Will take a long time for me to go through the comments, but what struck me about ‘Ishqiya’ was its marriage between an essentially Hollywood plot (heist/noir with a femme fatale) and a small town milieu. It’s the work of a director who identifies with his roots but is also clearly influenced by the west. For all the attention to detail, the film doesn’t really have a great deal to say. Be it the space that muslims occupy, the simmering caste equation etc. It’s a “fun” film, designed to keep the audience happy. I guess one could find the last part disappointing. But there are still quite a few positives in the film to leave a nice aftertaste.
I personally loved the small town milieu, the attention to detail, the “wry” humor and the standard of acting in the film. That’s more than one can say for most hindi films I get to watch these days.
Re: “I personally loved the small town milieu, the attention to detail, the “wry” humor and the standard of acting in the film. That’s more than one can say for most hindi films I get to watch these days.”
Yes, neatly summed up. I’d add the pleasure the film takes in dialog, also increasingly rare.
The rustic dialog was indeed special. I also quite likes the way Naseer and Vidya Balan flirted with each other under the backdop of old songs and music directors. Very old school and therefore much more endearing! I quite like the picturization of ‘Dil To Bachcha Hai Jee’ and ‘Ibn e Batuta’ is one of the best songs ever composed by Vishal Bharadwaj!
I don’t mind VB the director, but I will admit that at his best (Ishqiya, No Smoking, Omkara, “Rone Do” from Maqbool) I do prefer VB the composer. His music also IMO brings out the best in Gulzar (by contrast, and maybe I am in the minority, but I don’t think all that highly of what Gulzar the lyricist does with ARR’s music. There are awesome exceptions, but they remain exceptions for me)…
I didn’t find it effective as a neo-noir so to speak, or in its liberated view of modern ‘femme fatale’ – I personally didn’t find such resonance in Balan’s character as she cut across like a vengeful chick. This isn’t as unbridled and kitsch as Sharon Stone of The Specialist(!) so to speak, a lot more nuanced character Balan’s Krishna. It’s a far improved version of Double Jeopardy in this regard, and also in handling ‘Faked death’ episode and holding onto the mystery. There’s also an Indian equivalent that I can’t quite recollect right now.
Thought I’d stick to appropriate comparisons that would make Ishqiya look favorable. For instance, I can’t bring myself to (what Rangan’s review mentions) Claudia Cardinale of Once upon a time in the West :D
Above everything, I liked the idiosyncratic, less stylized (than Vishal Bharadwaj), and authentic representation of the milieu..
Here’s an excellent piece I’ve excerpted that to my mind captures the “Islam of Maqbool” well, and while I’m sympathetic to Q (and Satyam’s) issues with the film’s sub-textual implications, I tend to fall on the side the author here presents, (and airs more fluently than I’ve ever been able to) with an especially important note on the representation of Hinduism in the film as well. One must not forget that the first image of the film’s central character (notably in prayer with the skull cap on) is superimposed by a Jyotisa chart.
“Here the sense of alienness is represented by an intense attachment to Islam amongst the film’s main characters. These gangsters don’t just have Muslim names and say “Salaam” and “Khuda Hafiz” every so often (the usual Hindi film convention); they are very Muslim. They wear skullcaps, many have full beards, prayer beads, and they go heavy on the Urdu vocabulary. At some points, Bhardwaj even has his gangsters on the floor praying! In my view it’s not especially offensive to Islam, since he treats it with respect. But it is kind of surreal.
Interestingly, the “witches” (played by the legendary character actors Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri) are male Hindu cops in the employ of Abbaji. The prediction that Maqbool will succeed Abbaji comes from astrological predictions made by Om Puri’s “Pandit.”
I do find the Hindi film industry’s obsession with the Muslim-dominated Bombay underworld generally offensive — a nuisance rather than a reason to get up and leave the theater. The representation of Islam usually remains at a very general level, perhaps out of an awareness that more specific references would in fact cause problems. Most films aren’t especially serious about religion one way or the other.
