DIRECTOR: Abhishek Choubey
Ishqiya gave us a couple of lovable rogues with a lilting Bhopali brogue, and a tricky leading lady in the wickedest “cheent ka blouse” and a startling line in “gaalis”. Director Abhishek Choubey’s debut film had an arresting swagger and a distinct voice, and characters — full-blooded, full-bodied — that stayed with you much after the film was over.
The sequel has the same two losers, a little worn and weathered, trying their luck in another town, and two new ladies, holding out the promise of one-and-half-times the fun. Fun it is for some time, and then it starts to slide. This one should have been a humdinger, but it falls short.
Dedh Ishqiya opens with a great mood, and a “tameezdaar, ghumaavdaar” Urdu “lehja”, which has vanished from the movies, with Naseeruddin and Arshad appearing to be in as much fine nick as in the first film. And for a while, it all goes swimmingly. The made-up town of Mahmudabad takes you back to a time when there were nawaabs, and nazaakat, and a perennial mushaaira swarming with potential poets desirous of grasping the hands of beautiful women.
It’s got crackling atmosphere, this town in which our Khaalu (Naseer) and Babban (Warsi) arrive, both as usual on the run. The centre of action is in a ramshackle haveli whose run-downness hints at how grand it used to be, especially now that its resident, the still-lovely, gracefully ageing Begum Para (Dixit), has decided to choose a partner. Khaalu, all done up in a rented sherwani wants to be that man, and not only because he sees Begum Para as his meal ticket, but also because there is history between them.
Nothing is simple, though, as twisted feelings simmer below the surface. The Begum’s constant companion, the much younger Muniyaa (Qureshi) is busy plotting a kidnapping, and keeping the lusty Babban at bay. But the real competition comes from a love-lorn Jaan Mohammad (Raaz), who has deep feelings for the Begum. The second half dips, and it all becomes a bit too languid, even if things rev up towards the end.
There is much to be liked in the film, and I wish all of it had been as good as the scintillating bits. The trouble is not just with the pace. Some of the lines, terrific as they are, seem to be added in, just so that the characters can revel in their own perfect Urdu delivery. And the ladies are a problem. Neither Madhuri Dixit nor Huma Qureshi bring what it needs to be just right for this film: the former is still a dancer non pareil, and her pirouettes are pure poetry, but both her director and she get stuck in making her look lovely, and it doesn’t help that her zubaan doesn’t match the milieu.
There’s a bit of mythologising going on as well: here’s the beautiful Madhuri, behold her. Qureshi, surprisingly, is also not as effective as she can be, nor is their little sub-story made as incendiary as it could have. In their company, Naseer and Arshad lose their edge, which they display with such ease when they share the screen on their own.
I soaked up all the lambent light, the shayari and a couple of the songs like a desert does rain: it has been a while since a Bollywood movie sounded so good. But I also missed some of the robustness and the spikiness of the original. The one who had my attention right through was Vijay Raaz, who was last so good in Raghu Romeo: as a local neta and unpolished man of means, paying ardent suit to Begum Para, he is marvelous.
Dedh Ishqiya has its high points, but it isn’t a stayer. Next time I want dhai all the way.