Ishqiya: Authenticity Pron

01 Feb

If the law of averages holds true, some day soon Vishal Bhardwaj will either produce, write or direct a film that draws a collective “meh”. Abhishek Chaubey’s directorial debut Ishqiya, co-written (with Sabrina Dhawan and Chaubey) and co-produced by Bhardwaj, however, is not that film.

Ishqiya begins with a couple in the privacy of their bed. She calls him her liege lord, he teases her that he’s got a piece on the side and her time is up; they trade innuendos about sex and betrayal. Desire is laced with an undercurrent of violence; there is something in their chemistry that makes you wonder if they’re carrying on an affair instead of the marriage the dialogue hints at.

Elsewhere, Khalujan (Naseeruddin Shah) and Babban (Arshad Warsi) are two petty thieves on the run, playing an extended game of cat-and-mouse with a former associate/ godfather figure by the name of Mushtaq. Babban, the younger brute, thinks Khalujan ought to finish it for once and for all when they temporarily manage to gain the upper hand. But Khalujan is a thief with a code – he coulda been somebody, he hints – and he isn’t about to widow his sister for a matter of 25 lakhs… even if she’s quite alright with her husband shooting holes in him.

All they need is a place to hide out while Mushtaq cools down and life will be good. Sadly, thanks to their past shenanigans safe houses are rather scarce. Their search eventually leads them to the Nepal border and the home of Khalu’s former cellmate, Vidyadhar Verma. They arrive to find his widow Krishna (Vidya Balan), one half of the couple we met at the beginning of the movie, living in the burned-out remains of their home.

Everybody’s troubles have just begun.

The world of Ishqiya is not one for folks with sensibilities. Its people and the universe they live in is crude, crass, violent, epithet-laden and set to the oddly congruent beats of old Hindi songs (perhaps that’s a matter of soul, given most of these songs were either composed, written or sung by men from this part of the country). Life is cheap in this blip on the highway: children play with guns, a full-blown caste war that nobody outside their district even knows much less cares about is in progress, kidnapping and arms dealing is common business, and all the shiny malls and fancy car dealerships that have sprung up to absorb the ill-gotten money that’s flooding the street corners can’t mask the violence and decay that permeate the very air. Gorakhpur sounds like the kind of place you can’t shake if it’s your hometown, the kind of place no one with options could possibly even want to visit otherwise.

Ishqiya belongs firmly to a genre I like to call authenticity porn – every last detail of hopelessness and vice etched out with loving attention for an audience that is simultaneously fascinated yet repulsed by its very existence. This is the India that makes the India Shining crowd nervous, the representation that seems perilously close to poverty porn, the kind of stuff that gets Arvind Adiga crucified in opinion pieces and got Ram Gopal Verma (v. 1.0) laudatory notices.

Of course, I write this as somebody who quite enjoys it. Woman cannot live by glitzy Bollywood productions alone, after all. This woman can’t, anyway. And Ishqiya is the best kind of authenticity porn: entertaining. It’s funny, profane, witty and razor-sharp in the observations it manages to nonchalantly turn into colloquialisms – “The difference between him and me is that between a Hindu and a Muslim,” Khalujan banters when Krishna remarks that he and Babban (his nephew) don’t seem to have much in common.

Although co-written by Bhardwaj, the modern master of authenticity porn, Ishqiya is distinctly Chaubey’s film. As a director, Bhardwaj’s sense of violence and doom is operatic; to me his movies are always on a subtle march set to the Ride of the Valkyries. Chaubey’s aesthetic, on the other hand, is a lot more Old West.

If Sholay is your classic curry western, Ishqiya has a ton of fun redrawing concept to stretch the genre. The most interesting experiment, the one that brings it all together, is the aptly named Krishna, a master manipulator of men who works towards her own ends. Ever since Parineeta, Vidya Balan’s choice of movies has been so poor in her quest for conventional Bollywood heroine-dom, that movies like Paa seem more like recoveries than growth. In Krishna, there is at last a hint of danger and sex underneath the trademark Scowl Face which she adopted as her “attention! I’m acting now” expression from her second movie on.

