Dedh Ishqiya Review By Mayank Shekhar
Wah wah… Irshad!
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Actors: Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi, Madhuri Dixit
By Mayank Shekhar
I really don’t know what to make of this conmen combo: the ‘khurafaat’ Babban and his cunning Khalu (mother’s sister’s husband). Khalu, given his old age, is obviously incapable of executing a lot of the tricks for thefts on his own. Yet, given half a chance he is only too happy to dupe and dump his nephew in order to fly solo.
Bhopali Babban, on the other hand utterly lacks the suaveness or aristocratic charm that Khalu more than makes up for. Babban needs his uncle to get access to all the places where the khazana is usually stored, whether in a jewellery shop or the vaults of a Nawab’s palace. Together they make perfect partners in crime, though perennially suspicious of each other still, giving love-hate relationship a more literal meaning. They have no other friends and certainly no idea of a home. What unites them I suppose is “junoon” or obsession that is often interpreted as “chutiyapa” to find a woman they can love.
You’ve met these incurable romantics in Abhishek Chaubey’s Ishqiya (2010) before, I am sure. I say this because sequels inevitably get made for films that have been commercial successes, which is one of the reasons they suck ever so often. The filmmakers are usually so confident about something that has already worked that they end up dishing out the same stuff all over again to a captive audience that is just as eager to lap it up.
This sequel is called Dedh Ishqiya, as in “dedh shaana” (for someone who is too clever by half, in Bambaiya), or Ishqiya 1 ½ (like Fellini’s 8 ½ ). Perhaps that is because this is only half a sequel. The main male characters remain of course. The genre is the same. It is totally Tarantino-esque in its tone, making light of goons with guns. Though Tarantino by now has started employing his time-tested technique to make overtly strong political statements (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained). This film doesn’t. It’s hard to tell whether that’s for the better (probably not).
But while Ishqiya was a realistically set outdoorsy comic thriller that surveyed the dons in the dusty ‘ilaakas’ of eastern Uttar Pradesh—Gorakhpur etc—Dedh Ishqiya almost wholly takes place in a mythical princely state and within it the palace of the Nawab of Mahmudabad. This is not a period film.
There was a time not too long ago when it was impossible to find India in Bollywood films. Now you see so much of India that having not experienced so much of it myself, I can’t tell how much of it is even real.
What we see here looks authentic and I guess that is all that matters. Any movie in that sense is a con-job of some kind, it’s meant to be. The cinematographer (Satyajit Pandey: Taare Zameen Par, Kahaani) beautifully plays with light, and cold colours, to make this place seem equally mystical and inviting. It remains gritty still—never gaudy.
Madhuri Dixit, a bit too cosmetically dainty and delicate, plays the princess of the palace, Begum Para. She used to be a famous danseuse once. Her husband is no more, and there is no one else in the immediate or distant family to be a rightful heir. It appears the dead Nawab had left behind a will that said that the inheritor of his property should be another Nawab—who’s also a poet. In a strange ‘swayamvar’ of sorts, the Begum hosts a ‘mushaira’ contest (I’m not sure if this is an annual affair) for word maestros who are also kings of other real estates.
Khalu pounces on this chance to kill it softly with his words and shayari and win major property as return gift. He is a poet, and he knows it. He dons the nawabi hat, looking somewhat like Maulana Azad in side profile. In provincial parts where everyone knows every pauper, let alone a frikin’ prince, Khalu incredulously gets away pretending to be the fictitious Nawab of Chandpur.
This allows the film a wonderful opportunity to make love to pure Urdu, which like Sanskritised Hindi, is a dying language in urban India—both of them walloped by the organic, ‘kaam chalau’ Hinglish. Did I understand all the words of the dialogues in this film? No. But I am glad there were subtitles in English. I hope your screen does too. You may be compelled to sit with a dictionary otherwise. Everything in Urdu—stray words, one liners, quick repartees, couplets—to me sound like poetry anyway.
As it does to Khalu, when Begum Para calls him by his first name: “Iftekhaar,” from the epiglottis. You smile every time she says that to her. He’s lost his heart to her. Babban has the hots for Begum’s gorgeous secretary/servant. Huma Qureishi plays that part.
Oh, I haven’t mentioned yet, since I thought you would know anyway, Naseeruddin Shah plays Khalu. Having performed tirelessly for four decades, in mainstream films, art-house films, international assignments, local theatre, sensible television, it’s remarkable to see an actor looking so enthusiastic in a role that makes it seem like it could well be his first. Arshad Warsi, a phenomenally talented actor who can be so inconsistent under lesser directors, finds his mojo yet again as Babban. As he did playing the other kickass sidekick Circuit in the Munnabhai series. Between these two stars and a heavily twisted plot, the film exudes tremendous amounts of confidence and wit.
I was in Lucknow on a completely separate journalistic assignment last year when Dedh Ishqiya was being shot there. I happened to drop in briefly, almost uninvited, to an after-work drinking session with the crew. They had shot a mad climax sequence that day where Naseer, 64, chases down a car in a motorcycle. Sensing the positive energy in that room, I could somewhat guess how good films get made. Assuming that everything else is in place, if those involved with a movie have this much fun making it, chances are, so will the audience when it reaches them. I certainly did. I think you will too.