“Fair is foul, and foul is fair’ — the three witches in Shakespeare foretell this, implying how all is not as it seems, foreshadowing Macbeth’s, or in this case, Miyan Maqbool’s treachery. Maqbool was the first of Vishal Bharadwaj‘s Shakespeare adaptation trilogy, and no one knew what to expect, let alone such extravagant brilliance, not once but thrice. The fear of having gotten Shakespeare wrong was lurking above my head, but the star cast that Bharadwaj had put together provided solace. Starring, Pankaj Kapur, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Piyush Mishra, Tabu and Irrfan, it is safe to say, that Maqbool brought together the finest of Indian cinema. For a cinema enthusiast like myself, it was like being in a giant candy store, because where else could you witness the best of the best, acting to an alluringly woven screenplay.
Speaking of Irrfan, perhaps, there is nothing left to say about his brilliance, that hasn’t already been said. He is simply put, mesmerising on-screen, a magical broody-eyed artist that shines through every time. So then what was it about Maqbool, that stood out? Was Irrfan better? Absolutely not, because the most formidable thing about Irrfan is the consistency of his craft, and to claim that he was better in one film over the other, is radically unjust. However, here’s the thing, Maqbool was in a way, a film that told the world that Irrfan had arrived with his art, patience, and intellect, he was here not to be another glamorous hero or a showman, but an actor that would charm the wit out of everyone. Maqbool did two things, it brought both, Shakespeare and Irrfan to Indian households.
In Maqbool, Irrfan stars alongside his National School Of Drama seniors; Pankaj Kapur, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Piyush Mishra, all of whom are outstanding, path-breaking actors themselves. Maybe that is another reason why Maqbool stands out. Irrfan is an actor par excellence, but to be the most dazzling one amidst some of the greatest that Indian cinema has seen, is truly an achievement in itself. Any other actor, would’ve easily been outshined and pushed into a corner, to nobody’s surprise, but Irrfan seamlessly creates his place on screen, and in our hearts.
In a scene, Kaka’s (Piyush Mishra) body is brought to the pyre, and Miyan sits down beside him, to show his sorrow when suddenly the body opens its eyes. This is a pivotal scene in the story, demonstrating how Maqbool is slowly drowning in madness, as such hallucinations begin haunting him. An excellent scene, done artfully by both Piyush Mishra and Irrfan, teaches one, how it’s not the monologues and soliloquies that are truly important, but such moments that stay with you, long after they pass. It was watching this scene, that made me realise what makes Irrfan so distinctive and eccentric as an actor. It is merely the simplicity with which he acts, that makes every scene look effortless, and there is perhaps nothing more complex than being simple.
In another scene, we see Miyan bring Nimmi home from the hospital after her delivery when she begins hallucinating blood. Again, portrayed excellently by Irrfan and Tabu, in a beautiful shot, we see both Nimmi cleaning the walls (shown in the mirror) and Miyan slowly falling to his knees (sitting by the mirror) as the passports in his hands fall. This scene comes as a moment of realisation to Maqbool who understands that everything is now collapsing, and this realisation, although extremely internal is translated on-screen so vividly by Irrfan, that not a single soul can claim to not have noticed because such is the power with which he delivers. There is no exterior display, there’s no overdoing, just simple emotions that he generates so flawlessly, that one understands the true essence of being an actor.
Irrfan leaves a ginormous legacy behind him, and Maqbool is the shining star of this legacy, a poignant reminder of his seamless and simple craft.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.