Krishna is both Madonna and whore, the girl with the golden voice in front of the household shrine and the woman with a shotgun; she is whoever you need her to be, so long as you’re doing as you’re told. She scares the crap out of Khalu who hasn’t ever kidnapped so much as a cat or a dog, he tells her pathetically; but she also fires his fantasies of a genteel courtship when she leans her head against his chest and giggles like a girl. Naseeruddin Shah is as always the man – Khalu with his bootblack hair, his sepia tinted photographs, his frequently befuddled attempts at crookery, his self-consciously tender dignity and his expressions of gentility is a darling duck.

Meanwhile, Krishna sets off alarm bells in Babban who recognizes in her an animal who might well surpass him in bestiality; yet she is the first woman he ever falls for too. As Babban, Arshad Warsi does nothing to dispel my growing and wholly inappropriate crush on men with facial hair. He switches from the genial idiot persona he has mined so well in past Bollywood productions (the most famous being Circuit of Munnabhai fame, of course) to a kohl-eyed killer in the blink of an eye, and shocks you by flipping all sorts of switches along the way. Although Krishna clearly has a plan for him, you know that it can’t have been all work.

The relationships of Ishqiya violate all the codes of movies like these: the chick makes the rules, the guys both fall for her and neither really steps away for the sake of friendship (or relationship since they’re uncle and nephew), nice guys finish last (sort of), the Lakshman-Sita/ bhabhidevar paradigm is totally twisted, the V is for Villain guy is actually just a playmate, adultery is passe when husband and wife are plotting each others’ demise, and Khalu reminds Babban that getting involved in a marital spat is a surefire way to get your ass kicked.

Sure, but it also makes for an entertaining movie.


Posted by on February 1, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video


33 responses to “Ishqiya: Authenticity Pron

  1. maxdavinci

    February 1, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    while tinkering with my version, I kept wondered what ms.rajan would write!

    ekdum changa ji, duo sitting in their grave reminded me of manorama 6ft under.

    yes, I know I have weird conect issues….

  2. Piyush

    February 1, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Loved the movie and the review. The attention to detail/authenticity reminded me of Omkara, another one of my favorite movies.

    “As Babban, Arshad Warsi does nothing to dispel my growing and wholly inappropriate crush on men with facial hair” – me too amrita, me too. Wait a minute!!! did I just say that too loud???

    Did you notice Arshad Warsi’s wardrobe?? Even a hipster would be embarrassed about the amount of plaid that Warsi wears in that movie. Honestly though, forget Amir Khan releasing a T-shirt line to promote 3 idiots. I wanna wear all those fantastic plaid shirts that Warsi wears in Ishqiya.

    Also the background score ( apart from four main tracks) especially the use of violin was amazing. I wish that the background score was included in the album release rather that those god-awful remixes.

  3. Gradwolf

    February 1, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    I liked the movie for most part but thought everything was a little low key compared to the usual Western. That shone brightly in exploring relationships and their manipulations throughout the movie but not in the climax. I was expecting a wham bham climax like Kaminey but probably that’s where Chaubey’s vision differs like you pointed out- his Old West sensibilities compared to the more operatic Bharadwaj.

  4. sachita

    February 1, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    “law of averages” – the way that is maintained is you will get to see mnik in next couple of weeks:) still i am jealous that you guys get to watch most of the movies.

    This was a good review, the movie must have sunk in, it shows in effortless writing. and let me expose my naivety cap further by asking this, what is it with calling everthing porn these days, there is food porn, poverty porn.

    • sunil

      February 2, 2010 at 2:45 am

      Right on. Try and be snobbish and show off your greek chops. Eg when Rambo first came out, Wallstreet did NOT call it blood porn. They called it carnography. See? pornography, carnography? It rhymes!

