Ishaqzaade : Movie Review
4 stars out of 5 (Excellent)
Director : Habib Faisal
Hindi (English subtitles available), 2012
After the phenomenon that was Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (1995), Aditya Chopra never reached similar heights of directorial perfection. He was the scion of a multi-millionaire family, which must have additionally encouraged him to switch over predominantly to the business side of films. He has had a number of films of questionable quality since then, all weighed down by a commercial anchor but in "Ishaqzaade", directed and co-written by Habib Faisal , we undeniably have a product which fizzes both with substance and chutzpah. The story of Romeo & Juliet is tailor-made for the Indian social milieu, and Faisal takes advantage of superb all-round work from the film’s artists to craft an edgy,bold tale of doomed lovers. It may not sear its way into transcendence in the end, but while the pic lasts it ensures ample throb as Zoya and Parma crash and tumble past guns and roses.
Pic kicks off with a delightfully energetic scene wherein a little boy and a little girl (both are keen examples of many modern Indian kids) merrily hurl expletives at each other, and verbally tear into the honour of each other’s family. The girl in particular deserves special mention for her vehemently continuous slew of abuse (although current-day India is well-Americanized, the British contribution of the expletive "bloody" is still strong!) Fast-forward then to the time when both are ostensibly in their early twenties.Their families, trigger-happy and murder-prone, are rival political groups hell-bent on becoming MLAs of the region.The boy Parma Chauhan( Arjun Kapoor ) has grown up to be a full-fledged hooligan who sets fire to a fuel shed because they cater to the rival clan. He is tall lean muscular and coltishly handsome with an air of complacent abandon. As for Zoya she is the darling of her parents and coterie of brothers belonging to the Qureshi family. She has remained every bit as spunky, while visually maturing into a attractive face with a shapely figure. Her father seemingly condones all her transgressions, but they all laugh at her when she aspires to be an MLA (member of legislative assembly). Early on, she is shown buying a contraband gun (an essential tool for transacting trade in this town as we soon see).
More trouble soon erupts in this dangerous looney-land as both families try to grab and deny the other party what they want, be it dance-girls or public votes. A chase involving multiple cars and bikes shown early in the first half has dozens of gunshots being fired yet nobody is shown getting hurt (we are still in the bloodless stage.. which won’t last long). Soon Zoya delivers a slap to Parma (his cheeks for not unfathomable reasons are an inviting target for many), their mutual conflict over a matter of honour reaches a very late resolution but love has weird beginnings and slowly, romance blooms despite personal and social thorns. When the families get wind of this, all hells and a hundred pistols break loose when they realize the political inconvenience of this love. The Aaashiqs now aren’t just Deewane, they are forced to become full-fledged Ishaqzaades as they fight their own personal differences and a hailstorm of bullets.
In terms of its sexual quotient, the movie is coy. Dialogues however are unabashed in ribald humour and cutting insight. The first instance in which the story really kicks up ,is a charged encounter between Parma and his enraged grandfather when the latter takes stock of a scandalous abduction pulled off by Parma. There is boiling intensity as the insulted hero stares icily at his senior aggressor. Grandfather Chauhan,well-played as an aging politically virile morally limp man by Anil Rastogi, represents what has gone wrong with the Indian patriarch .This is counterred by Natasha Rastogi's portrayal -she essays a remarkable determined widow - Parma's mother- who lives in a demi-monde infested by male chauvinism and yet is relentless in reforming her playboy son while persuading Zoya to sober down and make peace.
The story’s overall structure is well-planned, although the gun-fire and chase at the end becomes a little too long. A scene set in a chemistry lab towards at the end ,is placed at an inspired juncture- it provides both respite and perspective. A twist ,without mercy or shame, fires up the movie’s interval and gives reinforced meaning to the movie’s title, while jazzing up expectations for the second half.
