on the actor's trail

Do real-life friends make good co-stars? Yes, if they are Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah

For evidence of their crackling chemistry, look no further than Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Maqbool’.

When two great actors pair up in a film, chances are that their collaboration will take the production to new heights. When these actors happen to be friends and contemporaries, you are in for a very special treat – as is clear from the pairing of Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri.

Shah and Puri were old friends from the National Institute of Drama in Delhi. In the 1970s, Shah persuaded Puri to follow him to the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, and supported him during his days of financial hardship.

The friends started their careers around the same time in Indian New Wave films directed by Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani. Their first performance together in major roles was in Nihalani’s Aakrosh (1980), a sad commentary on the exploitation of the lower socio-economic strata. Puri plays Lahanya Bhiku, the peasant who has retreated into a catatonic silence after the rape of his wife (Smita Patil). Shah is Bhaskar Kulkarni, the defence lawyer who tries to save Bhiku from the charge of having killed his wife.

Play
Aakrosh (1980).

The next notable Shah-Puri pairing was in Nihalani’s Ardh Satya (1983). Puri gave a career-defining performance as police inspector Anant Velankar, while Shah plays Mike Lobo, a suspended and alcoholic inspector. The two actors have appeared together in many films since, including Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983) and Mirch Masala (1985), but their finest pairing is in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool (2003), which offers a double master class in acting.

Maqbool, based on Macbeth, is arguably the director’s finest adaptation of William Shakespeare’s plays by far. The ensemble cast includes some of Indian cinema’s finest performers, including Pankaj Kapur (Abbaji/Jehangir), Irrfan (Maqbool), Tabu (Nimmi) and Piyush Mishra (Kaka). And then there is the delightful duo, Puri and Shah, playing inspectors Pandit and Purohit respectively. Two corrupt inspectors who are on Abbaji’s payroll, the characters are screenwriter Abbas Tyrewala’s interpretation of the three witches in the play, who trigger the catastrophic events of the tragic tale with their prediction that Macbeth will be the king of Scotland. Like the witches, the inspectors predict the rise of Maqbool, Jehangir’s right-hand man, to the top of the criminal hierarchy as well as his eventual death.

Shah and Puri effortlessly swing between humour and seriousness. Their interaction is perfectly pitched, and is the result of the bonhomie that develops between two old friends who still manage to discover and share something new about each other – a strength, a quirk, a like or a dislike. The two form a mutual admiration society in the movie, and their prattling lends itself to many delightful possibilities. One can imagine the joy the casting must have given Tyrewala and Bhardwaj when they were writing the screenplay and dialogue for scenes featuring these two.

Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah in Maqbool.
Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah in Maqbool.

Pandit and Purohit are introduced in the opening scene. Purohit is jocularly narrating gory details of a staged encounter to a gangster (played by Tyrewala) inside a police vehicle even as Pandit is drawing an astrological chart on the foggy windshield. The humour suddenly gives way to shock and fear when it turns out that the gangster with whom Purohit was sharing a light moment and a drink minutes ago is to be killed by Purohit on Abbaji’s orders. The unfortunate gangster happens to be working for Moghul, Abbaji’s rival. Before finishing him off, Purohit asks Pandit to share his prediction of who will rule Mumbai, Abbaji or Moghul. Pandit replies, “Maqbool, miyan Maqbool.”

Pandit repeats this prediction shortly afterwards, in the presence of Kaka and Maqbool. Purohit adds the prophecy that Kaka’s son Guddu (Ajay Gehi) will be Maqbool’s nemesis, planting the first seeds of discontent in Maqbool’s mind.

The friends always appear together, backing up each other’s statements in every scene. Pandit’s pet phrase, “Shakti ka santulan bahut zaroori hai is sansar mein” (The balance of power is critical in this world) is supplemented by Purohit’s rejoinder, “Aag ke liye pani ka darr bana rehna chahiye” (fire must always dread water).

Maqbool (2005).
Maqbool (2005).

The policemen inhabit the Mumbai underworld and seek to preserve its equilibrium at all costs. In their view, this balance of power is best maintained when rival gang members eliminate each other, for this means less work for them and a steady income from Abbaji. In their keenness to preserve this balance of power, the men not only advise but even instigate Maqbool from time to time. In this respect, their characters are far more proactive than Macbeth’s witches.