      • sunil

        February 2, 2010 at 2:46 am

        Pornography = writing about prostitutes. 🙂

  5. apu

    February 2, 2010 at 12:54 am

    nice, nice! I’m so looking forward to watching this…

  6. sunil

    February 2, 2010 at 2:56 am

    That said, I feel infinitely sad that I am too old to have watched even ONE Bhardwaj movie. 🙂

  7. Chronicus Skepticus

    February 2, 2010 at 3:31 am

    “As Babban, Arshad Warsi does nothing to dispel my growing and wholly inappropriate crush on men with facial hair”

    You’re better off. I’ve developed one on Naseeruddin Shah (I know! Who DOES that, right?!).

    My hormones are confusing the heck out of me.

    Oh also, you’re spot on with the review.

  8. DewdropDream

    February 2, 2010 at 5:58 am

    I LOVE your reviews Amrita!

    Might watch this 🙂

  9. Sharon

    February 2, 2010 at 6:52 am

    I just wish I had caught a showing with subtitles… will I ever find out what ‘sulphate’ means?

  10. BlueMist

    February 2, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    It was nice to watch. But nothing like Gulal and Omkara. Arshad Warsi came as suprise package.

    and your review rocks. 🙂

    Oh that reminds me have you reviewed omkara and gulal as well ?

  11. Amrita

    February 2, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Max – No! I thought of Manorama too! I think it was the cinematography for some reason: do they share a DP I wonder?

    Piyush – AAHAHAHAHAHHA!! You know, I belong to the “plaid is for lumberjacks” camp but I have to say Arshad made it WORK! I kept wondering what was underneath it. :mrgreen: That glare he gives when he’s crossed is so hot.
    And a big yes to the background score. It kind of sneaks up on you and establishes itself. Very nice. If only music companies felt the way you and I feel. 😦

    Gradwolf – I really didnt think it was going to go that way after the first 20 mins of the movie. It was so low key and fluttery. And then Krishna starts shooting up the joint and things change! I actually thought this was closer to a spaghetti western than an American western: the women, the feudalism, the grudge, it’s all very Italianate. I likey! And now I need to go watch The Man with No Name trilogy again.

    Sachita – Aiyyo! I forgot about Autism! Face! What a treat in store for me. Sigh.
    And don’t forget design porn which is my favorite porn.

    Apu – it’s good! Much better than I had hoped in fact.

    Sunil – WHAT?! This will not be tolerated! You must watch at least one! I recommend Maqbool.
    And where has “carnography” been all my life? I now know Tarantino’s genre.

    CSkepticus – So many people, my friend! Back when I watched that movie in which Akshay and Raveena sing that Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast, I had a tingly feeling when I saw Naseer with his distinguished gray locks. 😳

    3D – aww thanks! It’s a good movie.

    Sharon – ha, that’s just half their favorite cussword which is “chutiyam sulphate”. It’s a combination of pussy and fucker. Very versatile. Glad I could help! 😀

    BMist – oh no, those two were amazing but then AChaubey is a debutant so I’ll cut him some slack. I never did write up Omkaara; I don’t think I had this blog when I saw it. But I did write up on Gulaal:

    • BlueMist

      February 2, 2010 at 3:33 pm

      Thanks for the link. Will check it.
      I agree with AChaubey being debutant he gets more brownie points.
      the music did not impress me much. I guess they could have done a better job there. Like omkara and gulal had music as one of high scoring points.

    • Ramsu

      February 3, 2010 at 11:00 pm

      Manorama occurred to me as well, but mostly because I felt that both movies took a film noir plot and put it in an entirely different milieu. In Manorama‘s case, the parallels to Chinatown are rather obvious.

      But the quirkiness of this one sets it apart, especially in the Main Sapna ko dhokha nahin de sakta scene. Not to mention the fact that film noir is never this funny.

  12. Rahul

    February 2, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    NOW do you agree that Arshad is better than Saif? 🙂
    Btw I haven’t seen this movie yet.

