The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bollywood discovers Macbeth
- Shakespeare’s tragic hero lands in Mumbai underworld

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand' No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red.

— Macbeth Act II Scene II

Kya saat samundar ka paani

Yeh khoon dho sakta hai'

Nahin, yeh mera haath

Saat samundar ke paani ko

Hare se laal kar sakta hai.

Mumbai, Jan. 10: Okay, the Hindi was made up. There is no one to chant “Fair is foul and foul is fair” either. But Shakespeare is here. After Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa and Roman Polanski, Bollywood is ready with its version of Macbeth.

The Bobby Bedi-produced, Vishal Bharadwaj-directed Hindi version — called Maqbool — has solved the eternal academic question: “How many children did Lady Macbeth have'”

Nimmi — Lady Macbeth — played by Tabu has a baby who goes on to be accepted by Maqbool’s enemies.

The population balance — Macbeth didn’t have Macbeth Jr but this one has Maqbool ka beta — has been maintained by knocking off one of the three witches. And, oh, they aren’t witches either but old and wicked policemen.

If Macbeth had Inverness as the stage upon which he strutted and fretted his hour, Maqbool — played by Irrfan Khan, who starred in The Warrior that almost made it to the Oscar list — dagger in hand, prowls nightly the dark corridors of what else but Mumbai’s underworld.

The film is ambitious, but not more than its protagonist Maqbool — it doesn’t aspire to translate Shakespeare’s poetry into celluloid or match Kurosawa’s visual power, but tries to present a taut tale of greed, lust and guilt in a world of crime.

Maqbool is the right-hand man of the Mumbai ganglord, Abbaji (played by Pankaj Kapoor) — Duncan in Shakespeare’s play.

Like the agent provocateurs of the original, the witch-policemen try to manipulate lives by reading stars and predicting dire consequences. The screenplay, like the original, allows the supernatural to operate at an ambiguous level.

“We tried to keep all the Shakespearean elements,” says Abbas Tyrewala, who wrote the screenplay of Maqbool with Bharadwaj, who debuted as the music director of Gulzar’s Maachis and went on to direct Makdee, a popular children’s film.

“The idea was Vishal’s. The story was set against the underworld because it has traditionally excited filmmakers,” Tyrewala said.

Bharadwaj added that he was on the lookout for a theme of “great conflict” when he came across Kurosawa’s visually eloquent Throne of Blood and decided to adapt Macbeth into a Hindi film.

“We use metaphors,” says Tyrewala. “Like Macbeth, Maqbool is destroyed by guilt and the denial of guilt. He sees things. There is a scene when a goat is slaughtered for a feast. The blood flows into the drain. But at night Maqbool stares at the drain and he still sees the blood,” he said.

“Then Birnam wood coming over in the event of Macbeth’s death. We couldn’t use that. But it is predicted that the sea will kill Maqbool, whose gang traditionally stayed out of smuggling and high seas and did land jobs. That’s what happens.”

“But we take one great liberty,” said Tyrewala, who has also written the screenplays of Asoka and the ongoing Munnabhai M.B.B.S.

“Macbeth killed for the crown. A position in the underworld is not as big as the crown. So we make Lady Macbeth the crown,” he says.

Nimmi is the beautiful mistress of Abbaji the don. But there is a fatal attraction between Maqbool and her.

Together, they conspire to kill Abbaji, and Maqbool succeeds both his empire and his mistress.

But their love — or lust — is destructive. They betray everyone for it and at the end themselves succumb.

For its makers, it has been a great beginning. After its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Maqbool should collect plaudits at other festivals and could become one of the few Mumbai-produced films to appeal to those non-Indian audiences that are not necessarily fans of standard-issue Bollywood movies.”

Whether fair is foul, or foul is fair, see for yourself — the film will open either late this month or early February.

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