Film Review: Ishqiya
Starring: Naseeruddin Shah, Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
There is a cliché about how some filmmakers get so consumed with getting the look of their film right, working towards that perfect camera angle and shot, that many a times the soul of their film is lost. Vishal Bharadwaj, for some time now, has been the torch-bearer for filmmakers aiming to please an audience with their fine story-telling, even as they impress with their ingenuity and craftsmanship. However, with Kaminey and now, Ishqiya - though it's Bharadwaj's assistant Abhishek Chaubey who wields the camera this time around -- one gets the sinking feeling that the filmmaker is increasingly choosing treatment and style over story. So even though Ishqiya gets everything right in terms of the look, it disappoints heavily in content.
The film - much like Omkara - is set in the turbulent, politically charged, violent interiors of Uttar Pradesh. Here, it's not uncommon to see little children running amuck with guns in their hands. But unlike Omkara, which in keeping with its story, had a dusty, parched look to it, the setting and mood in Ishqiya is more colourful and cheery. The street-side charms and local flavours are well captured, as you watch characters gorging on golas, kulfis and ragda pattice. The background music, with its use of raunchy, B-grade Bollywood numbers, creates the perfect ambiance of the disreputable world the three characters inhabit.
This is where the story begins, with a rather unconvincing marital scene between a young wife, Krishna (Vidya Balan) and her husband, a man fighting a violent, caste-war in that region. Being the leader of the gang, he is mostly busy and Krishna complains of his constant absence from home. The same night, her husband dies in a fire explosion. Krishna turns into a depressed widow. Two small-time criminals on the run - the sleazy, swaggering Babban (Arshad Warsi) and his uncle, Khalujaan (Naseer) escape their old-time enemy, and take shelter at Krishna's place. In quick time, both fall in love with her. Krishna herself is flirtatious, not entirely accepting or refusing either of them. A game of one-upmanship ensues between the two men, even as Krishna comes up with a plan to kidnap a businessman for ransom, which all finally ends with a revelation that is singularly lame.
Let's say the treatment is interesting and some individual scenes are great to watch. But good, engaging story, it is not! Like many Bharadwaj films, the dialogues, though succinct at places, are not audible enough. The motivations of the characters, particularly that of Vidya Balan, is not clear. The way the two men fall in love with her is also scarcely believable. You never really know why someone as promiscuous as Babban flips for the widow. And since this aspect never comes to the fore, you do not care much for his predicament later on. The film lacks dramatic tension throughout, and there is no great suspense created.
As for the performances, Vidya, as the mysterious widow, looks the part but never really becomes the character. One is not entirely convinced about her belonging to this world of bandits and part of the reason is her meditative, suave manner of speech. Even giving her a few expletives to mouth doesn't help the cause. Her equation with the two men is confusing all along - with her turning fiery, lusty, flirtatious by turns. This build up is not very convincing, but it's at least moderately entertaining. It's the utterly trite and filmy climax that leaves you cold. Moreover, the actor who plays Vidya's husband hams like crazy and singlehandedly ruins some key scenes.
Naseeruddin Shah underplays further an already subdued role, while Arshad Warsi plays to the gallery, and does so superbly. It is his lines and expressions that evoke the maximum laughter. And yet, you never really get a sense of the relationship these two men share.
Director Abhishek Chaubey proves his caliber in terms of creating a very lived-in, realistic setting. His style is too close to Bharadwaj for comfort, and he might need some more films to put an individual stamp to his work. Ishqiya also is too conscious of wanting to appear like a smart film, which is never a good thing.
Ultimately, Ishqiya ends up being nothing more than a series of short flings, certainly not the passionate affair one expected it to be.