Abhishek Chaubey’s (or should that be Vishal Bhardwaj’s?) Ishqiya is set in the dark heart of a Gorakhpur populated by gun-runners, small-time and big-time hoodlums, double-crossers and avenging angels. The film’s leading men Babban (Arshad Warsi) and Khalujaan (Naseeruddin Shah) are crooks too, but they are fleeing a sadistic boss (some things stay constant across cultures and settings), and in this landscape they are practically innocents abroad – a bit like R2D2 and C3PO fumbling their way through the desert in Star Wars. Then Krishna (Vidya Balan), a widow with an enigmatic past, invites them into her house, but the lighting and framing makes her look like a spider at the entrance of her web, and this is no reassurance that Babban and Khalu are any safer than they were on the road. Is Krishna pari or tawaif, or a combination of both, or something much more lethal?
At any rate, things are equally dangerous inside and outside. This is a place where crime, betrayal and violent recrimination are taken for granted. Thakurs and Pandeys are determinedly assembling their little armies and gun-stacks to resolve feuds that have been raging for generations; minions must dig their own graves if they fall out of favour; when a businessman calls his wife to say he needs money, her first, almost matter-of-fact response is, “Kidnap ho gaye kya?” Everyone is debauched, and ostentatiously religious too (a man with a fondness for S&M meets his whip-wielding mistress in a room with a large Radha-Krishna poster on the wall). From a salty little exchange between Babban and a street-smart young boy, we gather that children in the region are taught how to use rifles before they are toilet trained; later, a hilarious scene gives us visual confirmation of this.
“Taught how to use rifles before they are toilet-trained”?! What sort of lame attempt is that to translate this film’s dialogue? (You’re spending too much time in Select Citywalk, Jabberwock.) Actually, it’s pointless, in a post written in English, to try to convey the rustic, bawdy vigour of Vishal Bhardwaj’s script; it has to be experienced firsthand, and as spoken by these actors. How to express the precise way, for example, in which Arshad Warsi (in a performance that’s every bit as good as his career-defining Circuit) says he has a bad case of acidity, pronouncing it so it sounds a bit like “STD”? Or his “May-ter [matter] kya hai?” when something seems to be wrong. Or the cheerful lewdness of his banter with the young boy whom he asks to show him the local red-light area. I admired the way Ishqiya throws us full-heartedly into this milieu, providing no safety nets for the big-city multiplex viewer who isn’t intimately familiar with the cadences of speech in rural Uttar Pradesh. (Bhardwaj’s Omkara did this too, but there the informed viewer at least had the bulwark of knowing that the film was based on the Othello template – which made the story and character arcs easier to follow. In this one, we're more adrift.)
Though I liked Ishqiya a good deal, I felt a sense of dissatisfaction at the end, a sense that I hadn’t spent enough time with the three principal characters; that I needed to know them better and see how their strange inter-relationships play out. And no, this doesn’t mean I wanted the film to be longer (two hours is a comfortable running time) – I just thought it became more convoluted than it needed to be, investing too much time and attention on side-characters who weren’t nearly as interesting as the three leads. The romantic-triangle-that-isn’t-quite-a-romantic-triangle between Babban, Krishna and Khalujaan is the most compelling thing about this film (along with the great score); everything around it is embellishment, or should have been.
I’m not a fan of most of Vidya Balan’s early work, but she’s made some sensible career choices in recent times, and she can be quite good when she isn’t darting her eyes about in that self-conscious, coquettish way. I remember thinking, when I drifted off while watching Eklavya (as described in this post), that she’d make a very convincing psychopath if given half a chance. Well, she doesn’t quite play a psycho in Ishqiya, but her potential for darkness is certainly tapped: Hindi cinema has waited many decades for a convincing portrait of the sari-clad small-town widow as femme fatale, and now at last we have one. There’s a stretch in the film when you can see that Krishna is cynically manipulating both men in line with their different personalities – tugging at Khalu’s heartstrings with one hand (he’s a middle-aged romantic who loves old Hindi songs and has soft-focus daydreams where he and Krishna are doing nothing more scandalous than getting married) and at the sex-starved Babban’s pyjama-strings with the other hand. We aren’t sure about her motives, and for once the trace of something manipulative behind the familiar Balan smile is completely appropriate to the role. Earlier, when she played goody-goody heroines, I was the only one – on or off the screen – who could see the menace lurking behind that smile, and it drove people around me crazy. Now I feel vindicated.
