“Something Wicked This Way Comes”: Shakespearean Witches in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool

The figure of the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth is an interesting focus of study especially in the case of cinematic adaptations of the modern era. Unless the adaptation is “faithful” to temporal and spatial concerns of the play, the figure of the witches would either simply collapse for the modern viewership or prove to be culturally inconsistent, and therefore lacking.  For instance, the semantic and cultural relevance of the figure of the witches in Shakespearean England would be starkly different from modern England.

Similarly, the same would be in effect considering geographical and cultural dissimilarities where the figure of the “witch” might have a different connotations and meanings in Europe and Asia, or the witch figure might simply not exist in certain cultures.  In the light of these concerns, the focus of this article is primarily to study the transformation, treatment and appropriation of the figure of the Shakespearean witches in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool.

Transformation of the Androgynous Witch Figure

Vishal Bhardwaj transforms the warring medieval Scotland into the world of organised crime in Mumbai where forces of law and justice become mere toys in the hands of the crime lords. Shakespearean “weird sisters” then are transformed into the character of Pandit and Purohit, two morally ambiguous police officers.

The very first observation is the treatment of gender of the witch figure. Banquo describes the witches as: “[y]ou should be women, [a]nd yet your beards forbid me to interpret [t]hat you are so”. This androgynous character of the witch is transformed into that of not only the masculine body but also the masculine character of the police. By doing so, the police inspectors attain a point of entry into the androcentric world of organised crime in Maqbool. This accessibility of the Pandit and Purohit plays an important role in the downfall of Miyan (Macbeth).

Agency of The Transposed Witches

Moreover, right from the first scene, where pandit is drawing out the astrological chart which is responsible for the fate of Mumbai, the centrality of the supernatural is made evident. Only unlike in Shakespeare, the “weird space” in Maqbool works in tandem with human agency.  Since the pandit is physically drawing out the fate of Mumbai, it highlights the agency of the two transposed witch figures in Maqbool. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the witches merely vocalise Macbeth’s ambitions while he retains his free will and acts upon his desires. This argument is valid through various pieces of evidence from the play.

The first is the curiosity that Macbeth displays upon listening to the witches’ fortune telling: “Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more.” Moreover, his interest in claiming the throne is evident in “the greatest is behind” and he is already thinking about the act of murder through the vocalisation of the “swelling act” as prologue for the “imperial theme.” Thus, in such a sense, the witches become important but passive agents in the play where even though the seed of an idea is sown through the “supernatural solicitors,” they do not intervene in the subsequent decisions and actions of Macbeth.

However, in Maqbool, the witch figures of the Pandit and Purohit become active agents in the downfall of Miyan. For instance, despite being aware of Boti’s (Macduff) confession about his distrust in Miyan, and his allegiance towards Guddu, they let him escape with a cryptic:

Power is game of exquisite balance. You need water to balance out the fire.

This recurring motif of balance in the film echoes the witches’ paradoxical refrain: “Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair.”  In the last scene as well, Bhardwaj’s witch figures quite literally take Miyan to his demise where he is killed by Boti outside the hospital. Thus, it is evident that the Pandit and Purohit serve as active agents in the scheme of things that directly affect Miyan’s fate.

The Witches as Critique

Maqbool also appropriates the witch figures in order to highlight the loopholes and the hypocrisy in the existing state machinery by portraying the corrupt police inspectors working as underlings of a crime lord. Moreover, the names “Pandit” and “Purohit,” which literally translates to a scholar of scriptures and a priest, for corrupt inspectors engaging in all sorts of religious sins, serves a satiric purpose which highlights the fraudulent and deceptive practices prevalent in the name of religion.

The Witches as Fools

The witch figures in Maqbool, interestingly, also serve a role similar to the Shakespearean fool in not only providing comic relief in the film but also getting away with issues by virtue of their status. For instance, Pandit suggests the throne of Abbaji to Miyan which is equivalent to a betrayal, however Miyan pardons him with: “If I believed in any of your mumbo jumbo, Pandit… I’d have sliced your tongue off today”. This is one of the reasons through which they are able to be active agents in the action of the film.

The character of the fool and the witch merging into one is perfectly portrayed in the scene of the sea prophecy, where Pandit and Purohit makes fun of the prophecy suggesting its impossibility to Maqbool:

MAQBOOL: Will I sink or swim?

INSP. PANDIT (smiles): If the sea comes into your house, obviously you’ll sink.

INSP. PUROHIT: The sea will come… how… by car or on foot?

INSP. PANDIT: Why? It can even take a private jet?

INSP. PUROHIT: The sea will come… press the doorbell and announce itself…

PANDIT: ‘Ding Dong… Who’s there?’

INSP. PUROHIT: ‘Hello everybody… is Miyanji at home?

INSP. PUROHIT: ‘Who is it?’

Suddenly Purohit gets serious.

INSP. PUROHIT: ‘I’m the big blue choppy sea… I have come from far to sink the whole lot of you’

This is quite different from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where the witches have a role of being the “imperfect speakers.” In the play, the witch figures never suggest a clear path to tread on to Macbeth but Macbeth himself assumes the impossibility of the apparition’s words:

MACBETH: That will never be. Who can impress the forest, bid the tree Unfi x his earth-bound root?

This is again one of the ways where the Bhardwaj’s witch figures attain agency in the action of the film.


Thus, the figure of the Shakespearean witches is transformed into the figure of corrupt police inspectors in a city gripped by crime. The figure of the fool is merged with the witch figure, thus, appropriating the figure of the “weird sisters” in order to satirise the state machinery and the state of such seemingly religious/spiritual figures. Maqbool’s witch figures, unlike in the play, also become active participants in the action of the film and directly affect Miyan’s actions leading to his eventual death.


Bhardwaj, Vishal, director. Maqbool. YouTube, YouTube, 10 Apr. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ABFI8-mjlQ. Accessed 27 Jan. 2023.

Bladen, Victoria. “Weird Space in Macbeth on Screen.” Shakespeare on Screen: Macbeth. Edited by Sarah Hatchuel, Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin and Victoria Bladen. PURH [Presses Universitaires De Rouen Et Du Havre], 2013, Pp. 81-106, 25 May 2014, https://www.academia.edu/5305397/Weird_Space_in_Macbeth_on_Screen.

Shakespeare, William. The Arden Shakespeare: Macbeth. Edited by Sandra Clark and Pamela Mason, ser. 3, Bloomsbury, 2015.


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