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15 July 2024

Bollywood review: ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ manages to hit the right notes

By Sneha May Francis

A conniving politician earnestly seeks the help of a renowned poet, the one he has kidnapped, to help him change his DNA so that he can turn into an elitist.

“I have loads of money. How can I change my DNA?” he pleads.

The helpless poet replies, "You are born with it. You cannot buy it."

But, despite explaining the sheer inanity of such a request, he finally humours the politico and claims it can be done in Italy.

It's moments like these that set the mood for ‘Dedh Ishqiya’.

A sequel that manages to override the brilliance of its original, a feat very rarely achieved in cinematic corridors.

Legends of Khalujaan and Babban’s flirtations, flamboyance and unrelenting thievery have been applauded, immensely, when they first debuted in ‘Ishqiya’, and now, less than four years later, the robust duo are back with a bang.

Their lust for money and women leads them on an another menacing, whirlwind adventure, one that’s far more twisted than the original, but textured with enthralling old-world charm and poetic brilliance by writer Darab Farooqui.

While director Abhishek Chaubey, who co-wrote the screenplay with the talented Vishal Bharadwaj, gives Khalujaan and Babban an incredible opportunity to flaunt their idiosyncrasies, he, fails to break away from the narrative that won the applause for ‘Ishqiya’.

Hence, the clincher, in the second part, isn’t unpredictable.

That’s a minor setback, especially when you look at the larger picture.

Abhishek invests immensely in Khalujaan and Babban, and manages to retain much of their insanity and roguish charm, untouched. Their journey, together and otherwise, is captured in significant frames and innumerable twists.

The women – Begum Para and Muniya – are allotted the same prominence and detail, without ever dwelling into the fact that their position might never turn permanent. Even the supporting cast isn’t sidelined to fill up the frames, but allowed parts of relevance. And, therein lies the movie’s sheer brilliance.

Cinematographer Setu and editor A Sreekar Prasad also create the perfect setting to capture the rustic charm of Mahmudabad, where the adventure unfolds over two-and-a-half-hours.

Vishal, who steps in as music director, dialogue (and screenplay) writer and producer, deserves credit for much of the movie’s triumph. For much of ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ rides on his wicked sense of humour and poetic acumen.

While it sets the perfect flavour for ‘Dedh Ishqiya’, we’ve had to (heavily) rely on the English subtitles to tide us through.

Kalujaan and Babban land in Mahmudabad, escaping the clutches of local baddie Mushtaq only because he’s a fan of superhero “Batsman” and believes the “joker(s)” are needed to keep the fun alive.

While Babban is focused on making a quick buck, Kalujaan searches for true love to cure a nagging health ailment.

The men arrive as the town erupts in lyrical festivity, with the royal widow Begum Para searching for a groom with rhythmical flair.

Her gorgeous helper Muniya watches her every step and guides her through her suitors.

The celebration and revelry witnesses a few romances, heartbreaks, abduction and uncovers many scandalous truths.

Naseeruddin Shah is impeccable as the aged conman, who unabashedly wears his heart on his sleeve. His rich baritone voice and expressive eyes lends incredible charisma to Kalujaan’s undying obsession to find true love and go through the seven stages of love. As he tries to revive his old love story by wiping the dust off the old picture frames, you feel for his noble heart.

He’s ably backed by the rotund Arshad Warsi, who lends an endearing touch to the khol-smeared Babban. It’s his quirky sense of humour that gives him an edge over his older partner.

As Begum’s able assistant, Huma Qureshi is effortlessly delightful and holds her ground among the veterans. She’s a natural.

Vijay Raaz, who first won us over as the flower-eating marriage helper in ‘Monsoon Wedding’, lands himself another impressive part as Jaan Mohammad. He captures,remarkably, Jaan’s unrelenting desire to alter his (lower-class) stature in society with his money and marriage.  

Even Manoj Pahwa’s few-screen-minutes-old poet Nur Mohammad Italvi’s Italian connection lends a delightful touch to the proceedings.

But, the lady who won us over with her radiant eyes, dazzling dance moves and infectious laugh is the ever-gorgeous Madhuri Dixit-Nene, who despite the signs of ageing, turns Begum Para into one of the most striking performances of her career. She captures the Begum’s many insecurities, strengths, affection and hatred with elegance and distinction.

With so much going for ‘Dedh Ishqiya’, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t plan a trip to cinemas this weekend.