus

Basheer Bhai (left) and Marcus Brutus

Marcus Brutus is an iconic figure in Roman history and in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. He is a patriot, a stoic and influential political figure. He might have been on the wrong side, but there is no person who didn’t sympathize with this great man. Brutus was the only person among the rebels who acted out of pure love for his beloved Roman Republic. As Mark Anthony had famously remarked, ‘This was the noblest Roman of them all’.

Srijit’s Basheer Bhai, with a ludicrous accent is a mere caricature of the iconic character. Basheer’s nationalistic sentiment was limited to an India-Pakistan match and the narrative. Basheer remained confused throughout the entire movie. Where Brutus was stoic, Basheer was noticeably melodramatic. Not even one ounce of sympathy could be spared for this sniveling cohort. Kaushik Sen was wasted in this role. He is an actor par excellence, and the mumbo-jumbo fight scenes made him look more like a victim than a killer.

3. Caius Cassius

Kashinath Kundu(Left) and Caius Cassius

Caius Cassius is a schemer, contriver and the master-puppeteer. He is the person whom everybody underestimated due to his unassuming appearance. He never had any heroic moments. Cassius had his brain which worked faster than the others. Caesar’s meteoric rise sparkled a streak of jealousy in him, and this envy proved to be the reason behind the fall of the Roman Republic. Such was his power.

Kashinath Kundu was a perpetual pan-chewing promoter who was an integral member of the syndicate. His character was perhaps the one which bore the most resemblance to his play counterpart. Baring the nonsensical climactic scene, Jisshu Sengupta enriched the character. He was quietly villainous for the most part and earnestly tried not to overdo his scenes.

4. Mark Anthony

Tony Bhai(Left), Marcus Bhai (Center) and Mark Anthony.

Whoever had decided that it was a good idea to split up Mark Anthony’s character into two, was indeed suffering from delirium. If the motive was to show a marked difference in personality between the Anthony in ‘Julius and Caesar’ and ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’, I do sympathize with it. I would even buy the idea of making Anthony Part 2 mute. But nothing was shown to point out the significance behind this horrendous act. Tony Bhai and Marcus Bhai were shown to be inseparable friends. While Tony was a clever accountant, Marcus was the muscle, deeply in love with Zulfiqar’s squeeze, Rani Talapatra, the Cleopatra of this story.

Mark Anthony’s speech during Caesar’s funeral is the highlight of Shakespeare’s play. There are a few speeches which have such a profound impact. Even today, the words, ‘Friends, Romans and Countrymen’ bring a chill to one’s spine. The play on the words, ‘Brutus is an honorable man’, in a variety of manners, from sarcastic to rage, is worth remembering. Srijit Mukherjee replaced these iconic words with ‘Basheer Bhai kabhi galat nahi bolta’, and completely ruined everything this speech stood for. Zulfiqar’s rendition of the funeral was nothing short of comical. The delivery of the dialogue in a mixture of Hindi, English and Bengali poured cold water over the fieriness it was supposed to contain. And a mute Marcus in front of the stage, gesturing with his hands, was plain stupid.

Casting Dev is clearly a political move to appease the ruling party in Bengal. The offshoot character of Marcus, written specifically for the ‘Worst Actor Alive’, smells of a political stance as well. The quality of performance is horrible, without a doubt. But it is the mentality which makes me lose respect for Srijit Mukherjee. It is sad to see an artist succumbing to political pressure. If anything, artists should rise above this pettiness.

Parambrata Chattopadhyay in dreadlocks isn’t near Mark Anthony by a thousand miles. His was a shoddily written character which made no sense. Another example where a good actor was wasted on a poor role.

5. The Other Characters.

I could go on and on about the other characters which disrespected William Shakespeare’s iconic play by all standards. Portia, Cleopatra, Metullus Cimber and even Octavius Caesar were downplayed, and nobody had any definable personality traits.

The Pathetic Moments

Commercial movies are meant to contain certain USP scenes which would draw the crowd in. Keeping that in mind, I am not blaming Srijit for including some moments which made absolutely no sense. I am merely pointing them out. Take the bike race for example. Two goons riding at breakneck speed in a busy Vidyasagar Setu is laughable. The execution is comical. Tollywood doesn’t have the necessary education to pull off one decent action scene. I wonder why they even attempt to try it.

Calphurnia’s omen filled dream was the only bright light in the entire movie. The scene stayed true in meaning to the original play. Although the parallel between ‘lioness whelping’ and the sudden appearance of a tiger can’t be fathomed.

I am deliberately ignoring the ‘Dev-Nusrat’ romance bits. Honestly, I tried to buffer my way across them. But the slow internet prevented me from doing so on Hotstar. They are superficial, cheesy and once again proves why the once-revered Bengali film industry is spiraling downwards alarmingly. Thank You, Ruling Party.

Srijit Mukherjee failed to live up to his standards by selling art to box-office.

The Director

Srijit Mukherjee is losing his touch. He is trying to emulate a lot of directors at once. ‘Zulfiqar’s scenes bear strong resemblance to Guy Ritchie’s ‘Snatch’ in particular. The man was renowned for originality. Srijit had brought in the neo-thriller genre in Tollywood with ‘Baishey Shrabon’. In ‘Nirbaak’ he executed a hyperlink pattern, relatively unknown in the modern Tollywood industry. When a filmmaker of his potential makes something like ‘Zulfiqar’, hope begins to recede.

The Music

Along with Srijit, the music composer Anupam Roy brought in fresh music in the movie industry. His OSTs were simply wonderful to listen to. But of late, he has fallen into that trap of his own creation, and appears to be in a limbo. He simply can’t create anything new. All of his tracks seem to be a weird amalgamation of his previous works. His tracks for ‘Zulfiqarwere painful, at best.

The Final Take

Zulfiqar’ stands for everything that is wrong with Indian cinema these days. Selling the soul of art to commercialization is a barbaric act. Unless the artist fraternity steps in, ‘art’ will be confined within the walls of museums in a not so distant future. Beware!!


The author is a software engineer at Infosys and a passionate film and football buff, with a special interest in deciphering the literature behind the movies.

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