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Dedh Ishqiya

Rating: 4

January 10, 2014

Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi, Madhuri Dixit, Huma Qureshi, Vijay Raaz, Manoj Pahwa

Director: Abhishek Chaubey

Who can possibly resist the promise of another rollicking adventure with Khaluj and Babban? Writer-director Abhishek Chaubey and co-writer Vishal Bhardwaj have come up with two ingenuous, delightful con men, one uncle, the other nephew, one the brains, the other the brawn. Actors Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi have made these characters completely their own. Khalujaan and Babban aren’t Munna and Circuit, Veeru and Jai, Starsky and Hutch, or Tango and Cash. They’re small-time thieves with one gigantic flaw — their minds turn to mush when they fall in love.

It’s this common thread that ran through 2010’s Ishqiya and also runs through its sequel, Dedh Ishqiya. But if the earlier film benefited from an element of surprise – astonishing the audience with saucy comedy, and unpredictable twists and turns – the new one invites you to settle into your seat to savor the delicious Urdu wordplay and the naughty lines, even as you wait for the rug to be pulled from under your feet.

After a fairly lengthy but enjoyable prologue in which they’re separated during a jewelry store robbery, the plot of Dedh Ishqiya kicks in with Khalujaan and Babban still on the run from their boss. Khalujaan is the man with a plan. He’s come away to Mahmudabad, intending to win a nawabi swayamvar for the hand of the beautiful widow Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit), who has organized a shayari competition at her palace.

The Begum is shadowed by her protective aide Muniya (Huma Qureishi), and Babban instantly falls in love — and lust – with this feisty girl. Khalujaan, who is himself smitten by the Begum, schemes with Babban to live off her inheritance once he wins her over. But to complicate affairs of the heart and estate, there’s the nouveau riche gangster Jaan Mohammed (Vijay Raaz), who’s desperate to buy some respectability by marrying the Begum and becoming a nawab.

The film’s crackling humor, set to Bhardwaj’s terrific dialogues, is its biggest strength. From laugh-out-loud punch-lines to cheeky repartee, Dedh Ishqiya has some of the most inspired writing you’ve seen on screen recently. In one of the movie’s best scenes, a stand-off between two factions that has lasted all night is interrupted by the shrill notes of a school assembly singing Hum ko mann ki shakti dena. Touche!

Gorgeously shot, crisply edited, and handsomely mounted, large portions of the film are evocative of a nawabi culture and lifestyle alas seldom seen in the movies now. As with Ishqiya, Bhardwaj’s lilting music adds character to the film, even without the presence of a ‘hit’ number like Dil toh bacha hai ji or Ibn batuta. Against this backdrop, Chaubey and his writers set up a story that packs in everything from a kidnapping plot and a love triangle to a violent shootout. But it’s a tad indulgent; no wonder the film feels stretched in parts, dragging where it should’ve moved briskly.

It’s Naseeruddin Shah’s character that suffers from these lagging portions, coming off almost tired in some scenes, yet convincingly earnest in others. Once the plot thickens, Khalujaan’s chemistry with Babban is potent. Arshad is particularly brilliant, pulling off naïve and smooth with equal ease. Madhuri Dixit is heartfelt as the vulnerable, stunning widow, and yet, as you peel the layers, you have to applaud her sheer bravura. She’s offset by a fierce Huma, playing Muniya with such a sharp tongue and firecracker energy. The unforgettable performance is from Vijay Raaz, consummately comical as the blundering, loutish gangster.

Dedh Ishqiya gives the UP badlands a light cloak of humor and, to the viewer – we’re happy to note – a bold reveal that is more suggested than emphasized. The twist in the tale is one you can spot from a mile away, but it’s nicely done. I’m going with four out of five for director Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya. Like heady wine, it delivers a welcome kick.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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