Dedh Ishqiya: A Review

Dedh Ishqiya – Dir: Abhishek Chaubey; *ing: Naseerudin Shah, Arshad Warsi, Madhuri Dixit-Nene, Huma Qureshi, Vijay Raaz, Manoj Pahwa, Salman Shahid


Woh Con Thi?

When director Abhishek Chaubey and writer Vishal Bhardwaj presented Ishqiya three years ago, it was clear that what we were witnessing was a treatise on passion rather than a plot-driven film. Love, lust, deceit, vengeance – passion, it seemed to be telling us, takes on all forms, both familiar and unexpected. With this sequel-of-sorts, the director-writer duo up the ante for themselves, and the audience, by adding more characters and narrative twists and turns to the mix, also replacing the subtle , seductive heat of the original with broader strokes of both drama and humour. With this expanded canvas, Dedh Ishqiya does lose some of the saltiness of its predecessor – where Ishqiya was a three-way pas de deux, the sequel is more comedy of errors – but has much else besides to make it a winner.
Our two main characters are the pair of small-time crooks/uncle-nephew we saw earlier: elder statesman Khalujaan (Shah), and hapless Babban (Warsi), and, as before, when the film opens the two are again at the mercy of maniacal gangster, Mushtaq (a gleefully, psychotically enervated Shahid). Making good their escape, the con men eventually find themselves in a whole different bowl of soup. Khalujaan, posing as a refined Urdu poet of royal lineage, vies for the attention and affection of Begum Para (Dixit-Nene), amidst a sea of suitors of similar bent. The widowed Begum, inheritor of a heavily indebted princely estate, is a prize catch for any and all, including local thug Jaan Mohammed (Raaz). Meanwhile, Babban tries to charm Begum’s aloof but scorching hot handmaid, Munniya (Qureshi). Of course, in this strange little world, nothing is quite as it seems, and as it turns out, even the best con men can fall for a con.
Like Ishqiya before it, Dedh Ishqiya too is concerned with more than the sum of its plot elements. Woven into the fun and games and screamingly funny set pieces, is a film that deals with issues of socio-sexual politics in a fiercely patriarchal society – who holds the upper hand based on which set of factors, and how power positions can shift without warning. This is especially well explored in the dynamic of Begum’s relationship with Jaan Mohammed, whereby she possesses something he is desirous of – legitimacy in the form of a title – while she needs his cash to keep her head above the water. Similarly, Khalujaan’s dalliance with romance is compelling because traditionally (particularly in Bollywood lore) love and lucre are not supposed to mix. Most intriguing of all, though, is the angle created through the character of Munniya. Without resorting to spoilers, let’s just say that Bhardwaj and Chaubey have quietly and subtly introduced a very interesting conversation about unconditional love into Indian cinema.
Of course much of Dedh Ishqiya’s success comes from a cast that is any thinking Hindi movie fan’s wet dream: from the superlative tag team of Shah and Warsi, to the faux-menace of Raaz’s scowling visage, to Pahwa’s exuberant turn as an Italian-Urdu poet, there is not a single bum note to be found anywhere in the film as far as performances go. However it would all be for nought were it not for the positively breathtaking duo of Qureshi and Dixit-Nene, who together form an entity so audacious and beguiling that one buys the premise of their story hook, line, and sinker. Add to that Bhardwaj’s affinity for the Urdu language, as well as his wonderfully old-fashioned music score, and you have a true gem on your hands.

Cult: Andaaz Apna Apna (1994) – This Rajkumar Santoshi-directed comedy caper about a pair of bumbling con men (Aamir and Salman Khan) didn’t create a stir at the box-office on its original release, but has since achieved mass cult status.

Current: Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram – Leela – Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s latest is yet another Romeo and Juliet adaptation, high on melodrama, low on substance, but contains a brilliant turn by Supriya Pathak.

Coming Attraction: Gulaab Gang – Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Juhi Chawla are pitted opposite each other in this highly anticipated film from director Soumik Sen, based on the real-life ‘Gulabi gang’ which fights against social injustice in rural India.

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