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January 10, 2014

Movie Review : Dedh Ishqiya

Film: Dedh Ishqiya
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Madhuri Dixit, Arshad Warsi, Huma Qureshi
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Rating: Three stars

Hear ye. Without that old-fashioned feeling call love, the  heart burns over with fire, one’s very soul is reduced to cinders. Waah janaab waah, that’s the poesy-suffused pitch of a faux Ghalib somewhere out there in U P. Yippee? Well, it all depends if you have an ear for sher-o-shairi, and just to help you along the way, the entire film is sub-titled. A first?

And hopefully, the last, Come on if poetry is to be relished, it cannot be by dumbing down, or with the distraction of subtitles. Besides that snafu (by the way the word ‘chutiya’ is translatedn in the titles as ‘snafu’, huh), director Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya is decidedly unconventional, reflectively paced, and technically superior to the average Mumbai fantasy factory product. Cheers!

Replete with florid dialogue and competent performances, too, the sequel to Ishqiya (2010) is good to put it plainly, but not quite in the class of the outstanding first edition which was free of, for want of a better word, snafus. Moreover, the earlier femme fatale played by fierce fervour by Vidya Balan, is sorely missed.

The double-barrelled blast of Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit) and her handmaiden Munniya (Huma Khan) just don’t measure up to Balan’s lip-smacking sensual manoeuvres of a woman with an agenda on her mind. You may or may not agree with that, and it’s not entirely La Dixit’s fault either: it’s just that she’s  portrayed as much too self-contained, behaving as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. That key tantalising edge is missing.

In addition, if she’s assigned a Birju Maharaj-choreographed thumri, was it necessary to insert another actress – younger and more adept at the moves – to subtract the magic away from Madhuriji? Result: Her most showy sequence, at best turns out to be, comme ci comme ca tha thaiya.

Anyway, the story’s the thing. And it’s pretty engrossing, lapsing towards confusion towards though, the finale shot at what must be India’s only deserted railway station. At the outset, the fun begins with the inveterate scoundrels Khalujaan (Naseeruddin Shah) and Babban (Arshad Warsi), in the throes of yet another bout of love-hate relationship. When it comes to a crisis, they bolt into the blue separately, leaving the other to rot in a jail or threatened in a grave-hole by a weirdo, grinning gunman. This bozo’s teeth, incidentally, would be a dentist’s delight.

Unite Khaalujan and Babban must and they do, in the fictional township of Mahmudabad, where havelis crumble, an MLA (Vijay Raaz, excellent) thirsts for the status of an aristocrat – never mind his DNA -- and the widowed Begum Para conducts an annual swayamvar to select her next Nawab. Plausible, in this day and age?

Why not? Anything for a round of ishqiya crammed with double-cross, jewellery thefts, canoodling and Urdu soirees. Actually, the most romantic and delicately directed scene sees the raffish Khaalujan going into a dream-like recitation of an ode to the Begum while she beams on like a lighthouse. Wonderful, absolutely rapturous moment that.

Without exception, every character – minor or major – has evil plans up his or her sleeve. Indeed, there’s an extremely startling and progressive one, but it is left dangling in the air – said loud and clear but without elabration.As for the badinage between Khaalujan and Babban, about how love and attraction eventually boil to sex, it’s a permissive point of view to say the least. To be sure, Chaubey and producer-co-dialogue-and- script-writer Bharadwaj do break the rules when it comes to discussing sexual frisson. However, an element of vulgarity seeps in with frequent references to bobbitting, not to forget Babban’s romp in a bordello. Such moments, needlessly cater to the gallery. Or should one use today’s trade phrase: ‘single screens’?

Whatever your reservations may be, you do keep wishing that Khaalujaan finds his match in the Begum, and Babban in her kinky handmaiden who dreams of supping on noodles in Shanghai and crème brulee in Paris. Such aspirations, truly. On the disappointing side, the Begum’s characterisation is excessively passive, all adas and nakhras, no substance to take away home really.

Throughout, Setu’s cinematography catches the intriguing ambience, particularly in the low-lit indoor scenes. Vishal Bharadwaj’s music sticks to the melodious, semi-classical idiom (hence,perhaps, the throwaway digs to the item icons Disco Anarkali, Sheila and Chameli, at one point).

Of the cast, Madhuri Dixit radiates sufficient charisma, although subverted by a role that doesn’t challenge her with dramatic pyrotehnics. Huma Khan is convincing, thanks to her ability to carry out quicksilver moods. And Arshad Warsi, kept under leash, is so much more believable than he was in last week’s  Mr Joe B Carvalho.

As the lovelorn lothario, Naseeruddin Shah rocks, an actor who doesn’t have to resort to any kind of simple illustrative gestures to convey his character’s pain and pleasures.

Taken in sum, then, Dedh Ishqiya is different and it’s audacious – not without its sack of snafus though. It’s a could-see.

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