Daant Se Reshmi Dor Kat-ti Nahin,
Umr Kabki Baras Ke Safaid Ho Gayi
Kari Badri Jawani Ki Chatti Nahi
Man Lage Dhadkan Bhadne Lagi Hai
Chehre Ki Rangat Udne Lagi Hai
Dar Lagta Hai Tanha Sone Main Ji,
Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji…”
I think these lines (written by the amazing Gulzar) pretty much sum up the entire idea of “Ishqiya”. Those who have seen the movie will probably understand why I say this. As the movie clearly demonstrates, love is messy. Sex is messier. This is especially true when it involves two crooks on the run in Uttar Pradesh (Arshad Warsi and Naseerudin Shah) and an enigmatic widow (Vidya Balan) who knows more than she lets on.
Abhishek Chaubey takes a leaf out of Vishal Bharadwaj’s book in making a movie like “Ishqiya”: daring, bold and powerful. This is by far the most gripping Hindi movie I have seen in many years. Not once does it let your attention waiver. In terms of the story, “Ishqiya” is sharp, intelligent and very funny. Every 10 minutes there is a new twist that forces you to stand up and take notice. It is so spontaneous and fresh that the two hours pass by faster than you realise. It grabs you by the balls and takes you on a merry-go-round trip in the U.P. hinterlands which is striking in its resemblance to the wild West. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that Ishqiya breaks new ground finding a story that will appeal to the populace in the interiors told with a visual style and technique that will sell it well to the urban populace as well. Chaubey really understands rural U.P. and its lawlessness which is clear in his depiction of the same. His contextualization of the story carries the same appeal as Kashyap's "Gulaal". It just enriches the story so much more! The dialogues (penned by Bharadwaj himself) are laced with acid. The movie has some of the most memorable dialogues in recent years. They take you by surprise in a lot of places.
Coming to the characters (and the actors who bring them to life), “Ishqiya” boasts of highly colourful and interesting characters who never cease to amaze. Naseerudin Shah and Arshad Warsi take on the roles of Iftikaar aka Khaalujaan and Babban, two crooks with no morals who steal from their boss and set out on a cross-country run to save their asses. On reaching Gorakhpur, they meet Krishna (Vidya Balan) a recently widowed woman whose husband they knew earlier. Their boss Jijaji (Salman Shahid) catches up with them and asks them to repay the money they stole. However, the money they stole goes missing and together with Krishna, they have a month to cough up the money or get buried six feet under.
What starts out as a conventional heist quickly spirals into a much more complicated situation. There is strong sexual tension between both, Khaalu and Krishna on one hand and Babban and Krishna on the other. As they embark on the plan to recover the money together, there are twists, turns and startling revelations that puts loyalties to test and proves that love makes people do crazy things.
It is heartening to see two actors earn their long-overdue credit, especially when they overshadow a veteran in doing so. Naseeruddin Shah is as always, superb as Khaalu. He is funny, sharp and absolutely lovable as a man in love. However, he is eclipsed by the powerhouse performances of Arshad Warsi and Vidya Balan. Arshad Warsi is tremendous as Babban, the overgrown horny child with no morals. He is uncouth, crass, foulmouthed, street smart and yet, very likable. He finds the balance between the humorous and dark shades of his character with unmatchable finesse. In fact, it is impossible to imagine any other actor pulling off Babban as he does. He has no morals but yet, his camaraderie with Khaalu is the stuff that movie legends are made of. The coordination and synchronisation between the actions of the two actors as the crooks is simply delightful to watch.
However, in my humble opinion, this movie belongs to Vidya Balan. In “Ishqiya” she proved that she is perhaps the boldest mainstream actress since Tabu. She sheds any and all inhibitions for the role and gives the performance of a lifetime. As Krishna, she is raw, powerful and always in control. She oozes sex appeal and puts up a brilliant act when she is flirting with both the characters. Simply the frame of her standing by the door in a red, yellow and green sari with that look on her face cuts an imposing image. There is a depth to her character which you know just by looking at her. She is perfectly cast for the role, one which only Tabu could have done ten years ago. It is simply a delight to watch her grow as an actor in another career-defining role (after “Parineeta”). She is the man in this movie and carries the film on her able shoulders along with Arshad Warsi.
As far as the technique is concerned, the cinematography deserves special mention. The costumes and art work are also superb in their use of colour while maintaining an authentic look throughout. Each frame of film is gorgeous to look at. The background score is brilliant and helps set the tone for several scenes. The music by Vishal Bharadwaj is as always, excellent. It mixes Arab, Sufi, Hindustani together to create a sound that is distinct, unique and yet, reminds you of some of the music of 50s Bollywood. However, what really got me were the lyrics penned by Gulzar who is, in my opinion, the best lyricist Hindi cinema has ever seen. Light, beautiful, mischievous and yet mature, he captures the entire film’s essence in those eight lines I started out with. “Dil Toh Bachcha Hai” is simply the best lyrics that Gulzar has written since “Paani Paani Re” in Maachis 14 years ago. The hesitance, love, fears and insecurities of a man falling irrevocably in love have never been and perhaps, will never be put better in words. In “Ibn-e-Batuta” he gives us an adult version of “Lakdi Ki Kaathi”. In “Ab Mujhe Koi” he puts the longings of a woman beautifully in words and with Rekha Bharadwaj singing it, the song is simply magical. Each song is well placed and the picturisation of “Dil Toh Bachcha Hai” is absolutely amazing.
In “Ishqiya” we see the “Dev D” of 2010. Only, it’s better. Tighter and edgier, it pushes the boundaries of Indian cinema further. In fact, the most heartening thing is the fact that the Censor Board approved it without making any cuts, a most remarkable development in Hindi cinema. The film marks the coming of another talented storyteller in Abhishek Chaubey. It is also an excellent start to a new decade and one which I think I will be writing about even 10 years later as one of the decade’s best. Watching “Ishqiya” reminded me that there is a fine distinction which must be made between class and crass cinema. As a setting, “Ishqiya” is as crass as it gets. However, as cinema, it has as much class as the best of the best, in Bollywood and elsewhere.