Friday, January 29, 2010


A firebomb of a film, Ishqiya dares to take the viewers through one of the most dangerous places on this earth: the Hindi heartland of eastern Uttar Pradesh, where prospective goons are nurtured, the international arms trade occurs with as much no fuss as onions in other parts, caste wars rage and every single child knows the A to Z of a gun and dreams of an automatic, and where even the passion of love is consumed with the desire of power, to play a game with lives. Till love revenges itself.

What can you say about a film whose only most glaring fault is the distinct dichotomy in pace pre- and post-interval; the languid harpy atmosphere interspersed with two robbers falling in lust and love for a woman who doesn't care for them and the antics of their survival, sharp snapped against the sudden pick-up of tempo as a story hidden resurfaces in all its horror, and the India-Nepal border doesn't simply remain a safe haven to cross for the two on the run, but also a bristling source of the Maoist terrorism existing across a vast swathe of India, sourced through Nepal, funded by ? no the film does not go so far, as first and foremost this is a Vidya Balan film.

The brilliant actress she showed herself to be in her very debut (Parineeta), she has hardly managed to find more such roles; in years and years of film-watching from the world over, I don't think I have ever met such a whole-heartedly strong woman character, as constructed by debutant director Abhishek Chaubey with Vishal Bhardwaj here. It is curious that apart from the swear words, her language is the civilized Hindi; and yet it only adds another twinge of curiosity about her past, her likely upbringing, as does everything else about her. On apparent looking, a beautiful widow; the complex layers emerge and fascinate soon; on retrospect, a beautiful woman with a will to live, with the joy to be able to love and live. It is a fortune to find that the rest of the cast is as creamed into their niches as if they were taken deliberately out from them and placed here: Arshad Warsi, with his open-mouthed stupid seeming looks and murderous darting eyes at any girl and a ready wit when occasion needs, gives in an unexpected good acting performance; Naseeruddin Shah is the run-down elegance personified, a man who has still hankerings left after what he thinks as his alter ego; Alok Kumar the unwitting boy to set the climax on fire; and Adil Hussain the power-hungry man obsessed with his ideals and bloodlust. The selection of previous Hindi film songs played at various times in the movie is a pointer to the excellence of the film: their relation or unrelation in the right degree to the scene unfolding, the characters unfolding, and the complexion of the Hindi heartland unfolding; for where can you move in Uttar Pradesh without hearing songs playing from radios and tape recorders and CD players and MP3 players and iPods?

Ishqiya also catapults the vibrancy of Indian cinema to the very fore: while Hollywood clutters itself with fake characters and parodies of world-saving farces, with mindless comedies and mind-numbing action films, while Europe sticks to the fare of depressing, dysfunctional tales or low-key warm tales of 'ordinary' lives, which maybe it tries to project as more ordinary than they are, the Hindi cinema does not remain to any one stand. It tells stories: not formulas. It mixes ordinary people with extraordinary events, it believes in people with a frenzied warmth and in the potential to discover dramas in lives; it's not a coincidence that on the same day as Ishqiya releases, another film diametrically opposite, Rann, based on the ugly sides of the media industry, also releases, and makes another impression of the breadth of the Hindi filmscape.

Ishqiya, another Vishal Bhardwaj film, another explosive and beautiful combination. Vishal's screenplay, music, and dialogues, and Gulzar's lyrics - who can better the combination? Maybe Chaubey's, and not Vishal's, direction: it infuses a yelp of young energy throughout the film even though none of the characters, even those on the sidelines, in the film is in any way young.

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