Over the course of the film, the shamelessly unscrupulous public functionaries frequently abuse their power. They are driven completely by self-interest and the preservation of their authority. Despite their long-standing relationship with Abbaji, they also root for Maqbool. When Maqbool usurps Jehangir’s seat, they switch their loyalties to the new ganglord. They even warn him of his impending death. They prophesise that Maqbool will have a troubled relationship with water, and will die the day the “dariya”(sea) comes to him. That is exactly how Maqbool meets his end – his smuggling boats are seized, his criminal business is wiped out overnight and an officer from the Customs department tracks him down to his hiding place.

For all their wickedness, the pair has some redeeming qualities. In a rare scene that takes viewers by surprise, Pandit defends the police force, explaining how the men in khaki sometimes get a bad name for no good reason. Pandit is narrating the circumstances of the death of Abbaji’s mentor, Lalaji, to Maqbool. He explains how there were only three people in the room, Abbaji, Lalaji and a police officer, and yet only Abbaji survived. After the carnage, Jehangir had accused the police officer of having killed Lalaji by shooting him in the face. Pandit adds with bitterness that Abbaji would have made a brilliant actor had he not become a ganglord.

In another scene, Pandit reveals that he saved Purohit from certain death by forcing him to reconsider his relationship with his female neighbour. Pandit had apparently predicted that the woman would die of AIDS within six months. The scene demonstrates how the rascals look out for each other.

On several occasions in the story, Purohit berates Pandit for his “black tongue”, for this tongue makes nasty predictions that always come true. At this, Pandit playfully sticks out his tongue.

These moments make Maqbool a remarkable experience. The movie deserves a repeat viewing at the very least for the Shah-Puri pair, which proves that good friends in real life can also make very good co-stars on the screen.

Play
Maqbool (2005).
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Get ready for an 80-hour shopping marathon

Here are some tips that’ll help you take the lead.

Starting 16th July at 4:00pm, Flipkart will be hosting its Big Shopping Days sale over 3 days (till 19th July). This mega online shopping event is just what a sale should be, promising not just the best discounts but also buying options such as no cost EMIs, buyback guarantee and product exchanges. A shopping festival this big, packed with deals that you can’t get yourself to refuse, can get overwhelming. So don’t worry, we’re here to tell you why Big Shopping Days is the only sale you need, with these helpful hints and highlights.

Samsung Galaxy On Nxt (64 GB)

A host of entertainment options, latest security features and a 13 MP rear camera that has mastered light come packed in sleek metal unibody. The sale offers an almost 40% discount on the price. Moreover, there is a buyback guarantee which is part of the deal.

Original price: Rs. 17,900

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Samsung 32 inches HD Ready LED TV

Another blockbuster deal in the sale catalogue is this audio and visual delight. Apart from a discount of 41%, the deal promises no-cost EMIs up to 12 months.

Original price: Rs. 28,890

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Intel Core I3 equipped laptops

These laptops will make a thoughtful college send-off gift or any gift for that matter. Since the festive season is around the corner, you might want to make use of this sale to bring your A-game to family festivities.

Original price: Rs. 25,590

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 21,900

Fashion

If you’ve been planning a mid-year wardrobe refresh, Flipkart’s got you covered. The Big Shopping Days offer 50% to 80% discount on men’s clothing. You can pick from a host of top brands including Adidas and Wrangler.

With more sale hours, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days sale ensures we can spend more time perusing and purchasing these deals. Apart from the above-mentioned products, you can expect up to 80% discount across categories including mobiles, appliances, electronics, fashion, beauty, home and furniture.

Features like blockbuster deals that are refreshed every 8 hours along with a price crash, rush hour deals from 4-6 PM on the starting day and first-time product discounts makes this a shopping experience that will have you exclaiming “Sale ho to aisi! (warna na ho)”

Set your reminders and mark your calendar, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days starts 16th July, 4 PM and end on 19th July. To participate in 80 hours of shopping madness, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Flipkart and not by the Scroll editorial team.