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Essay: Vishal Bharadwaj – Miyan Maqbool (Macbeth)

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  • Subject area(s): Media essays
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  • Published: June 11, 2021*
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  • Tags: Macbeth essays Shakespeare essays
  • Vishal Bharadwaj - Miyan Maqbool (Macbeth)
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The versatility of Shakespeare’s original plays, such as Macbeth, allow modern directors to individually interpret them. Vanessa Gerhard says that, “Shakespeare’s plays are not stable and fixed anymore but are used, transposed and transformed by various elements and cultures”. This is true of Maqbool, where the alterations director Vishal Bharadwaj (who transformed Macbeth into his own Maqbool) made to the original play enabled him to comment on his own society and show Shakespeare in Mumbai (where Maqbool is set). Bharadwaj makes key changes in his film adaptation, through contrasts and similarities between the original characters of the play and the characters of his film, such as Miyan Maqbool (played by Irrfan Khan, Bharadwaj’s Macbeth) and Nimmi (Tabu) – his Lady Macbeth, a character Bharadwaj said was “the reason to make the film’”. Bharadwaj also contrasts characters such as King Duncan with his Jahangir “Abbaji” Khan (played by Pankai Kapur), and changes the relationship dynamics within the film to dramatise certain scenes in the play.

Firstly, Miyan Maqbool is a much more sympathetic Macbeth than the original due to him being driven by love rather than by power, and so his motivations seem almost more romantic in the film. His motivation is based on his desire for the underworld don’s (and his honorary father’s) Jahangir “Abbaji” Khan’s mistress Nimmi – whose title as mistress also makes her a sympathetic character since she is not acknowledged as Abbaji’s wife. As his ambition stems from this, Gerhard suggests that “by extension she [Nimmi] is the “crown” Maqbool reaches for” – this is at the centre of his downfall as since Macbeth’s desire for the crown led to his demise, so will the ‘prize’ of Nimmi who is “valued by both men” lead to the demise of Maqbool. Towards the beginning of the film, Nimmi is shown to exit Abbaji’s vehicle accompanied by Maqbool. In the conversation that follows, the relationship dynamic is made clear as Nimmi challenges Maqbool’s masculinity by calling him a “wimp” and asking if he would “die…and even kill” for her, unlike Macbeth whose thoughts turn to murder on their own: “My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,/ Shakes so my single state of man” (1.3. 152-3).

Maqbool’s lack of reaction to Nimmi’s emasculation of him signifies a confirmation of the power dynamic of their relationship: he allows her to manipulate his emotions, just like Lady Macbeth does to her husband. The idea of being “so much more the man” (1.7.55) is present in Macbeth in fulfilling a prophecy, whereas in Maqbool Nimmi uses this idea for her own self-gain. This dynamic is further shown at the pilgrimage where Maqbool stops and waits for Nimmi – seeming unable to carry on without her. Arguably this is because of his duty to Abbaji but it could also be because of his inability to leave her, and his love for her, showing his love of her as a powerful force. Her manipulation of him is further shown on the rock face where she forces him to admit, at gun-point, his feelings for her – whilst the upwards camera angles again show them to be in their own world. This aggressive and premeditated way in which Nimmi manipulates Maqbool, results in Maqbool coming across as a much more sympathetic character, who is manipulated by a malicious woman unlike Macbeth whose ambition plays an equal part to the manipulations of Lady Macbeth, since it is Macbeth that first speaks of the prophecy to his wife. However, although he is more sympathetic , this does not mean that the original Macbeth is not still present in Miyan Maqbool – as his murdering of Abbaji is equally, if not more outrageous than that of Duncan.

As mentioned, the head of the underworld and the parallel to Duncan in Macbeth is the character of Abbaji in Maqbool – translated literally as “the father”. He is much more respected as a father figure than Duncan is as a King. Abbaji’s murder “is placed considerably later in film time than the equivalent act of Duncan’s murder in Macbeth” and so he is more present, which allows the audience to form an attachment and understanding of his character. Chaudhuri argues that “What replaces the intricate genealogical plot of Macbeth…is a form of bonding…the making of a criminal “family” ruled over by the patriarchal Jahangir.”. This familial structure makes the murder of Abbaji a much more scandalous act of betrayal than that of Duncan since Maqbool could be said to be murdering his honorary father, whereas Duncan is shown to be just a King to Macbeth. Where Abbaji has obviously provided Maqbool with his position in the criminal family, his wealth and (unknowingly) will later lose his wife to him – Duncan simply gives Macbeth a “great largess…This diamond” (2.1.15-16). Maqbool’s breaking of this familial bond as opposed to Macbeth’s decision to overpower a King is a much more personal act of betrayal.

