Monday, May 24, 2004

maqbool rocks

[previous knot in the 2004 Indian Film Festival in Atlanta thread]

[april 23, 2007]: this post makes it to the Shakespeare Blog-a-thon hosted by Peter Nelhaus, who marks his contribution with a take on Omkara

Yes, I finally get to watch Maqbool, and to top it all, on the big screen. Right from the moment you hear Sanjeev Abhyankar's voice over the pre-film credits for production and release houses till the closing credits, this is one of the most sustained pieces of filmmaking in the last couple of years in the genre that straddles the concerns, demands and merits of mainstream cinema and "parallel" cinema. Cinema as art and Cinema as entertainment come together with a bang as Vishal Bhardwaj's second film as director puts to shame all those wannabes out there, who understand nothing about filmmaking. Fundamental to every film is a screenplay -- even the absence of narrative is a controlled variable. And if you want/have to put in songs, you can do it artfully. Vishal manages all this with consummate ease.

The film opens with Inspectors Pandit (Om Puri) and Purohit (Naseeruddin Shah) (aptly named counterparts for the witches of Macbeth) indulging in a wipeout (the victim is co-screenwriter Abbas Tyrewala, a talented screenwriter who has worked as a lyricist and screenwriter with Vishal before) and a forecast -- that Maqbool (Irrfan) will rule Bombay. We are treated to a hypnotic image of Maqbool, an image that surfaces in context later on in the film. What follows is study in greed, infidelity, twisted morals, and a sense of eventual impending doom. The performances are all aces: from Pankaj Kapur's Jehangir Khan (which is sure to remind people of Brando's turn in The Godfather), Tabu's Nimmi/Lady Macbeth, Irrfan's Maqbool/Macbeth to Piyush Mishra's Kaka, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah. Masumi Makhija (as Sameera), who made her début in the good-hearted not-so-bad Chupke Se (where the songs, as in this case, were written by Gulzar and set to music by Vishal) and Ajay Gehi (as Guddu) appear as the young couple whose love is threatened by the confusion and misguided ambition of Maqbool. At every point in the film there are excuses to sink into a marsh of clichés and yet it is to Vishal's credit that he refuses to yield. Friends mentioned that they would have preferred a trimmed version of the film, and even referred to Ram Gopal Varma's Company. I contend that Vishal was not aiming to make another Company. In fact, anything but. The aim of this film is not to give us yet another underworld yarn. This film offers instead a fascinating character study, a rarity in mainstream Hindi cinema. The unflinching vision comes through even with the songs. I loved the soundtrack, and was apprehensive (despite assurances from JR, Gaurav and Sudarshan) about the inclusion of songs in the film. Especially so given the presence of the potentially market-friendly jhin min jhinii (which boasts rich lyrics from Gulzar and a quote from Khusrau). All fears were laid to rest. Although, having heard the soundtrack countless times, I could tell which song was coming up, right from ruu ba ruu (which boasts the essential detail of singers singing like it was a daily routine instead of pretending to be fervent as they do in the mandatory song sequences) till ruukhe nainaa (or dhiimo re which constantly appears in the background score), every song sequence is a joy to listen to, helps push the narrative forward, does wonders by letting images speak instead of words (case in point: rone do where Nimmi and Maqbool consummate a complex relationship). The narrative is peppered with great lines (aag ke liye paanii ka Dar banaa rahanaa chaahiye, aaj kal tujhe pyaas nahii.n lagatii miyaa.N), humour, and excellent mappings from the source play ("Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane", the smell of blood, Maqbool's rise to power, the visions that haunt Maqbool's conscience). It might seem elementary that Macbeth could be adapted to describe the goings-on in the underworld, but to Vishal and Abbas's credit, they make it work! Just as in Polanski's adaptation, we see Jehangir Khan's murder (something that the original play only alludes to).

Sampling of favourite moments: Jehangir "Abbaji" Khan's introduction (while everyone else in the film is introduced sans fanfare, when we see Abbaji the first time as the cops fill in their supervisor on his profile, we see every regal quality attributed to him -- in a minimal shot setup), how we hear Tabu's voice first over the phone before actually seeing her, the "invisible" edits during the dinners, how Vishal weaves in jhin min jhini as a song in Mohini's (Shweta Menon) film (what was the title again? hamane tujh se pyaar kiyaa hai? or something to that effect) first, and then later enveloping both her yielding to Jehangir Khan's pressure and the celebration-filled engagement of Sameera and Guddu; Nimmi and Maqbool consummating their complicated relationship; Jehangir's murder; Maqbool's visions (blood on the floor, Kaka's ghost); Nimmi and Maqbool sharing the final moments of their relationship; Maqbool's death; and most of all the interpretation of "when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane".

On the trivia front, there were acknowledgements to Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar(?), Mani Rathnam, Ram Gopal Varma (were the last three for the references to them in the film ?). There was also a reference to Subhash Ghai, but I don't think I saw his name in the acknowledgements. {june 15, 2004: some recent investigation based on the DVD I own indicate that Karan Johar did not figure in the list of acknowledged people ... [more]}

Definitely worth a second viewing. Here's to Vishal's next venture.

Gaffe Alert?: Y noted that Maqbool's wristwatch showed noon as he wakes up from the night of love to see Nimmi performing namaaz. Y insisted that namaaz at noon was impossible. Checked with AS and he said it was not impossible (after all you may have been unable to offer prayers at the usual time and hence decided to compensate).

Get your facts straight please alert!: The lady introducing the film stuck her foot straight into her mouth as she began explaining Vishal's background. Said she was amazed when she found out, from her research[sic] that Vishal had started off as a composer. And then came the moment when the foot rose too late. She proudly noted his versatility by announcing that he had even penned lyrics (which is accurate), and had written a song for one of the films that had played earlier in the festival. This got me interested as I began racking my brain to think of the film she was talking about. She proudly said, "Anything Can Happen" -- which was the English title for WBH2P2. Ugh! Clearly her research failed to indicate the difference between Vishal Dadhlani and Vishal Bhardwaj. Pity.

Thrill alert: The Ram/Hanuman Jehangir/Usman line (uttered by Pankaj Kapur himself, not a "flunkey" as reported by the press) is retained (Indian censors had ordered it out ... so much for progressive thinking!)

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