If you enjoyed the hilarious antics of Khalujaan and his nephew Babban the first time around in Ishqiya, then you will certainly delight in their follies in Dedh Ishqiya. The unusual name aside, director Abhishek Chaubey happily rides on the coattails of the first instalment—a trend that seems to have firmly established itself in Bollywood (see Dhoom, Krrish, and Murder, none of which, by the way, impressed us). Before I start raving about this film, I have to admit that I haven’t watched Ishqiya, also Chaubey’s directorial debut. But from what I hear, the movie scored well at the box office and received positive critical responses, most notably for the performances of Arshad Warsi, Vidya Balan, and veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah.
Dedh Ishqiya takes the audience back to the time of Lucknowi nawabs, sher-o-shayari and poetic Urdu, characteristics that are rare in B-town these days. In the opening scene, Babban (Warsi) is standing in a shallow grave—minus Khalujaan—pleading for mercy from his former boss. Reprising his role as the boss of these two small-time crooks (Shah and Warsi) is the eccentric Mushtaq (Salman Shahid) who vows to bury Babban alive for a botched robbery job and escape in Ishqiya. Eventually, Babban is able to talk his way out of the situation and goes in search of Khalujaan, who he believes pulled a fast one on him and escaped with the loot of their last jewellery robbery. Months later, Babban traces Khalujaan to Mahmudabad, where he is posing as a nawab in order to win the hand of a wealthy widow, Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit), in a mushaira [poetry contest]. The Babban and Khalujaan reconcile and begin devising ways to impress the begum and eventually take over all her possessions and become landlords to her vast estate. The only problem: they are not alone. Local politician/gangster Jaan Mohammed (Vijay Raaz) poses a threat to their master plan, as he is also bidding to win Para’s affections and become the next nawab of Mahmudabad. The two so-called poets, each with ulterior motives, butt heads and try to one-up each other in poetry reciting and target-shooting competitions. Our beloved anti-heroes are also at a crossroads when Khalujaan genuinely falls head over heels in love with Para, and Babban falls for her brash assistant Muniya (Huma Qureshi).
The highlight of the film has to be the performances. Shah really outdoes himself in the stellar portrayal of a lovesick scoundrel. He is able to pull off, with delightful irony, a Ghalib-type figure who can on one hand romance the payals off his love interest and the next moment get into a hilarious overnight Mexican stand-off with Jaan Mohammed. Warsi, playing his co-conspirator, gives an equally noteworthy performance as a foul-mouthed but lovable goon who is macho but shows vulnerability when he falls in love. The two men complement each other perfectly punchline after punchline. Dixit nails her part as the magnetic Begum Para who with just one kohl-lined nazar strikes the hearts of her suitors. Her remarkable presence and her chemistry with Shah brighten the screen. And despite the age gap, their romance gives the audience a refreshing, grown-up take on love. But for me, it was Raaz who added the icing to the cake with his portrayal of the rascal Jaan Mohammed and his perfectly timed comedy. Qureshi, even though pitted against high-ranking actors, makes her mark as a supporting actress.
To sum up, Dedh Ishqiya is a rare comedy that really captures the hearts of the audience with its ensemble of talented actors, witty Urdu poetry, well-timed dialogues, saucy humour, and excellent direction. A refreshing experience for cinema-goers who feel they have wasted enough of their money on Bollywood’s recent failures. —REENA KARIM