October 10, 2007

Witchy woman

I recently had the pleasure to watch Vishal Bharadwaj's outstanding 2002 film Makdee. You can read my review of it at Filmi Geek.

Shabana Azmi plays a nasty witch who lurks in a spooky castle on the outskirts of a village. Even the sensible adults of the village are sufficiently frightened by her that they stop short at the gates of her sprawling property, hesistant even to set foot on her grounds. Word has it that anyone who darkens her doorstep will be turned into an animal. And when she turns a little girl named Munni into a chicken, Munni's feisty, mischievous twin sister Chunni enters a bargain with the witch to try to save her. Chunni must screw up her courage and face the scary witch on her own.

Shabana ji's writhing, snarling, scene-chewing performance in this film is an utter delight. Here's what I said about it on Filmi Geek:

She plays the witch with absolute relish, throwing herself into it with a broad physicality that is utterly delightful. From her creepy gyrations as she performs the magic to turn children into animals, to the growly snarl with which she delivers every line, to her punching-and-kicking fight scene at the film's climax, she transforms into the villain, completely. There is no dignity in this performance - just out-and-out entertainment.
What I mean by no dignity is that she holds nothing back, neither in portraying the most repulsive and terrifying aspects of the witch, nor in taking the witch's comeuppance. As she terrorizes Chunni she smacks her lips, rolls her eyes, and sucks down a bowl full of blood. In the film's climax, she punches, kicks, and falls ass over tea-kettle into a muddy pit. This performance makes her work in Umrao Jaan seem restrained by comparison. It's just magnificent.

For much of the film, Shabana ji is under heavy makeup; creepy and ugly, she is at times almost unrecognizable.

Everyone once in a while though, she'll put on a certain expression, and suddenly it's quite clearly Shabana ji, there under all that makeup:

Toward the end of the film, the witchy makeup comes off, but the manic insanity remains in her eyes and the snarl on her lips:

And, when she's close to defeat, a look of pure fear:

Despite her unusual look, the witch's voice is always unmistakably Shabana ji's, though she delivers her lines in a lower register than usual and adds a creepy complement of guttural growls to every line.

I didn't have any expectations for Makdee, but I absolutely loved it - it's a terrific piece of children's filmmaking, gripping, scary, creepy, gross, fun, thrilling, and engaging from beginning to end. All that and Shabana ji too, in a role that may be completely unlike any other on her lengthy resume. A total treat! I can't recommend it highly enough.

So pretty!


secretchamber4 said...

I have the movie with me but I didn't watch it yet. After reading your review I will definitely watch it now.
Your review was so interesting.

Filmi Geek said...

secretchamber4 - I hope you like the film. Please come back and let us know what you thought!