Saturday, January 11, 2014

Dedh Ishqiya  

Guns  & Ghazals

This is a new one... watching a film in a moviehall with no other female in sight; then the film turns out to have sub-titles, because regular Hindi speaking audiences would not follow the heavy Urdu dialogue. For those who can’t follow Urdu and can’t read English, Dedh Ishqiya would be a problem.

Abhishek Chaubey who created the clever but ill-fated uncle-nephew duo of petty conmen in Ishqiya, now cleans them up and throws then into a bastion of the past—a crumbling haveli in an erstwhile Nawabi jaagir,where women of noble lineage can still be wooed with poetry. There’s old style tehzeeb and ada, the game of gentle flirtation and keeping up royal pretences even after the coffers are empty.

A swaggering politician, brandishing style without elegance, trying to buy nobility, which, a real nawab smirks, is either in the DNA, or could perhaps be acquired in Italy (the barb is not lost.) These concerns about curdling blue blood, a dying culture and language are perhaps passé and work only because of the humour (often coarse) and the energy Babban (Arshad Warsi) and his Khalu (Naseeruddin Shah) bring to the thin, languidly unfolding plot set in a world of ghazals playing on gramophones. (Yeh jo hum mein tum mein qaraar tha can still wrench the soul.)

The uncle Iftikhaar leaves Babban at the mercy of a gangster who wants to cut off his head or his “little one” (as the subtitles put it), and lets him off because “if there is no Joker, Batman will have to sit at home kneading dough.”

Babban follows Khalu’s trail to Mahmudabad, where Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit) is holding a mushaira, to select a husband, according to the wishes of her dead husband. In the running are the politician Jaan Mohammad (Vijay Raaz) and Khalu, wearing rented sherwanis and pretending to be a nawab. This time round, Babban has his own love interest, Para’s sharp-tongued companion Muniya (Huma Qureshi).

The battle is fought as much with words as with guns and goons—in a hilarious standoff between the two sides the men hold their aggressive postures all night, till their bladders threaten to burst.

Interestingly, only Jaan Mohammad and Muniya belong to today’s world—practical enough to get what they want, one with his money, the other with her feminine charm. Don’t confuse love and sex, she tells the befuddled Babban, who thought professing his love gave him some kind of power over Muniya.

When Shah and Warsi are in the frame together, sparks fly, but Madhuri Dixit brings nothing much to the screen except a strained grace that makes her look as if she were holding her breath for too long. The film is enjoyable in parts, but the pace is slow and the twist corny, still, there is part three written in.


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