Shakespeare was a master of melodrama – a theatrical form that takes its cues literally from music (melos = music + drama). And in contemporary world cinema, India is one of the few places where the form still finds an ardent following. So it only makes sense that Vishal Bharadwaj (art-film director, and fittingly, also a music composer) should choose to adapt Macbeth to the moody mafia dens of Bombay. The result is a strikingly atmospheric and nuanced interpretation of the Bard's tragedy- a pre-cursor to the filmmaker's equally riveting Omkara, an adaptation of Othello, which screened at 3rd I in 2006.
Instead of the hills of Scotland, we open at a crucial moment in the shifting balance of power in the grimy underworld of contemporary Bombay. Abbaji sits on the throne but Maqbool, his second in command, covets it. Bharadwaj introduces an element of 'forbidden' sensuality to the original by casting Abbaji's mistress, Nimmi, as Lady Macbeth to Maqbool's fickle and treacherous ambition.
Bharadwaj elicits some of the best career performances from his actors. Irrfan Khan (Namesake) is masterful as the brooding Maqbool; Tabu (Namesake) is an equal match in her descent from sensuality to insanity. And Naseeruddin Shah (Monsoon Wedding) and Om Puri (My Son, the Fanatic) prove once again that they are the gems of Indian cinema – their turn as the corrupt, astrology-chart-consulting cops (reprising the three witches), is laced with dark humor and a sense of impending doom that leaves a lasting impression.