The script smartly integrates not just the current-day malaise of videotapes haunting girls with captured personal footage (the screenplay cunningly uses this ploy to mount both a personal and political victory for a character) but also features the urgent social relevance of the subject of honour killings. Most reasonable people who watch this film will sympathize for the hunted central pair while condemning the brutality of the homicidal families. The message is plainly evident, yet the film’s end puts up a printed statement of the real-life reference and implied social message. While it’s not blatant, it comes dangerously close to being preachy.Does Faisal take his audience to be fools who need to be spoon-fed? Is he content to be a director or does he also want to be a school-teacher? Hopefully in the future he should not compromize his hard work with lame foot-notes at the end.
Parineeti Chopra , as Zoya, is the film’s brightest delight. She is undeniably winsome, voluptuous yet controlled, her playful sex appeal is revealed in the beginning of "Jhalla" track, and her acting glows from end of the emotional spectrum to another. Watch how her face is embarrassed and teary but still quietly feisty after she is slapped by her father, and much later the sense of knowing poise and wry smile on her face when she realizes that two decades have still not been enough for her to properly understand his mind. In the film she is a two-time college topper in Chemistry finals, and in real life at the time of this film’s release she was a lady of 24 years who held a triple honours degree in Business,Finance and Economics. Chopra shifted during recession from UK to Bombay,and changed from being a publicist to a front-line actress after her talent was unearthed. This is a marvellously spunky, ,exquisitely layered performance by her, and it will be an assured pleasure to see that smile and sparkle of her face in future films.
I took some time to adjust to Arjun Kapoor's brand of acting. Fate has not obliged him to fight his way into the industry, and yet he has a peculiar yet engaging style of acting, reminiscent to a degree of a younger richer version of the dangerous thug Abhisek Bacchan portrayed in 'Yuva'. His face is set to a default blase mode that suddenly breaks out into a smile (either evil or innocent, according to the situation) , and he uses a flick of his head often to signal a forgiving diplomatic break in a scene's tension. The intensity coils just underneath the lazy surface - Kapoor's act ultimately assumes a unusual but compatible chemistry with Chopra's.
Hemant Chaturvedi’s smoothly confident cinematography is a vibrant presence - there is a remarkably captured shot where Parma grabs Zoya and squeezes his hand over her mouth- the frame moves in to focus on his lips whispering into her ear as her sharply picturized eye curves sideways to gaze at this sudden source of attraction. At other times, the lens is mounted on distinct POV positions - at the front of a jeep looking at Zoya driving past a long road of the mofussil townscape, at a carousel with air-flung seats between which the love-birds reach for each other. The lensing is laudably unafraid to show the uncouth infrastructure of its region - the first scene of chemistry between Parma and Zoya is shot in a shabby restroom with rusted pipes and crumbling walls- it is just as well that we can’t smell the place. Both lovers take turns in running-’n’-escaping through mohallas and crannies - past crumbling walls, strewn debris, narrow bylanes, dead-end caverns ; in sum a small-town made smaller by its innocuous buildings and abandoned civic sense.
Hemant Trivedi's music is a mixed bag. There are some scintillating strings in the second minute of 'Aaafaton ke Parinde', while 'Jhalla Wallah' gives good fun by way of a modern playful mujra, especially when viewed with its video.The delightfully picturized 'Mein Pareshan' shows various shades of the lovers in canoodling flight ; but overall it is the actually the movie's song videography, which skilfully integrates story progression with the bonding of the pair, that enhances the film's music. Ranjith Barot's background score has restraint and skill, but the magic is still missing.
Ishaqzaade, ultimately, is a flamboyant sharp-edged portrayal of love nibbled by personal differences and ripped apart by societal edicts. It blends the old and the new, in both emotional and conceptual ways to fire its salvos. Yes this is 'Romeo Juliet' but with a strongly local flavour - the audience will not mind as long as innovative methods are used to to describe age-old "morals". And you again realize that in many orthodox Indian circles, it doesn't matter that much whether you love your partner, rather it is very important that your families love each other.
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