  13. pitu

    February 3, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Just got back from the theater. Still assembling my thoughts. Overall decent hai ji.

  14. Hades

    February 3, 2010 at 3:19 am

    Firstly, I loved how the film created its environment; you know the little things—they use the word tarkari instead of sabzi, the risque jokes by Warsi with that boy who went into the Sena, the gaalis, Warsi Bhopali accent, how that beautician was a plain middle aged Nepali lady.

    The acting was mindblastingly amazing. The lahsun peeling scene was nice and so was the scene where Warsi forcefully seduces Ballan.

    But the meat of the plot left me slightly disappointed. Firstly, Vidya Ballan’s change from hapless, unknowing victim when Mushtaq threatens to kill her along with the two to puppeteer when she props them up to kidnap Kukkar was never properly explained—it seemed a bit forced to me. And the ending was just dumb, IMO what with the gas cylinder coming back to neatly book-end the story and all.

    Also, who did take that suitcase full of money that went missing? Did I miss the explanation or was it never given?

  15. Hades

    February 3, 2010 at 3:29 am

    Public Service announcement:

    Oh and btw, speaking of Gulaal, Paanch is out on Torrents–on PB among other places. Dhanyavaad.

  16. piyush

    February 3, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    I grabbed Paanch from one of the torrents but the video quality was terrible. Are there different versions?

  17. pitu

    February 5, 2010 at 1:34 am

    I liked it a lot but missed a lot of the dialogs because the Hindi was just undecipherable to me! But what dialogs I understood were amazing. For a kid like me who was subjected to those terrible 90s films where the credits ominously said ‘Dialogs by Kader Khan’ and you knew JUST what to expect, this was a veritable linguistic feast!

    Agree abt authenticity. In the Arshad-brothel scene, when he’s flipping thru the photo album, did you also notice the photo of a girl in pinafore and with pigtails? Applaud the authenticity and felt really sad. Miniscule frame and yet..

    And Vidya’s sarees were so Sadi mein Sadi Parag Sadi types 😀

    Arshad was HAWWWWWWWT! Hubba Hubba Hubba. That moochh, good lord!

    In our theater, they did not show the Ibn Batuta song!! Not the full one that’s on youtube where they’re all talli and dancing. Bummer!

  18. Amrita

    February 5, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    Ramsu – it’s a stylistic hodgepodge. ANother reason to love it!

    Rahul – theek hai! theek hai! :mrgreen: But Arshad is hot in this movie and that other one. Saif is hot in every movie since DCH except Tashan. 😀

    Hades – I’m pretty sure she took it. There’s no way she could have bankrolled the kidnapping and later paid them off otherwise. The gas cylinder thing was interesting – early on in the movie Babban asks her how come she cook with firewood when the house is full of gas cylinders so she’s been obsessing about it for a while. I thought it was exactly the kind of melodramatic revenge plot a woman like Krishna would go for.
    re: Paanch: what? Do I look like I steal movies? No, internet police, no!

    Piyush – look for uploaders with a high rating with positive comments. [Or so I have heard :mrgreen: ]

    Pitu – dialogues by Kadar Khan! the kind that rhymed! Staple of my childhood.
    The brothel scene was great. I was massively creeped out by the fact that it looked like the hair magazines they have in Indian salons, all featuring Chinese people.

  19. Rahul

    February 5, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    “re: Paanch: what? Do I look like I steal movies? No, internet police, no!”
    FWIW AK himself has asked to go ahead and help yourself. Actually he said he would very much like it if you do so.

