Irfan Khan, Tabu, Pankaj Kapur, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Piyush Mishra, Masumi Makhija, Ajay Gehi.
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Tortured lives, anguished faces, brooding crime and reverberating punishment -- "Maqbool" transports us to a threshold of pain and redemption hitherto unknown to Hindi cinema.
From Francis Coppola's "Godfather" trilogy to Ram Gopal Varma's "Satya" and "Company", you've probably seen scores of great and not-so-great films on the underworld.
But "Maqbool" takes its emotional content beyond any other film from the genre because this is Shakespeare's "Macbeth" trans-located to Mumbai's underworld and because Vishal Bharadwaj has selected a dream cast to portray his nightmarish world of crime and retribution.
"Maqbool" lays open a whole new universe of passion play unexplored in the original text.
Bharadwaj reveals the politics of lust and passion with a confidence seldom witnessed in Hindi cinema.
Hence the king from Shakespeare's story becomes a doddering paunchy underworld kingpin Abbaji (Pankaj Kapur) and Lady Macbeth becomes Nimmi (Tabu), his companion, whose passion for Abbaji's most trusted lieutenant Maqbool (Irfan Khan) rips her life, womb and conscience apart.
Bharadwaj, whose previous feature-film outing was the kids' flick "Makdee", brings Tabu to a level of performance that renders the general acting standards of Hindi cinema redundant and overdone.
There is a demoniacal look on Tabu's face as she provokes Irfan to get rid of Abbaji. But even in her most horrific moment, Tabu preserves the "poetry" of violence in her performance.
Yes, she's remarkable. But to hold on to her performance is to do injustice to the sublime and seamless quality of Bharadwaj's Shakespearean voyage into the damned.
Every actor builds a poetic life for his character and then plunges his own personality into the lucid, lyrical angst of lives on the edge.
Unlike that other recent brilliant exposition on gangsters, "Company", Bharadwaj doesn't abide by the ground rules of portraying the Mumbai underworld.
The characters don't spend time scampering through crowded narrow gullies with guns in their hands. Most often they're confined to meticulously created locations where they don't appear to have been airdropped just minutes before the camera rolled.
Hemant Chaturvedi's cinematography particularly in the scenes capturing the dark guilt and inescapable atonement of the murderous lovers is beyond anything imaginable in terms of cinematic expressiveness.
However, most of the film looks like Ram Gopal Varma's "Company". Which truly is a tragedy because many people would inevitably compare the two great works.
Although the Irfan character's regard for his mentor reminds us of Al Pacino with Marlon Brando in "The Godfather", Bharadwaj's take on the tormented destiny of the underworld is uniquely autonomous.
The director packs in an astonishing density and some tongue-in-cheek barbs at Bollywood's notorious links with the underworld.
The structuring of two sets of love stories, between Nimmi and Maqbool and Abbaji's innocent daughter Sameera (Masumi Makhija) and Guddu (Ajay Gehi), is an ingenious method of projecting the two aspects of love, the murky and the un-violated.
When, in the stunning finale, the dying Nimmi asks Maqbool, "Was our love pure?" we are looking at the underbelly of passion through an epic lens where crime is simultaneously subjective and objective.
In the way he projects emotions buried under the macho milieu, and also the austere use of his self-composed songs and music, Vishal Bharadwaj demonstrates a narrative control that most filmmakers don't achieve in a lifetime, let alone in their second film.
The performances do the rest. After "Warrior", Irfan Khan again dons the tormented conscience-stricken protagonist's mantle. Khan's "Maqbool" goes from stern self-denial to tortured crime and retribution.
Pankaj Kapur is a revelation. His expressions of steely revenge melt into displays of utter compassion for his enchanting companion. Kapur corroborates Bollywood's myopic disregard for its truly outstanding performers.
There is a glorious gallery of able-to-outstanding supporting performances by actors like Piyush Mishra and Ajay Gehi.
Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri as buffoonish corrupt cops and narrators, however, seem wasted in a film where every character epitomises a will to achieve the state of damnation.
"Maqbool" takes frightful risks with narrative devices and audiences' tastes and comes out in triumphant colours of dark despair.