Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Arshad Warsi Week: Ishqiya

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!


Anishok said...

Ishqiya is a Bollywood film through and through,

Yes! It looks, feels and tastes Bollywood, but without the annoying shortcomings. Love it and Arshad in it.

cmleigh said...

give it away.... give it away! I want to know! hahaha laughing at me I am the type of person that goes to the back of the book first and you just pulled me into the story. :D

Arshad is smoking hot and I love those smoldering looks.

never-evil said...

Awesome review. OMG loving that dori screenshot. Also you have to tell us all about that Arshad chat in some post mmmmkay?

Filmi Girl said...

@anishok Oh, so totally agree!! I'm so tired of chocolate boys who can't act - I want a man! (Like Arshad...!)

@cmleigh Heeeee! I will tell you if you really want... just e-mail me!

@never-evil I will totally tell you about the online chat!! If I had been more awake I would have thought to take screen caps... :(

I'm sure Hungama will put up a transcript or something. My fave part was Arshad smacking down this girl who kept hassling him about smoking!

ajnabi said...

Hayye Allah, what is it about guys in kohl that is SO DAMN HOT?! Plus, of course, it's Arshad, so... Whoa. This is in my top ten in my queue, and I can't wait!

Filmi Girl said...

@ajnabi I KNOW, RIGHT?! I was fanning myself the entire time... *swoon swoon*

I hope you like it!!!

Shell said...

I'm so tired of chocolate boys who can't act - I want a man!

Totally how I feel about Arshad!

I haven't seen yet, but will hopefully be picking up very soon. After all the good reviews it's been getting, I can't wait to see it!

Never Mind!! said...

Watched it this past weekend and cannot agree more with you. Also, I like how you review without giving even a hint of the plot away.

While it is true that Arshad Warsi is no SRK or Aamir in terms of star power, I think it is about time we stop and more than just take notice of him.

Filmi Girl said...

@shell I'm so glad I'm not the only one... I do love me some Ranbir and Shahid but it is sooooo refreshing to see a grown man (esp. Arshad Warsi) playing an actual... man. Not the grasping at youth man-boys who have been cluttering up my screen for far too long!

@Never Mind!! Thanks, dude! I really try not to give anything away ever since the PPCC scolded me for revealing a character death in a film review. :)

While it is true that Arshad Warsi is no SRK or Aamir in terms of star power, I think it is about time we stop and more than just take notice of him.

This is the whole reason behind the season, as they say!!

I'm so happy that everyone has been so supportive of my fangirling!

cmleigh said...

My friend got the movie today, so I will see it soon hopefully this weekend.

While I don't mind someone telling me the whole story :D I know others don't like it; so thanks for offering to tell it to me through email

Christine Menefee said...

Again, thanks for inciting me to view another movie I wouldn't have otherwise, because of your great reviewing. This one was very good, fantastic performances, nothing shoddy about it at all. This and the other good anti-Bollywood movies are reminding me a lot of the gritty Westerns and Spaghetti Westerns that came out in the Sixties as a reaction to the squeaky-clean Fifties. This one reminded me a lot of the Redford and Newman duo, especially in Butch Cassidy - you couldn't miss the nod to that movie, in the bicycle-riding scene (which was a revolutionary way to use a song, in that day's Hollywood, and much remarked-upon at the time). Kind of Butch Cassidy crossed with the grittier Fistful of Dollars. I liked Ishqiya better. A likely crossover hit with international audiences, I should think. Was it promoted that way at all?

Filmi Girl said...

@christine I definitely think this one could cross over but it was not promoted that way at all. It really bugs me that there are so many quality Hindi language films that are overlooked... and I'm not sure who to blame for that. Is it the distributers who don't try to get art house showings for films like Ishqiya in the US, Canada, UK circuit or the art house buyers who refuse to see the potential in a film like Ishqiya?

Ah... the mysteries of life...

Liz C said...

I watched and loved this last weekend. I also checked out the short "making of video", and there's some footage of Naseer, the director and some of the crew sitting around playing guitar and singing songs. They were singing "Banana Boat Song", and I thought "OMG, if they have a shot of Arshad singing a calypso song, how is that filmigirl's head didn't explode from awesomenes?" But sadly, it didn't look like Arshad was there.

honeycombveils said...

Oh how I loved it!

All the performances are wonderful, and the actors really hold back - a tribute to a strong director who knows that the characters can't go beyond a certain point or they will become cartoonish and unbelievable.
I'm convinced that Nasseruddin can do no wrong. What a brilliant actor and what a wonderful, subtle performance.
Vidya looks absolutely gorgeous and is equally subtle, and I love how unapologetic her character is - she does whatever she wants just because she wants to, no fake moralistic codes here. Why don't we see more women written like this?

Arshad is incredibly sexy in a bad-boy way, with that up-to-no-good cheshire cat grin... I vote for the mandatory kohl-rimmed eyes for every Bollywood actor. It's irresistable!

The script was so well written and even the minor characters were fun and interesting.
I think I have to see it again..!

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
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