An Jo on Dedh Ishqiya
Imagination runs riot in these bad-lands of Uttar Pradesh married to Guy Ritchie’s get-rich-quick characters and characteristics of SNATCH or LOCK, STOCK, and 2 SMOKING BARRELS. And a very unpredictable orgy this is; of thievery, trickery, and poetry! It makes for a strange but appetizing dish. It takes some fertile imagination and fine cinematic vision to dove-tail the rustic emotions of ruffians into the palatial secrets of nawabs and begums and yet come out trumps, albeit with some creases.
Retaining the lovable rogue-duo of Babban (Arshad) and Khalujaan (Naseer), director Abhishek Chaubey makes us privy to another (mis)adventure of these two; this time in the old-world of ‘Nawab-giri’. A widowed Begum holds an annual contest measuring various skills of suitors – from Urdu poetry to sharp-shooting – to fulfill her husband’s wish of her re-marriage to a person wealthy of ‘tehzeeb’ and ‘shaayari’ first and then if necessary, wealth. Into this party lands Khalujaan with the moniker of ‘Ifthekaar’ followed by Babban the ‘butler’. And then there is Vijay Raaz’s Jaan Mohammad who is hell-bent on making people bow to him with ‘adab’ and not fear – so what if it means catching a flight to Italy to alter his NDA (his version of ‘DNA’) alive! What then follows is a tale of quirkiness that subsequently reveals the tribulations, motives, and escapades of all involved, be they royalty or non-royalty.
As Begum Para, Madhuri Dixit stunningly conveys the frailty and beauty of royalty, though erst-while, with sublime grace. Her introduction is marvelously in-sync with the ‘elevated’ heights of her characterization. While all other characters get introduced full-on with little surprise or enigma (with the exception of Arshad’s Babban), it is Madhuri’s Begum Para that has a closing-in shot that travels right from the outsides of the haveli to the environs of her room with the camera progressively moving-in from behind and caressing her face from the sides: And then the introduction of her assistant-cum-partner-cum-friend (Huma Qureishi) merely as a device to introduce to us and the gathered shaayars the ‘royalty.’ The hall-mark of a fine artiste is what he or she conveys in some short ‘passages’ rather than in long, expository shots. In a scene when Naseer’s Ifthekaar tries to bring her back to her glory days, merely with the help of her eyes, Madhuri conveys the pain, shock, mental and physical reluctance to get herself out of the current rut. Her physical twitching and her mental agonizing are finely in-tune; neither under-playing nor resorting to the theatrical.
Khalujaan has aged gracefully and has grayed completely not bothering to color his hair or beard unlike in ‘Ishqiya’. This time, he goes looking for love, moolah, and peace with his physical self as-is; after ‘transforming’ himself into a romantic poet. Naseer is in great from and remarkably conveys the dual core of his character’s basal instinct of searching and succumbing to get-rich-quick schemes while still yearning for the finer aspects of life like love, music, and the arts! Arshad’s Babban is still the old, lustful, whore-mongering rogue, who gets confused about the difference between truth and a lie when he says,’ I didn’t lie; I merely didn’t tell you the truth.’ Truly, the body in his blood flows more to his loins than to his brain cells. He is wonderful with his fine comic timing. Vijay Raaz plays a fake nawab but a true politician with wondrous dexterity. This is a wonderful act and he really bolsters up his repertoire with such roles. As the Italy-connected ‘Italvi’, Manoj Pahwa is superb though he is relegated to a chair most of his movie-time. This is one of the strong-points of this movie. It is written so quirkily with such quirkier characters that even a dry-cleaner, a tailor, a hakim, and a SP named John Vijay (the one character that appears to be from a completely outside world what with his Tamil-accented English) leave their impact irrespective of their screen-times. Huma plays Muniya with the requisite amount of spunk and irresistibly sprinkles her act with lust.
Madhuri’s dance to JAGAVE SAARI RAINA and HAMARI ATTARIYA are a treat; especially the former. JAGAVE SAARI RAIN, ZABAAN JALE HAI, DIL KA MIJAAZ are pick of the lot. The cinematography conveys aptly the ‘aura’ of the haveli and conversely the ruggedness of the dry bad-lands; all in natural hues.
Coming to the main leit-motif, if one may call it so, is the wonderful usage of the beautiful language of Urdu. Indeed, this is MAJORLY an Urdu film. (It seems the prints in India have literal translations of the language; unfortunately this seems to be lost in the US prints because of the ‘unofficial’ translation which is bad to put it politely.) Dr. Bashir Badr’s nazms are used here and they are a treat to the soul. Urdu is used here in couplets, in dialogues, and in the lyrics. That Gulzar is in top form here is saying the least. He has the audacity to write ‘HORK OK PLEASE’ and the sensitivity to write ‘JAGAAVE SAARI RAINA’ with such efficiency that it baffles us. Of course, Babban has his own brand of poetry, a priceless one after Muniya aggressively makes out with him: Life mein peheli baar Samajh mein nahin aa raha hain ki mein leke aa raha hoon ya deke!
Here’s a sample of Gulzar’s wonderful metaphors – of likening of the situation of a man in love to that of twilight..
Hamaari haalat pe kitta rove hai – How deep is the tearful cry
aasman bhi tu dekh leeyo – of the sky
ke surkh ho jaavein us ki aankhein- that its eyes get reddened
bhi jaise jaise ye din dhale hai – as and when the day drowns into dusk via twilight..
-\- of the entwinement of lovers -/-
Udte guzarte jo dariya ne dekha.. – As the river ebbed and flowed
Paani pe parchhayi sehla ke dekha.. – its waters felt its own shadow
katra ke ab hum se kya hoga.. – and mockingly, playfully reminded the shadow of the futility of attempts at separation
It does seem the film slackens the pace a bit during its almost 150 minutes running time-span but there is so much to be absorbed in the meat of the script that one can gladly forgive this minor ‘flaw.’ Also, the shoot-outs/action scenes are quite poorly done with bullets hitting everyone but killing no one. Though Naseer’s character talks of the 7 stages of love (dilkashi – attraction, uns – attachment, mohabbat – love, akidat – trust, ibadat – worship, junoon – obsession, maut – death) the characters’ states-of-mind do not seem t convey so. It seems some stages get skipped! Chaubey however displays fine hold on the milieu and the proceedings and is quite wonderful in his visualization of many scenes. He shoots the ZABAAN JALE HAI song with Naseer reciting it at the mushaira without any background music and the effect is superb. Wish he had done away with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice here and simply gone ahead with Naseer’s. The effect would have been two-fold. He conveys his homage to Ismat Chugtai in what is a superb, remarkably shot silhouette that forms the crux or ‘maqta’ if you will for this movie in totality. And this is a damn bold statement or shot for a commercial Hindi film.
It is rare for such films to get made in the Bombay Hi-fi of today; those that do not bow to the crore-diktats currently running wild in this supposedly ‘art-first’ industry. This is a fine marriage of words and the visuals. Not everybody will go ‘muqarrar irshaad’ on this film but for those who are interested, go for it.