It’s just weeks after the Supreme Court’s controversial judgement on Article 377. Neither have the protests ended nor has the outrage at the judgement died down. In this environment releases Dedh Ishqiya, a sparkling gem of unanticipated support for the LGBT community.
A Brave Move
Bollywood is not exactly known to underplay any divergence it portrays on-screen; especially if the divergence is likely to become the hook to draw in audiences. But the makers of Dedh Ishqiya kept a tight lid on their storyline giving nothing away in the promos. In fact, the promos said so little that they did more to detract than add to the buzz around the film. The first day audiences of Dedh Ishqiya comprised die-hard fans of Madhuri Dixit-Nene and/or the 2010 sleeper-stunner Ishqiya. On the release Friday, box-office collections were heavily skewed in favour of the other release of that day, Yaariyan. Four days later, Dedh Ishqiya’s collections are growing each day, thanks to word-of-mouth, while Yaariyan’s are plummeting each day.
— Dedh Ishqiya (@DedhIshqiya) October 25, 2013
Dedh Ishqiya is cast in the same unique Ishqiya genre – a gentle comedic thriller. (Yes, ‘gentle’ and ‘thriller’ are oxymoronic but there is really no other way to describe this franchise.) The seemingly gentle and poetic unfolding of the story is in sharp contrast to the twists in the plot that appear practically in every scene. The humour is a nice blend of simple (an all-nighter Mexican stand-off) and subtle (the ironic play of the lyrics of a thumri in the climatic shootout).
Dedh Ishqiya is steeped in the old, slightly decaying but still aristocratic world of Nawabs, Begums, mehfils and shaayari. Begum Para (Madhuri) is on a manhunt to fulfil her dead husband’s wish that she remarry – a poet. To this end she is hosting a mushaira of shayaars in Mahmudabad. She is accompanied everywhere by her khaneez Muniya (Huma Qureshi). Mamujaan (Naseer), after double-crossing and disappearing on nephew Babban (Warsi) in the opening sequence, reappears in Mahmudabad as one of the hopeful Nawab-shayaars. Babban descends to Mahmudabad for answers from Mamujaan and more importantly, his share of their loot.
The smooth-talking Mamujaan manages to mesmerise the Begum, pacify Babban and enlist Babban to double-cross the Begum out of the expensive (stolen) jewellery that he (mamujaan) had gifted her by stealing it back. Enter the Muniya’s suspicious machinations to kidnap the Begum. With unbridled and unapologetic use of her sexuality, Muniya ropes in Babban to effect the kidnap.
Add further complexities in the form of Jaan Mohammad (Vijay Raaz), a hot-headed local politician vying for the Begum in an effort to add aristocracy to his money and Nawab Italvi (Manoj Pahwa), a would-be contestant, kidnapped by Jaan Mohammad for his poetry and you have a mix for excellent humour and great performance to keep the twists in the thriller moving amid chuckles and giggles.
Mamujaan and Babban from Ishqiya continue to be engaging and exasperating. Earthy and romantic. Crafty and gullible. Naseer and Arshad Warsi are awesome together and both bring their characters to life – so much so that neither seems to be an actor, enacting a part.
Madhuri Dixit-Nene. A second-coming (after a failed comeback with Yash Raj’s Nach Baliye). A bold choice for a comeback vehicle. In fact, Madhuri as Begum Para is quite the reason for the twist being such a stunner. She is the quintessential Bollywood heroine who would be an unlikely candidate to play an ‘alternative’ character. If it was Shabana, Rekha, Nandita Das or someone of the semi-art genre, the turn in Begum Para’s character wouldn’t be electric. Huma Qureshi is really a surprise. An infant among acting Goliaths, she holds her own and then some.
If you’ve not already seen the movie or caught on to the biggest ‘suspense’ of Dedh Ishqiya yet – the Begum and Muniya are actually a couple. They hatch the kidnap plot together to collect a hefty ransom from any rich suitor that the Begum chooses and disappear with the money.
Kudos to the writer and director of the movie for bringing in the lesbian love with the same natural gentleness that they have in the rest of the movie. This relationship is revealed in tasteful shadow-play and more importantly there is no lingering on the relationship either in action or dialogue. Kudos to the producer for not making this the prurient peg for his publicity.
By Sujata Garimella