22 April 2011

ISHQIYA (Dir. Abhishek Chaubey, 2010, India) - Rural Noir

It’s hard to believe that this is director Abhishek Chaubey’s debut given the confidence, maturity and assurance with which he handles the material. Chaubey’s emergence has been under the tutorage of Vishal Bhardwaj, a film maker who like his contemporary Anurag Kashyap is not afraid of blurring genres and mixing visual styles whilst grinning mischievously and rubbing his hands with glee. A lot of the energy and zeal generated by Ishqiya comes largely from the chance to send up many of the often redundant values and conventions of mainstream Hindi cinema. Firstly, our heroes played by Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi are certainly not heroes as they fumble through life and rely foolishly on a streak of duplicity familiar from the universe of film noir. Secondly, the love interest is neither loving nor interested in dancing as a spectacle for the men around her. Instead Krishna played by vampishly by Vidya Balan is neither a femme fatale nor a symbol of innocence – she merely wants an explanation from her deceased husband. Thirdly, like all great femme fatales before her, Krishna’s sexuality is manipulation but in this case it leads to the formation of a love triangle in which affections are transferred into a friendship. Finally, by situating the story in the geographical context of the rural village, Chaubey explicitly draws on influences ranging from Shyam Benegal to Satyajit Ray. However, what makes this such a memorable and imaginative experience is the enduring nature of the characters which are imbued with a real affection – the three main leads deliver exceptional performances and whilst the denouement is a little predictable, the camaraderie forged between them clearly leaves it open for a sequel that for once might actually be justified. It is worth mentioning that Ishqiya also benefits immensely from a terrific soundtrack including one of the most melancholic Indian songs of recent years – the Gulzar penned ‘Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji’. In terms of narrative interruptions, it really works a treat. Everything else about the film including the editing, cinematography and sound design is spot on. I have no idea why I didn't come to this one earlier but I know I will return to it again soon.

3 comments:

  1. Really nice Omar. This one was a tricky beast for me. I was totally unmoved by it first. Only after a couple of days of thinking, it all started to fall together. But I won't place my bets on Chaubey right away.

    CHeers!

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  2. Great analysis of the film, Omar!

    Yeah, Ishqiya was a very assured debut from the director. It wasn't a surprise that the film was produced by Vishal Bharadwaj since it seemed to be influenced by Omkara as well. Basing a noirish tale in a rural/semi-urban setting seemed a master-stroke for me as it made the film that much more interesting to watch.

    The acting of the three lead actors, as you mentioned, was really excellent. But Vidya Balan, as the ambiguous, manipulative & sexually-charged woman, was the star of the show for me. Though I knew that she's a very good actress, her role here still turned out to be a revelation for me.

    Interestingly, in case you didn't know, though she is a Hindi film actress, she made her debut in a nice & poetic Bengali film called Bhalo Theko (Take Care).

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  3. I think I have come at this from a position which has been somewhat shaped by a groundswell of positive critical opinion. As for Omkara, I never thought of that film - it does important in relation to the look and location of the film. Bhalo Theko also looks interesting, will have to check it out.

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