P.S. The shot of Babban and Khalu sitting glumly in a grave they’ve just dug for themselves reminded me of this publicity still from Manorama Six Feet Under – another fine rural noir.
The film was abrupt at a few places. It had so many characters, and all of them were so interwoven it became really unpredictable at one stage.ReplyDelete
What I liked about Ishqiya is its no nonsense approach and that fact that it is a pure entertainer. Like those crime films of 60s and the Westerns, Ishqiya was a great thriller with lot of adventure and drama. It is possible to deconstruct the movie and discuss its nuances. But that would mean slighting its entertaining character. If some films were ever fun, Ishqiya's name should definitely be taken among those.
It is very difficult to sum up a Vishal Bharadwaj film in words as you have mentioned above. I have faced the same difficulty with Maqbool and Omkara before (I couldn't even write about Kaminey, I had had so much fun with it) , and his protege's work isn't making it any easier.ReplyDelete
My convoluted attempt at writing about Ishqiya is
Vidya Balan though. Tops!
both Manorama and Ishqiya are Shemaroo productions ..... some fetish with people being buried alive !ReplyDelete
What you are referring to here is the way Bhopali's speak.
Kyon Khaaan kaise ho? Kidhar ja riye ho?
This film may just have been an extremely earthy quantum leap, both in terms of dialogue writing and Censor Board permissiveness. I have never heard a mainstream Hindi curse as loudly and inventively as this (Dev D did the same in English, but Hindi is obviously another matter). And the fact that the censor board let it all hang out is a great sign. The only way our films will sound authentic is if they embrace the grammar of their protagonists. Ishqiya, with the first clearly enunciated 'be*******od' in lving memory, may just have kicked opened a very important door.ReplyDelete
I haven't seen the movie yet just the previews, am wondering if it's based on 'In Bruges' ?ReplyDelete
you are right, anubhav, it does have shades of "in bruges", and arshad and naseer have more opportunities to show their comraderie than collin farell and brendan gleeson had. in "omkara" one comes away feeling that the story was over. "ishqiya" leaves you with a feeling that the adventure will continue but we will not be there to see it. it pays to not have typical bollywood heroes because then the writer and director have to compromise and give the actors dialogues and scenes so that their "macho" image remains intact. in babban and khalujaan we have adventurers more in the spirit of butch cassidy and the sundance kid.ReplyDelete
Watch 'Road To Sangam'. PLEASE.ReplyDelete
I think the whole caste based armies, and general intricacies of having so many rich people in a place like Gorakhpur could have been used in a better manner. I was very much intrigued by not-so-well developed character of Balan's husband, had similar thoughts about Omkara underutilising the whole muscleman and political aspect of the story, but I guess there was not much scope there, but here may be bit more politics would have helped.ReplyDelete
Just came back from the screening of Ishqiya and my, this was a helluva of a movie. The setting, though familiar thanks to Omkara, is just one of the attractions. Add to it the dialogues (both hilarious as well as truly surprising at times. Of course, as pointed out by Jai, the climax was a little confusing what with so many characters and a lot happening in a short span of time. My favorite moment : the look on the businessman's wife's face when the hunterwali's mating call is answered. Priceless!ReplyDelete
@ confused-thinker : Oh, and do all bhopali's apply kohl/surma on their eyelids :-)?ReplyDelete
Well exactly (referring to ur review). Only u put it into words much better than I ever could. Lets not be so nitpicking. If we could sit thru a new born baby being revived by "Aall is well", Ishqiya can be forgiven its small glitches. It is such an entertainer. Even that mad Ku-ku-ing during kidnap.ReplyDelete
"...tugging at Khalu’s heartstrings with one hand and at the sex-starved Babban’s pyjama-strings with the other hand"...Nice!!ReplyDelete
Good review. Though personally, I found it very underwhelming.ReplyDelete
I would be happy if we support each other, by visiting also the site:ReplyDelete
thank you so much for your understanding and support. All the best.
the film went a little loose just before the end. and you are right, we do not get enough time to empathize with the three characters.ReplyDelete
If Bharadwaj continues with the streak of his "easterns" he would deserve an adjective for his work: Bharadwajesque. I would love to contrast the rural shown in Bharadwaj's moves vis a vis Prakash Jha or read some one doing it. I am unable to pin point but under veneer of depicting hard hitting reality I find Jha's movies exploitive of the characters.