MAQBOOL stars some of the best talents of the country Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Pankaj Kapur. So, obviously, the expectations from the film are gargantuan.
An adaptation of Shakespeare's MACBETH, MAQBOOL is set in present-day Mumbai. The underworld and the police-gangster-politician nexus, which has been witnessed time and again in Hindi films, has been attempted in MAQBOOL as well.
In a nutshell, MAQBOOL relocates Shakespeare's lurid tragedy to present-day Mumbai. It's a surprisingly easy transfer!
Maqbool [Irrfan Khan] is a trusted lieutenant of underworld don Abbaji [Pankaj Kapur]. Nimmi [Tabu] is Abbaji's mistress, who hates her situation and is in love with Maqbool who, she perceives, is the only one who can get her out of her misery.
Other important members of the gang happen to be Kaka [another faithful lieutenant of Abbaji and a good friend of Maqbool; Piyush Mishra], Guddu [son of Kaka; Ajay Gehi] and Sameera [Abbaji's daughter; Masumi]. Two police officers, Pandit [Om Puri] and Purohit [Naseeruddin Shah], who also predict the future course of the lives of the protagonists, assist the gang.
Driven by his love for Nimmi and his ambition for power, Maqbool murders Abbaji and declares himself the leader of the gang. The underworld is in a state of shock and all suspect Maqbool to be the perpetrator of this crime, but no one dare say so as now it is Maqbool who rules the underworld.
Yet, Maqbool perceives a threat in the form of Kaka and Guddu, who stand in his way of absolute supremacy. This leads him to commit more crimes against people who were once dear to him. Meanwhile, the police and the politicians seem determined to see the last of him.
Circumstances spiral out of control and with little or no help from Nimmi, who is suffering an extremely difficult pregnancy and fatally severe guilt pangs which is disturbing her mental equilibrium, Maqbool finds himself surrounded on all sides.
But Maqbool has encountered harsh circumstances before; only does he have the resolve to fight it anymore?
Despite the fact that MAQBOOL falls in the same genre as PARINDA, SATYA, VAASTAV and COMPANY, it's shades different from these films. It goes into the psyche of gangsters and actually peeps into their mind.
Director Vishal Bhardwaj holds your finger and successfully transports you into the psyche of the Mumbai underworld.
MAQBOOL's strength lies in its narrative. The film has a number of sparkling sequences that remain with you. The message it intends conveying [crime doesn't pay] also comes across loud and clear!
Bhardwaj and writer Abbas Tyrewala have tried to be as realistic as possible. The guilt pangs that Nimmi and Maqbool suffer after Abbaji's murder is one phase that takes the film to a different high altogether.
Prior to that, the sequences between Nimmi and Maqbool after Abbaji gets his daughter engaged to Kaka's son keeps the viewer wrapped up and completely immersed in the goings-on.
Bhardwaj takes giant strides as a storyteller. Not only has he handled the plot with precision, without resorting to gimmicks, he has also extracted outstanding performances from the principal cast.
But if the realistic atmosphere is the USP of MAQBOOL, it's also a downer in the sense that the real-life situations tend to get too heavy after a point. In fact, the film abounds in tense moments that tend to put you off after a while. Though expertly handled, one gets the feeling that Bhardwaj has made the film more for the [international] festival circuit than for the average Indian cinegoer.
Cinematography [Hemant Chaturvedi] is first-rate. The music is functional, while the background score heightens the impact of several sequences. Dialogues [Vishal Bhardwaj] are power-packed.
As mentioned above, the performances are of a high order. The film clearly belongs to Pankaj Kapur, Tabu and Irrfan in that order. Pankaj Kapur delivers his career-best performance. Unfortunately, the mainstream cinema has never given the actor his due, but one hopes that MAQBOOL will make the Big Daddys sit up and take notice of this amazing performer.
Tabu is fantastic in a complex role. Her performance in the film is worthy of awards. After CHANDNI BAR, this is another role that'll be remembered for a long, long time. Irrfan Khan is astounding. Here's an actor who can set the screen ablaze with his expressive eyes.
Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri provide some light moments in the enterprise, enacting their parts with n. But how one wishes the roles were as substantial as the above-mentioned three roles.
Masumi is excellent, especially in the outburst sequence. Ajay Gehi is competent. Piyush Mishra is superb. An actor to watch!
On the whole, MAQBOOL is targeted more at the intelligentsia than the hoi polloi. The film is sure to win acclaim with critics, a niche audience and in the festival circuit. But being a Mumbai-centric film, it may find flavour in Mumbai mainly. Elsewhere, it may find the going tough. Lack of aggressive promotion may also prove disadvantageous.