At last! Vishal Bhardwaj's take off on Macbeth and The Godfather, Maqbool, shows that a good, sensible film can indeed be made within Hindi commercial cinema parameters. Setting Macbeth in Mumbai's underworld, Bhardwaj comes up with a gritty, dark tale of Maqbool, the right hand man of Abbaji, destroyed by his ambition for power and involvement with a woman- his boss's mistress Nimmi, that he could well have done better without. The film, aided by its well-written dialogues and superb performances, mark Vishal Bhardwaj as a director to watch out for.
Bhardwaj does an inspired adaptation of Macbeth - adding in desire for a femme fatale as well rather than just sticking to the power games of the underworld. He artfully combines the mediums of theatre and cinema in his treatment of the film. The casting of Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri as two corrupt cops on Abbaji's payroll as the 'witches' of Macbeth works brilliantly - in particular Om Puri with his various prophesies. Sequences like Nimmi's final breakdown with Maqbool, the killing of Abbaji, the development of the affair of Maqbool and Nimmi are all handled extremely well.
Yes, there are snags - The film takes its time to settle down as the various characters are established haphazardly thereby often confusing the viewer. There is too little shown of the dynamism of Maqbool, which has supposedly made him Abbaji's right hand man. You see a detached man from the rest bothered about his work but not really him in action. So you wonder why is it that Abbaji singles him out as his right hand and not anyone else. The tracks with the upright cop who is transferred to customs and with the Hindi film starlet are handled quite clumsily. While there is a build up of sorts to Maqbool's character leading to his hallucinations, Nimmi's bloody delusions comes out of the blue as if remember, we have to bring in this aspect of Lady Macbeth also. Also the film is too Urdu dialogue heavy at times alienating itself from the normal viewer. Technically too the film could have tighter and appears a tad too long but the acting more than makes up for it.
In fact, the performances in the film are extraordinary. Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah reaffirm what fine artistes they are. Both are spot on with their sense of wry humour. Pankaj Kapoor as Abbaji successfully creates a Brandoesque Dawood. Finally getting a role of his calibre, he is brilliant as the short-statured, potbellied, shuffle-footed deadpan dialogue delivering Abbaji. Irrfan gives perhaps his best performance to date as the title character. Watch him as from being Abbaji's loyal servant for whom he would gladly give his life, he takes charge of the film once he falls prey to greed and lust and then see his resignation as he sees his empire around him crumble in the anguish through his eyes. Tabu is as good as ever. Be it her flirtatious scenes with Maqbool earlier on in the film, her enticing him to kill Abbaji and thus free herself from the old man or then her guilt over Abbaji's killing and subsequent descent into madness, she captures every nuance of her character. In the midst of such performances, Ajay Gehi and Masumi are at best adequate.
All in all a fine effort by Vishal Bhardwaj and certainly the best Hindi film in a long, long time.