Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dedh Ishqiya: Exploring unfamiliar terrains of a difficult ishq

Darkly humorous and unabashedly passionate, Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya explores unfamiliar terrains of a difficult love where men are abandoned and women triumph, notwithstanding the extended drama of prevarication they resort to. The secret of this volatile tale of love, sex and dhoka is hidden in the title itself: Dedh Ishiqiya! The poetic cadence of the title is sustained throughout the film through shayari, kawali, thumri, and mujra, but the symbolic import of it is realized only in the end, when the audience is left agape at the retreating figures of the two women, victorious in their mission of love. The ‘dedh’ captures the liminal space between ‘singlehood’ and ‘coupledom’, challenging accepted notions of loneliness and romantic pairing, subverting conventional ideas of being in love. The supposedly ‘single’ Begum Para’s elaborate swayambhar is only a bait for the two rogues on the run (Naseeruddin Shah as Ifthekhar and Arshad Warsi as Babban); they swallow the bait and fall through the trapdoor into a subterranean chamber of secret desires, only to discover that their final predicament in this dangerous game is nothing but death. While the feisty Ifthekhar charts out the six stages of being in love - dilkashi, uns, mohobbat, akidat, ibadat, junoon – he doesn’t know that his object of desire (Begum Para) is not a fellow traveller in this odyssey. Maybe she is, but with a different companion. By the time he realizes that he is compelled to add the seventh stage, and that is maut! Dedh Ishqiya reignites the fire of passion in which men burn with desire, but are dismissed as unwanted. 

Begum Para’s Mehmuhdabad seems to be trapped in a time warp, although iPhones and LCD TVs have broken through the barriers of the purana haveli which harbours some dark secrets. Although reminiscent of Umraon Jaan and Pakeezah in look-and-feel, Dedh Ishqiya reverses victimhood narratives to reclaim women as wielding immense power in using men to their advantage. What strikes the men as devastating is the discovery that they are mere puppet-actors in a drama, the plot of which they thought was designed and controlled by them. The suspense is built up from the very outset, the climax of which is reached in a silhouetted passion play, when the men feel betrayed, fooled and defeated. In this volatile drama of passion, betrayal and evil scheming, ishq appears to be a complete anti-thesis of its poetic renditions, but is reinstated as inviolable in the end. Ismat Chugtai’s controversial story ‘Lihaaf’ (The Quilt) is appropriated by Darab Farooqi to create an intense tale of homoerotic desire which offsets received notions of love and sexuality decreed by the hetero-patriarchal system. The film ends with the women achieving ultimate freedom, completely rejecting the company of men. Humri Atariya Pe resonates with this sense of freedom, when Begum Para dances like a dream under a specifically female gaze. 

Naseeruddin Shah as Ifthekhar alias Khalujaan effortlessly shifts between a seasoned ‘picaro’ and a sensational poet, enacting every emotion almost flawlessly. Arshad Warsi balances frivolity and intensity with rare panache. Huma Khureshi brings to Muniya a perfect blend of confidence, evil and faithfulness. Madhuri Dixit actualizes Begum Para with the charm of an enchantress, at times very low-key and even dispassionate. She is not exactly the femme fatal of Ishqiya; rather she brings to her performance a sense of resignation, which occasionally, albeit rarely, recedes to emit sparks of vivacity. 

Films like Dedh Ishqiya are indeed rare, and thanks to Vishal Bharadwaj and Abhishek Chaubey for venturing into terrains not often visited on the Indian screen. The music is a slight letdown, given the lyrics are penned by Gulzar and scored by Bharadwaj; but, Jaagve Saari Raina choreographed by Birju Maharaj continues to linger in your head long after the film is over.