Here the image of Islam is so detailed, so over the top really, that I have to read Bhardwaj as trying to be serious. It’s either more offensive, or not offensive at all(Islam is something essential to the story). Moreover, the casting of a Pandit in the role of Shakespeare’s witches (though you only see the connection if you know Shakespeare’s play) balances the equation a bit. For Bhardwaj, Hindu astrology is akin to witchcraft; Islam is the normative belief-system.”
On reading his thoughts on Islam and this film I felt as if I’d finally “found” the ideas that have been puttering around in my head in fragments and that I’d never been able to “locate.” From the beginning of my discussions with you and Q on these matters I’ve never been able to reconcile what to my mind were very, very valid criticisms from you guys to what was otherwise a brilliantly atmospheric and ultimately haunting Hindi film from the past decade’s cinema.
This piece doesn’t necessarily counter or invalidate anything, but it bridges the gap, that above schism I’ve described and for that I’m indebted to it.
The very final point the author makes is that Maqbool ultimately feels more like a horror film than a gangster movie. I endorse that sense of course. The Varma influence on visuals is perhaps key there.
Yes GF — not sure what I make of this yet, I’ll have to mull it over further, but it is definitely a powerful point, and forces me to, if not re-think my objections, at least re-visit the film to do justice to it…
As always in these matters I try and introduce Desai’s example. His minorities are caricatures in certain ways and also reinforce certain stereotypes about the body politic (the majority figure as ‘serious’, ‘responsible’ to the minority’s ‘let’s party all day and all night’ attitude) but for all this there is something aspirational about these types as well. Would one rather be Amar or Akbar/Anthony?! They seem to be having more fun of course (!) but Desai also presents them in more ‘universal’ terms than his majority figure(s). It’s not just that Desai privileges the mark of the ‘minority’ but he also goes further and locates this as the site at which the true nationalist (which is to say Nehruvian) dream can be staked. His minorities are ‘better’ because they represent the ‘universal’ far more than his majorities. This does not really contradict Desai’s otherwise simplistic markers of religious identity which I have just defined as ‘caricatures’ in their own way. and this because in Desai’s ideal India everyone’s a religious or ethnic or economic (or what have you…) minority. The ‘religious’ minority is just the stand-in for the minority as such! Hence the audience is always on Akbar or Anthony’s side irrespective of their own religious background.
Now Maqbool. Here, following Amardeep Singh, it is true that you have a somewhat detailed Muslim universe but what Bhardwaj catalogs (and Singh misses) is precisely the history of Muslim representations in Hindi cinema! Now in a different sort of film this would be part of the point but I don’t honestly see such hints in the narrative. Singh is right to suggest that there are Hindu witches here but in the context of this religious fault-line they appear somewhat benign. Ultimately isn’t it really the case that Bhardwaj opposed one bourgeois religious order to another and while one might not prefer the witches to the Muslims of this world the former’s mode of religiosity comes across as more ‘normal’/’normative’ (specially in the age of TV serials which depict the very same all the time and more) whereas the latter’s space is one massive ghetto where all uncomplimentary stereotypes are confirmed (note how Desai makes even polygamy a lovable institution!). and again I don’t see the Leone-like gesture (Once Upon a Time in the West..) where very consciously a certain history of Muslims in Bombay cinema is being ‘archived’. But the choice of gangsters for the characters is also problematic because this of course is precisely the dominant minority type that emerged in the 90s. In other words the stereotypes of the minority can finally be ‘collected’ in the world of the gangster. This kind of ‘criminality’ almost represents a certain truth of that history! In a parallel move I said something similar the other day about OUATIM (the idea that 70s cinema could only be retrieved in this sort of problematic formulation).
The Desai example is a useful one as always even if it doesn’t quite sit right with me to use the populist cinema framework to contrast the ambitions of what is a very different type of film. Not that the size of films should preclude comparative analysis, of course.
“while one might not prefer the witches to the Muslims of this world the former’s mode of religiosity comes across as more ‘normal’/’normative’ (specially in the age of TV serials which depict the very same all the time and more) whereas the latter’s space is one massive ghetto where all uncomplimentary stereotypes are confirmed (note how Desai makes even polygamy a lovable institution!). and again I don’t see the Leone-like gesture (Once Upon a Time in the West..) where very consciously a certain history of Muslims in Bombay cinema is being ‘archived’. ”
To be fair, both ends of the religious spectrum here carries certain perversions.
