It is a terrible thing to live in shadows, or be over shadowed by one. This week, “Dedh Ishqiya” is the unwitting victim of this lurking shadow, of “Ishqiya,” how wicked and schemey and pacey plot number one was with its sly heroine in barely-there blouses (Vidya Balan), and the deliciously written “characterless characters” Khalu Jaan (Naserruddin Shah) and Babban (Arshad Warsi). With “Ishqiya” director Abhishek Chaubey changed the rules of the game and added much needed namak to formula-fatigued Bollywood. Aiming at one and a half times more the fun, with “Dedh Ishqiya” he proves he has not succumbed to the pressures of this unforgiving industry. This time, he throws Khalu and Babban in another adventure, one that takes them to the fictional Nawabi town of Mehmudabad in UP, where folks still roll their tongues in chaste Urdu, indulge in royal affairs and mark their attendance at mushairas.
Chaubey opens a world of mystery and impending mayhem – in the rundown Haveli with paint peeling off its walls and cobwebs swallowing its corners. He casts a net of deliciously dark and twisted characters – in the heartbroken yet enigmatic beauty, Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit Nene), who holds an annual mushaira, and with it a swayamwar to choose a poet husband for herself, in her scheming trusted aide, Muniya (Huma Qureshi) who is planning and plotting a kidnapping, in the lusty and mercurial Babban and the lovesick poet Khalu who is eyeing the rich begum – the two shameless conmen who also happen to be chivalrous in hour of need, in the briefly warm history between Para and Khalu, in the kidnapped shayar Italvi (the talented Manoj Pahwa), and the lovelorn wannabe Nawab Jaan Mohammad (the genius of an actor, Vijay Raaz). In this crooked game, everyone is a dedh shaana. Love, freedom, nawabiyat, money, power, control – they are all onto something.
We won’t deny that the music was less rousing and the film lacked a bit of edge. As gorgeous as Madhuri is, neither she nor Huma could light that sensuous spark and feisty fire Vidya sizzled on with. (Although I did feel a homosexual vibe between the two, which maybe the director didn’t feel like picking on much). Having said that, “Dedh Ishqiya” is a brave film to kick off the New Year with. While the heavy dose of Urdu can sound confusing, I strongly recommend a dekho, and have the dates blocked for the next rollercoaster ride of Khalujaan and Babban.