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The Bard And Bollywood-Maqbool And Macbeth

Chapter 3: The first big step in Bollywood

by Aritra Dey

Macbeth does murder sleep’, the innocent sleep, Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care

TLR Rating: 8 Reels.

The Premise

Among all the Shakespeare classic dramas, ‘Macbeth’ has always occupied a special position in my heart. The titular character has a pallet of emotional shades. The journey he undertakes psychologically is an envious one for a writer. Coupled with perhaps the finest female lead in Lady Macbeth, the drama about the Scottish nobles is a treat to the intellect. Composed in 1623, ‘Macbeth’s stance on political ambition still holds true in the present world. Trust the Bard of Avon to delve into the complex psyche of the modern man.

The Man with a vision and a Midas touch – Vishal Bharadwaj.

The Direction

Vishal Bharadwaj, the music composer-turned-director, spent a considerable amount of time pondering after reading an abridged version of the drama. The political theme affected him considerably and influenced him to adapt the plot for his debut feature film, ‘Maqbool’ in 2003. Replacing the picturesque castles of Scotland with the bloody lanes of the Mumbai Underworld, Bharadwaj started a journey which would bring William Shakespeare to the item-number loving audience of Bollywood.

The Setting

Commercializing such a heavy theme isn’t an easy task. There are so many chances of completely ruining the subject and rendering the point moot. Vishal Bharadwaj proved to be a shrewd man. With an uncanny skill, he molded the iconic characters and fitted them seamlessly in the Mumbai Mafia. He never lost sight of true purpose. Thus, despite all the Bollywood flavors, ‘Maqbool’ stood firm and didn’t succumb to cheap commercialization.

The Parallels

1. Macbeth

An early portrayal of Macbeth (left) and Maqbool

The paragon of ambition, Macbeth stands throughout the pages of history as one of the darkest anti-heroes. He is a man who succumbed to ambition and drove every single ounce of morality out of his soul. Conscience, however, crept in and drove the Thane of Glamis, Cawdor and the King of Scotland to near insanity. The legendary warrior became a shivering shadow of his former self.

Maqbool Mia, in Vishal Bharadwaj’s version is depicted as the right hand loyalist of underworld kingpin, Jahangir Khan. Tactically shrewd with a weak spot for Jahangir’s wife Nimmi, Maqbool is fiercely respected by his peers, especially Kaka (Bharadwaj’s Banquo). While Shakespeare’s Macbeth was driven solely by his desire to don the crown, Maqbool’s romantic perusal for Nimmi proved to be the catalyst for his eventual descent into madness. He never wanted the crown willingly. The desire for Nimmi and the willingness to abide by her wishes made him kill his godfather, Jahangir.

Apart from the stark physical difference, Bharadwaj’s Maqbool was every bit as cruel and psychologically disturbed as the original. He was cold, calculating and never hesitated while giving the order to kill off his dearest friend Kaka. The blood from hand washing scene was replaced with the blood stains from the feast in a believable adaptation.

Irrfan Khan is perhaps one of the best contemporary actors in Bollywood. His facial expression, reactions and timings are simply perfect. He carried the character of Maqbool in a solid way, breaking down slowly and steadily into darkness.

2. Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth representation (left) and Nimmi

If there was a woman who sent chills with her personality, Lady Macbeth is her name. Motivated with an unquenchable thirst for power, the Queen of Scotland was the reason behind Macbeth’s spurge of ambition. The ruthlessness in her soul is profoundly demonstrated in the soliloquy where she urges God to take away her womanly kindness and replace it with cruelty.

Nimmi’s beauty and seductive nature blinds Maqbool in Vishal Bharadwaj’s film. She uses her overpowering sexuality and exploits Maqbool’s love for her while cajoling him to take her husband, Jahangir’s place. Like Macbeth, Nimmi’s psyche differs little from Lady Macbeth. She is manipulative, cruel and filled with desire to reign.

Tabu is perhaps one of the most underrated actresses in her generation. She is stunning and blessed with the talent to perform. She was the only person who could emulate the dark character of Lady Macbeth in ‘Maqbool’. And how well she did!

3. The Three Witches

The Evil Fate represented by The Three Witches (left) and Inspectors Purohit and Pandit.

The events in Macbeth start and end with the conspiring minions of evil. The Three Witches represent the darkness and sinful desires in man. Macbeth and Banquo confront The Evil and both come out of the interaction affected, albeit one quite more than the other.

While the Witches represent pure evil, the corrupt policemen duo of Purohit and Pandit was essential for maintaining the balance of power. ‘Fire must retain its fear for water’. The policemen executed certain instances which ultimately crafted out the entire rise and demise of Maqbool. Inspector Pandit, the astrologer, makes the predictions. Purohit instigates and plans the operations. Giving the roles to the absolute best actors in the industry, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri was a masterstroke. Black humor was personified by the veteran duo.

4. King Duncan

An early act as King Duncan (left) and Jahangir Khan

If there was any character who was trustworthy and pure in the entire drama of Macbeth, King Duncan is his name. The former King of Scotland was just and loved his kinsman Macbeth like his own son. His purity was the reason behind the immense guilt conscience which engulfed both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after his murder.

Jahangir Abba Khan, the patriarch of the underworld, isn’t a fine man. He is conniving, contriving and cunning. He had killed off his godfather to take the throne and showed little regret over his actions. The affair he had with Mohini isn’t something to be proud of. His ruthlessness and cold nature made sure that little tears were shed after his death. The old man had it coming.

Pankaj Kapoor is a gold mine which directors have seldom exploited. His dead eyes, hunching stature and raspy voice make him a dangerous figure – one none should mess with. The National Award win for this performance was deserving to say the least.

The Final Take

Maqbool is the benchmark for Shakespearean adaptions in the modern era of commercial cinema. Vishal Bharadwaj’s clever script and astute direction ensured that there was no moment of ebb in ‘Maqbool’. It is one of the finest movies in Bollywood and certainly worth a watch. What a way to pay homage to William Shakespeare!!

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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