  20. postpunkcinemaclub

    February 8, 2010 at 8:09 am

    What a fab review! Huzzah to you. 🙂

  21. Rahul

    February 8, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Saw it yesterday ..I am not big on the authenticity thing because I am from Gorakhpur and have a few issues with the accents etc. in the movie but other than that I loved it. The deft and very poetical directorial flourishes were more reminiscent of Gulzar than VB.
    One of them was during the song “Dil to Bacha hai” when Naseer imagines a girl smiling at him in the bus.Is it because he has experienced desire after a long time and has started to become cognizant of the fairer sex? Or Is it that just by feeling desirous of Krishna he feels more confident in his manhood and considers himself to be more attractive to the other sex, and hence the part fantasy?
    The other one is the sexually charged body language between Babban and Krishna ; on account of which we never really know when there relationship took a carnal turn.
    The exchanges between Babban and Nandu are priceless! The way Nandu handled the very crisp and adult dialogues is really praiseworthy for both the actor and the director. The actor who played Verma has also done a great job.
    Chaubey is his own man and this is his picture, a very confident and self assured debut.

  22. Amrita

    February 9, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    PPCC – thanks! 😳

    Rahul – oh well, if he has no problems then I guess I can phikar not.
    Ha, are you really from Gorakhpur? Did you find it lifelike or was it more of VB borrowing the name more than the actual setting?
    I loved both Dil to Bachcha Hai for the same ambiguity as you did and Nandu! That kid was a total natural. Do you know who played Verma? Coz I’ve been trying to put a name to him and I have had very little luck so far.

  23. TanTanu

    February 9, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Excellent review there. Does complete justice to the movie. This movie qualifies for the ‘authenticity porn’ category because it does complete justice to Gorakhpur as a city. It talks of Multiplexes and crorepatis while at the same time taking you to a shabby brothel and naxal infected village. Though the city in this movie isn’t a character like say a Satya or a Taxi 9211, it does keep throbbing in the background, making its presence felt every now and then.

    Ishqiya surprised me because I didn’t expect Arshad or Vidya to match the charm of Naseer in the same frame, but they manage to do that and more. And yes, I am glad that people agree when we say that this isn’t Bhardwaj’s movie out and out, Chaubey’s style and his manner is different, refreshingly.

    Like I said on Max’s blog, I liked Ishqiya for the subtle bits, comments here and there, ‘aajkal nange hain ya burque mein hain?’.. ‘humare yahan to shia aur sunni hote hain, yahan to yadav, pandey, jaat, sabne apni fauj bana rakhi hai’.. the dialogues are almost poetic (though Pitu beat me to the Kader Khan reminiscence) Unfortunately it falls flat in the second half, almost like an unfinished poem. But it is a very promising start to the year, which if the law of averages goes, will be soon be smudged by the Johars and the Bhatts.

    and that Verma fellow is Adil Hussain or so myPFC tells me.

  24. Vishal

    February 12, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Loved your review, and loved Ishqiya! This has to be one of the best debut movie by a director in a long time (close contender: Luck By Chance by Zoya Akhtar).

    • Vishal

      February 12, 2010 at 11:27 am

      By the way, was the misspelled ‘porn’ in your blog title intentional?

  25. Amrita

    February 14, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    TT – thanks for the compliment and THANK YOU for the Adil Hussein thing. It drives me crazy when I dont know things like that.

    Vishal – thanks! And yes, the pron was intentional – my two bits at trying to stay within the safe search leagues. Although why I bother with the kind of content I have, I dont know.

    • Truth or Dare?

      February 14, 2010 at 6:16 pm

      “my two bits at trying to stay within the safe search leagues” – cha! That’s all that was? And here I was — sitting in my lofty perch, yes! — thinking you were trying to suggest that Ishqiya was “truth prone”, in a paradoxical, subversive sort of way (given “The relationships of Ishqiya violate all the codes of movies like these”)! 😀

  26. Rahul

    February 15, 2010 at 8:45 am

    Actually, no.The accent is way off.The only people who nailed the accent were the police wallahs who make a brief appearance. There are other minor gotchas – for eg. there are no Jat or Yadav militias native to Gorakhpur.Besides, there is no real life event or landmark that has been woven in to the story. The movie has just appropriated the fact that Gorakhpur was a very dangerous city at one time – it was probably among the top cities in the world in terms of murders \ day or something.

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