I'm sure by now everyone who follows the Hindi film industry has at least heard of Ishqiya. Produced by Vishal Bhardwaj, who after Kaminey can do no wrong around B-town (or at least in the filmi suburbs), and directed by newcomer Abhishek Chaubey, the success of Ishqiya has been a cheery reminder of the joy and excitement a film can generate - joy and excitement being rare commodities in an industry besieged by well funded and highly hyped flops. Ishqiya, on the other hand, was highly hyped and anticipated by me for one reason alone: Arshad Warsi.
Now, those of you who have been reading me for a while know that I wasn’t too impressed with Kaminey. While the performances were good - especially Shahid Kapoor - and the scene composition excellent, it didn’t have three important Filmi Girl Filmi Necessities: strong female characters, good use of music, and (most importantly) squishy masala dil. So, I admit, yes, that I went from being excited about Ishqiya to being kind of worried. My expectations were so high that surely it could never live up to them, right?!
Wrong! My expectations were not only fully met, they were exceeded. I'm only going to say this once (oh, who am I kidding, I'll tell anyone who asks):
Ishqiya is a rip-roaring update on the classic filmi heist and hijinx genre.
(If done 30 years ago, no doubt it would have been Amitabh Bachchan, Pran, and Saira Banu starring.)
For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I won’t give too much away. We all know that intricate plotting is an important part of the heist and hijinx genre.
The film opens with lovely Vidya Balan losing her criminal but much beloved husband in a house fire.
Enter Khalujaan (Naseer) and Babban (Arshad) the uncle and nephew who also happen to be a couple of good-for-nothing petty criminals. They get on the wrong side of their boss Mushtaq ( Kabul Express’s Salman Shahid) by making off with a suitcase full of his cash. (Gosh, some people just can't take a joke!) Conveniently, the uncle-nephew are old friends of Vidya’s criminal husband and they find their way to her house to try and hide until the heat dies down. And in the best tradition of the heist and hijinx film, events unfold in more and more complicated ways, raising the stakes, playing the characters off one another, and eventually tying the fortunes of the three leads together, much to all the characters’ chagrin.
If that was all there had been to the film, it still would have been enjoyable – the way something like 99 was – but Vishal Bharadwaj (who co-wrote the film) and Abhishek Chaubey added some wonderful character development to the story and all three actors were more than up to the challenge of the meaty roles handed to them.
When is Naseer ever not good? Sentimental Iftikaar falls in love with Krishna almost immediately and that feeling colors the rest of his interactions through the film. Iftikaar remains permanently stuck in a young adult mindset, which doesn’t match what the mirror tells him - and he hates being reminded of the fact that he's now considered an oldster.
He’s daydreamed his life away in petty schemes and plots and doesn't seem set to break the pattern now.
As Babban, Iftikaar’s carefree nephew, Arshad gets to let loose with all the sexy sensuality that he usually keeps bottled up when he plays his comedic sidekick roles. Babban is following in his uncle’s footsteps by drifting away through his life and it’s not until he meets his match in Krishna that he begins to think about changing his ways.
Vidya Balan got one of the best female roles in Hindi cinema in recent years as the widow Krishna and she knocked it out of the park. If there isn't a Filmfare Award in February 2011 for this performance, I will be... grumpy.
Although her story begins the film, Iftikaar and Babban are definitely our point of view characters. It's interesting to watch how her image changes as the two men's view of her changes. At first, she is presented through Iftikaar's eyes - the devoted widow and image of perfect Indian womanhood. It's only later when Babban begins to take an interest that the image wobbles a bit and we see passions that run under the surface of all that self-sacrifice.
But don't misunderstand! While the romantic tension between the three leads certainly plays a major role in the narrative, Krishna is much more than the romantic interest of both men. Krishna gets her own character growth and rather than the 'woman finds man to complete her life' trope, her relationship with the uncle-nephew is more of one of 'newcomer to the household upsets the balance' - Lalita Pawar and Shammi Kapoor in Professor rather than every Hollywood romantic comedy ever.
And watching Vidya play off of Arshad is a delight. He pushes at her boundaries and she pushes back.
Ishqiya is a Bollywood film through and through, which means that it features a bumping soundtrack, and despite the fact that there are no picturizations - although one is included on the DVD as a bonus feature - the music is all well intigrated without the "awkward montage" feel that so many directors seem to think is the hip thing these days. But along with the original score, I think it's worth mentioning because filmi music is all through Ishqiya in much the way a Wes Anderson film uses classic rock. Vintage songs like “Aa Jaan-e-Jaan” pop up at appropriate moments to set the mood and there is a very clever little running theme of Arshad’s character singing contemporary Bollywood songs as he gives over to his romantic feelings, while Naseer listens to classic ones. Two similar men but one is sadly past his prime - even if he doesn't quite realize it.
There isn’t much more I can say beyond this without giving away the story, except that they really don't make films like this anymore. Ishqiya is a gem.
I’ll just finish up with my conviction that Arshad Warsi has been one of Bollywood’s most underrated actors since he debuted in 1996 and I can only hope that his smouldering, kohl-eyed turn in Ishqiya opens the doors to more romantic films (especially opposite Vidya) so I can keep swooning for him as long as possible.
And I will continue to spread the Gospel of Arshad - two more reviews to go until the big day: Hum Tum aur Ghost!
Note from Filmi Girl:
I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.
If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.
xoxo Filmi Girl