The dusty dilapidated roads of UP, the well-lined faces of the people-who-will-do-great-things, the realistic gaana-bajana, and the oh-so-sharply-apt dialogues; now where I have seen this before? Yes, of course I have stumbled across, or more precisely into, a theater screening a Vishal Bharadwaj film. He is actually the producer here, but the film bears his touches nonetheless.
I greatly anticipated Ishqiya, but post-movie I can see why it's losing out on the mass market. I still cannot fathom why Rann of all films is taking it to the cleaners, but some mysteries just are. Moving on with the film at hand though, Ishqiya stars three of my favorite actors - Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi and Vidya Balan. Shah and Warsi are small-time con artists. They are also uncle-nephew - Shah the greying Khalu-jaan and Warsi the energetic Babban. We meet the duo on the run from another con-man, from whom they have stolen a large amount of money. The man conned is understandably angry, and follows them around, with his gang and his ever-ringing cell-phone in tow.
Short on friends, Khalu-jaan and Babban land up in Gorakhpur, assuming that they will find asylum with a former acquaintance Verma-ji, and be able to lie low in the backwaters of eastern UP. However they discover that Vermaji has left for his heavenly abode, and the welcoming party consists solely of his rather comely widow Krishna (Balan). Krishna takes them in. All should have been well, but romance blooms and the loot goes missing. Love and lucre never did mix.
Ishqiya is that genre of film where the story unfolds slowly and we are never quite sure of the motives that drive its characters to perfidy and damnation. Debut director Chaubey does his job well; he weaves a multi-textured tale, which has romance, crime, drama and betrayal. The film is full of detailed flourishes - the kohl in Babban's eyes, the touch of UP-ite vernacular, that realistic small-time-criminal jargon - all building ambience very well.
The three leading actors do very well for themselves; each one impeccable, from the fallible Khalu-jaan, to the soft-hearted thug Babban, to the wily widow Krishna. The setting is great - where else but in the dark, unkempt villages of UP, where hand-made pistols come aplenty, and thugs abound, could one situate a crime drama? The film has a great cast, and melodious music. Still, it falters...
Bharadwaj's previous productions have always been strong on story. Whether it be Omkara or Maqbool, his crime dramas have always sizzled with passion, a passion which springs from strong, simple motivations. In Ishqiya however, Bharadwaj, who was one of the story-writers, cobbles together a convoluted climax. Although the film starts off strong, and takes off once we are privy to Krishna's rather ambiguous loyalties, it falters post-interval with some very shaky twists in the storyline.
Moreover Ishqiya's protagonists never quite come into their own. Babban and Khalu-jaan, as subtly detailed as they were, could have been developed into characters who would have filled every deserted, dark corner of the film with feisty angst. Instead they appear almost diminutive in their passion, never quite rising up to grab our complete attention. Another thing I found lacking was a strong background score, something which probably contributed to the muted emotions in the film.
All-in-all, as good as it was, Ishqiya lacked the oomph, the punch, the energy required to make me give this a higher rating.