Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Ishqiya, directed by debutant Abhishek Chaubey, is a delicious little film that teeters dangerously between saucy comedy and suspenseful noir. Unapologetically adult in its relationships, its language and its humor, the film sparkles for its inspired writing and uncompromised direction.
Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi star as Khalujaan and Babban, a pair of thieves in Uttar Pradesh who're on the run from their boss, having taken off with his money. They show up at the home of an old friend in Gorakhpur but discover that he is dead. His widow, Krishna, played by Vidya Balan, takes them in nevertheless, and with that the stage is set for a complicated love triangle against the backdrop of kidnappings, deaths and blow-ups.
Written by Vishal Bharadwaj, Sabrina Dhawan and the film's director Abhishek Chaubey, Ishqiya is a film that has wheels within wheels, a film that's constantly unraveling itself, surprising you as every new layer is peeled.
Chaubey wastes no time in setting up his drama, throwing you into the thick of the story immediately, never wasting more time on back-story than necessary. The film's most enjoyable track is the love triangle which the director treats delicately yet cleverly, aided by remarkable performances from his leads, and an extraordinary score that comprises original compositions by Vishal Bharadwaj and snatches of previous musical hits.
Vidya Balan shines as Krishna, the sexy, deceptive temptress who seduces both men cunningly, and the actress achieves this without ever compromising her character's vulnerability. Naseeruddin Shah is charming as Khalujaan, whose old-style bashful romance is captured beautifully in Bharadwaj's utterly disarming number Dil toh bachcha hai ji, and his flirtations with Krishna set against the melodious evergreen music of SD Burman and Hemant Kumar. Arshad Warsi, meanwhile, goes balls-out as the sexually aggressive Babban whose bindaas wooing of Krishna is complemented appropriately by contemporary chartbusters.
Much of the film's genius lies in its crackling dialogue which throws up so many little gems it's hard to pick just one. Arshad Warsi's character Babban sums up the film's generational difference towards romance perfectly in that resentful dialogue to Khalujaan: "Kya mamu, tumhaara ishq ishq, hamara ishq sex?”
If the film falters, it's in the third act where a key twist comes off as unconvincing, and a climax too convoluted. But these are small nitpickings in an immensely enjoyable journey that deserves to be relished more than once.
I'm going with three-and-a-half out of five and a thumbs-up for director Abhishek Chaubey's Ishqiya. It's an assured, confident debut and one hell of a rollicking ride. A textured, compelling drama that's unlike anything you've seen lately.
Rating: 3.5 / 5