Vishal Bharadwaj brought The Bard into this milieu. And now, here’s his protege Abhishek Chaubey with some film noir. The ingredients are all there — criminals, a femme fatale, a dog-eat-dog world, betrayals, a tenuous code of honour…
Except, it isn’t quite film noir. At a crucial point in the story, one character is revealed to have a secret portion in his life. The revelation is important to the plot. But how it is handled has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. Something this delightfully quirky has no place in film noir, you think. Not that this is a problem.
The genius of that scene is one of the reasons why Ishqiya ranks among the most entertaining movies I have seen in recent times. I am tempted to reveal more about it, but no, you must discover it for yourself.
In an age where production houses and actors, not to mention news-starved channels, spend untold millions advertising how much effort went into getting six-pack abs, and how costume designers spent quality time in Chandni Chowk and China trying to find the right “look” for the characters, here’s a bunch of guys who seem to spend the better part of their time writing a good script and getting a bunch of actors to bring it to life. Take a bow, Abhishek, Vishal and Sabrina (Dhawan).
I could talk about the plot, but like all good stories in that genre, it is less about what happens and more about how a couple of small time crooks on the run find themselves adrift in a world where nothing is what it seems and nobody is to be trusted. Least of all Krishna, the woman they both fall for. That they are uncle and nephew ought to make things awkward, and it does. But the bigger problem is that love really isn’t their forte. When Rahat Fateh Ali Khan sings Dar lagta hai ishq karne mein ji (the pick of an absolutely fantastic album), you realize that it applies not just to the older man (Iss umr mein ab khaaoge dhokhe?) but to the younger one as well.
Yesterday, a friend of mine asked me if Arshad Warsi was up to scratch in this movie. And I realized that, in recent years, not once has the man really disappointed me. He gets more than his fair share of funny lines, but manages to hold his own in the serious scenes as well.
As for Naseer, I’ve noticed that there is something different about him when he’s essaying a really good role. You can almost visibly see him relax. Watch him in this one and A Wednesday, then go watch, say Krrish. It’s the same with Om Puri. I guess you do what you have to do to earn your keep, and hope that Vishal Bharadwaj and his ilk will help you keep your soul alive.
Twisting them up into knots is Vidya Balan in what I can only describe as a surprising performance. Like Amrita says in her review, the key difference is that she doesn’t pass off scowling as acting. There are moments when I almost cringed in anticipation of how she would interpret the scene, and she surprised me at every turn with her restraint. This is the actress we hoped she would become after Parineeta, before she cashed out that goodwill cheque in Heyy Babyy.
Around them is a supporting cast that is as talented as it is unknown (to me, anyway). The pick of the lot is Salman Shahid who plays Mushtaq, the gangster whose clutches our intrepid duo try to escape for most of the movie. Entertaining as he is for every second he is on screen, it is right at the end that he utters a single line that makes him unforgettable.
And now to the ending. Lately, I seem to be falling in love with endings that don’t tie everything up into neat little knots. First Aayirathil Oruvan, now Ishqiya. Don’t ask me why. The best reason I can come up with is that, when I enjoy the company of a set of characters, I don’t want their story to end.
ps: Did she actually say chutium sulphate? There hasn’t been a better use of chemistry in the movies since Srikanth burnt up a loan agreement with white phophorus in Kanaa Kandein.
pps: When I first heard of the movie, I wondered if it was going to channel Bandits or Butch Cassify and the Sundance Kid. Thankfully, it does neither. But there were a couple of moments, both involving Naseer and Vidya, that seemed to obliquely reference both movies. One involved the two of them singing, and the other involved them riding a bicycle. Too tenuous?