Alongside the fact that this “old-time gangster who lives by his own familial codes” is killed a lot later in the film than Duncan is in the play, his death is also an example of a major change Bharadwaj makes in his adaptation. Bharadwaj shows the murder of Abbaji instead of explaining it through others’ accounts like Shakespeare, who simply portrays the murder through the words of his characters. By showing the murder, accompanied with static light and dark shots with moving shadows, Bharadwaj is trying to put the murder of Abbaji at the centre of the film to signify the importance of him being in power and to suggest catastrophic consequences for this. Abbaji’s death is foreshadowing and symbolic of the collapse of the old order, and shows that there will be extreme consequences for what Nimmi and Maqbool have done. Abbaji is attacked when he is most vulnerable and is lying next to Nimmi who is equally involved and present in the killing. Where Lady Macbeth cannot face the murder of Duncan since he “resembled my [her] father” (2.2.11), Nimmi is lying next to Abbaji as he is murdered. The fact that blood splatters onto Nimmi’s face, while she is in bed with him, is telling of who is more responsible for the crime committed – mainly pointing the blame at Nimmi – making her betrayal all the worse as she was trusted by Abbaji.

There are many similarities between Nimmi and Lady Macbeth such as their strategic manipulation, but there are more differences that offer another perspective on responsibility and womanhood, especially in relation to children. The fact that Bharadwaj makes Nimmi Abbaji’s mistress functions in two ways: firstly that her betrayal is made to seem much worse, and secondly that her character evokes more sympathy than Lady Macbeth. The fact that “she is not his [Maqbool’s] wife, but instead Abbaji’s mistress” is one of ”the most important changes to the plot”. As a mistress, her role in the criminal family is seen as disposable, and Abbaji’s replacement of her by another woman confirms this. She firstly portrayed as happy and laughing, but it is evident that her inner feelings are the opposite, as she is seen crying more and more as the film progresses, for example after she forces Maqbool into confessing his feelings for her she laughs then hysterically cries, and the scene where Maqbool is wiping her tears away with a gun shows she cannot escape the criminal world she has entered. Her inner turmoil is presented gradually and is seen to evolve, whereas Lady Macbeth’s guilt and madness evolves from her participation in the murder. This creates more motive for Nimmi than the original Lady Macbeth, and so achieves a more empathetic view of Nimmi.

Another key change made by Bharadwaj is the fertility of Nimmi in comparison to the barren Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is seen as a barren woman, the marriage is sterile and they have no heir, and so the fact that they self-destruct is seen as an inevitable, since they have no other responsibilities. However, Nimmi and Maqbool “destroy this future themselves with their cruel and criminal actions” since they could have had a future together, especially after discovering Nimmi’s pregnancy. Nimmi’s obsession with the idea that the baby might be Abbaji’s contributes to the downfall of the couple, as they are both less focused on the child, and more on covering their own tracks and rising to power together. However, arguably this obsession also contributes to the sympathy felt for Nimmi as she has obviously been scarred by the experience of being a mistress – evident when Nimmi’s face signals her dread of being in bed naked with Abbaji, and her crying. Gerhard suggests that ‘Nimmi is punished by… “karma”’, the fact that she could have lived a happy life with Maqbool after being replaced, but instead chose to commit treacheries and so loses her life and her mind. However, Nimmi is not seen to go mad like Lady Macbeth, she does not sleepwalk and instead of hallucinating the blood on herself, she hallucinates the blood on the walls of her bedroom – symbolic of the murder occurring in her own room, in her own bed, which again shows that for every actions there is a reaction.

Overall, Vishal Bharadwaj changes the outcome of Macbeth to make the film and the story of Maqbool a more sympathetic one. He contrasts his own characters such as Maqbool, Nimmi and Duncan with the original Shakespearean characters and uses changes in gender and relationship dynamics between them – such as making Nimmi the mistress and fertile – to create a more sympathetic modern-day Macbeth in which karma is seen to take a leading role. Although Abbaji is seen as a more ruthless ruler than Duncan, the portrayal of him as a father figure makes his murder more tragic than that of Duncan’s, and his ruling more familial rather than just a King. However, some similarities still remain between the original and the adaptations that are not just that of the plot; the use of key symbols in the play such fate and the presence of blood are ever-present in the film.

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