Due to its tendency of executing three-hour-long sagas, Bollywood has, over time, made its narratives extensive, but less compelling. Directors either spend too much time building up the story, only to hastily end it with a number of loopholes (Dhoom 3), or they dedicate so much time to the resolution that the entire post-intermission half of the film becomes an epilogue (Lootera).
Despite a conscious effort to blend together all possible ingredients, the aesthetic whole has rarely turned out to be more than the sum of the parts. This is possibly the worst one can do with such a provocative medium of storytelling. However, just when one is on the fringe of losing all hope in Bollywood, a rare gem like Dedh Ishqiya comes along.
With Dedh Ishqiya, the tag-team of Abhishek Chaubey and Vishal Bhardwaj not only adds another feather to their cap, but also provides us with an example of what Bollywood should aspire to create, both with films and franchises. The combination of ideal pacing of the story and the spontaneity of the performances easily makes Dedh Ishqiya one the most entertaining, and also one of the smartest films to have come out recently.
The film begins like its prequel Ishqiya, with Arshad Warsi
(Babban) standing in a grave with his pants down as Mustaq Bhai (Salman Shahid) and his men decide the best possible way to kill Babban. Just when Mushtaq’s men are about to end his life, Babban makes a final request, and that is to narrate a short story. This establishing sequence will crack you up, because of the stellar chemistry between Warsi and Shahid and the great one-liners.
The short story revolves around how Babban and Khalu (Naseerudin Shah) once robbed a jewellery store, and Khalu disappeared with the necklace right after the robbery. In the main story, Babban manages to escape Mushtaq Bhai and goes in the search for his long-time partner in crime, Khaloo Jan.
Khaloo Jan, like the classic Romeo he always was, is now a poet who plans to marry an aristocrat, Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit) and that’s where Babban finds him. What follows is a fast paced but poetic journey of emotions, humour, realizations and helplessness garnished by a stark commentary on the concept of love and lust within the realms of the caste system.
Dedh Ishqiya is by no means an extraordinary story. In fact, at one point, it becomes quite similar to Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Lousie. However, it stands out amongst the rest for its carefully laid out screenplay and rather witty take on the concepts of masculinity and feminism.
Whether it is the setting of a mushaira or the use of popular ghazals, a hunting competition or a short dance sequence, every single frame serves a purpose and exposes one more facet of the plot. This is not only the film’s biggest achievement, but also forms the perfect foundation for top-notch actors to unleash their talent.
The chemistry between Warsi and Shah gets more aggressive and casual in the sequel, and since they actually hail from backgrounds similar to their characters, some quintessential Muslim etiquette comes through quite naturally. They, however, are not the ones who steal the show. That honour belongs to Vija Raaz, who plays a lovelorn MLA, and to Madhuri Dixit, who has made the comeback of her dreams with this role. Raaz’s struggle to keep a balance between his thirst for power and love comes through so honestly that the audience eventually starts sympathizing with him, despite the fact that he is the villain. Dixit, on the other hand, dances well and creates a mood best suited for a beauty of her age and charisma. Her trophy should be partly shared with the director who cast her in such a well-gauged character.
The music might not be as catchy as its prequel’s, but it’s still good enough to make you walk out humming the tunes. At the end of the day, Dedh Ishqiya is a film that creates a story world with so much detail and poignant drama that it becomes difficult to escape it even after one has left the theatre.
Verdict: Beautifully written, with stellar performances. Bhardwaj’s unique yet thoroughly entertaining story world makes it the most terrific film to come out of Bollywood recently.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2014.