I mostly disagree all around here, but that just brings us back to the central dissonance in our viewings of the film. This film is very conscious of the histories of the genres it embraces. I can’t refute that there is a problematic aspect to all of what you describe but to mind the level of detail and above all the care with which each character even within this stereotypical universe represented here is given a distinctive personality suggests more to me here than the view that the Islam-on-film reaffirms certain negative stereotypes.
Kudos to Q for countering what to my mind is purely an anti Hindu and anti Hindustan piece.
If a piece like this had been written about Muslims at IBOS or somewhere else, members of this blog would have been piling over each other to denounce them and this space would have been filled with- What Rubbish/ Bakwaas/ how dare you types of comments.
This dual standard is what really pisses me off , we just look the other way if some Roti-Chapatee’s one point agenda is to show Hindustan in a bad light.
What do these people want from the Hindus – Bhaiyya aap logo ne bahut Ahsaaan kiya kee aap log yahan ruk gaye, ab aao hum par raaj karo.
secretly these guys want the mughal samrajya back in Hindustaan.
meanwhile no word about how where in majority these vey people treat the minorities every where in the world.
Yeh chapatee jaise log bus rotey rahenge zindagi bhar.
“Tehseen Baweja” left the following comment on my blog: “A very good example of bollywood’s cinematic brilliance can be seen in a largely-unknown movie “Ek Ruka Hoa Faisla” which is obviously a remake of Henry Fonda’s “Twelve Angry Men”, but still the acting from Pankaj Kapoor and Annu Kapoor is extra ordinary. Not a main stream movie though, sadly!”
Has anyone seen this film? I’m embarrassed to say I had not heard of it.
Yes, directed by Sudhir Mishra or his late brother. There was another film based on the same theme called ‘Yeh Woh Manzil Toh Nahin’, also directed by Mishra. And I believe the third part of the trilogy was Hazaron Khwaishen Aisi.
All 3 films are thematically linked together and explore the schism between ‘idealism’ and ‘pragmatism’. In other words, the sadness associated with compromises.
Ek Ruka Hua Faisla was directed by Basu Chatterjee. I haven’t seen the film, but as Tehseen says, it’s a straight adaptation (Indianized pretty well I hear) of 12 Angry Men. I don’t think this film has any thematic similarity to either of the two Sudhir Mishra films.
Ek Ruka Hua Faisla is quite brilliant. It is obviously a remake of 12 Angry Men, but it has magnificent touches of Indianness to it. Do note that it is a low budget NFDC funded film and therefore, the production values are quite lacking.
I would also recommend the Russian remake of the film titled ’12’ released circa 2009.
‘Yeh Woh Manzil Toh Nahin’ starred Manohar Singh, Pankaj Kapur, Habib Tanvir et al. Superb film that is really hard to find. The film had a version of Ghalib’s Hazaroan Khwaishein sung many times during the course of the film.
Speaking of the Muslim underworld, how could we forget the Saeed Mirza directed classic ‘Salim Langde pe mat ro’. Terrific film.
Just browsed through the list of NA winners — there’s no award for Pawan Malhotra listed. Even more surprising is his omission for Black Friday!
But Nana Patekar won for Agnisakshi(!) and Krantiveer! Arjun Rampal for Rock On; Saif for ‘Hum Tum’, Priyanka/Kangana for Fashion; Karisma for DTPH (seriously WTF!); Raveena for Daman and Anil Kapoor for Pukar!
You have to think whether it’s the National Awards or the National Lampoon’s awards..
Lal not winning for Iruvar the year that two Malayalis drew a tie for best actor is incredibly ironic. It’s possible that as Kamal won the year before they didn’t want to award a Tamil performance again.
IAMTHAT: the Indian team’s unofficial-yet-real quota system is, as far as I know, pretty much a thing of the past; I don’t think you can say that in the present day they try to achieve regional balance — and in fact there has been no such regional balance for most of the last two decades.
I saw Ishqiya again and I have to say this really is a excellent little film. Completely entertaining and it’s not without something to say on things like crime, sex, and the march of a “revolution” over personal/domestic desires. Probably my favorite Hindi film of the year after Raavan.