Abhishek Chaubey makes a very confident directorial debut with 'Ishqiya', a film which is set in the badlands of eastern Uttar Pradesh and is replete with the lingo and ethos of the region. Chaubey does a flawless job of narrating his tale except for the last bit of the film, where utter confusion reigns. He fumbles towards the finale and is unable to wrap up the film up satisfactorily, thus stopping short of making a great movie. The director manages to lay out his film perfectly, the setting, the lingo, the people, and the ethos of the region, all delectably done. His actors too fit into their respective roles with utter ease. In fact, the film is a total delight, till the end, of course.
Chaubey's tale is about two small time crooks, Mamujaan (Naseeruddin Shah) and Babban (Arshad Warsi), who are on the run from a small time don, who they have duped. The unrepentant duo seek shelter in the home of a friend, who they realise is no more. But his widow Krishna (Vidya Balan) welcomes them into her house. Gradually, both the maamu and his crooked nephew find themselves hooked by the comely widow, who turns out to be as crooked as them. With the masks off, all three now hatch a kidnapping plot so as to get rich quickly. But like the best of plans, it unhinges in the end, leading to utter chaos.
Chaubey excels in the telling of his tale, which is full of twists and turns. There is never a dull moment with Mamujaan and Babban around. Both fall for the charms of Krishnaji, who lures them with her seductive glances and gestures. Naseer and Arshad are a made for each other couple, each as crooked as the other. While Mamujaan falls for the charms of Krishna first, Babban is the one who manages to score first. Both actors share an excellent chemistry on screen, as they complement each other superbly. Naseer is a class act and he does not disappoint in his portrayal of the wizened old rogue, who dyes his hair black and starts romancing the widow. Arshad is a perfect foil for him and renders an equally flawless performance as Babban, a man without any scruples or morals.
But the real revelation is Vidya Balan. One has never seen her like this. Krishna is a bold woman who knows how to flash her eyes, flaunt her hair and get her way. She is just as wily as the two crooks and is more than a match for them, as Krishna has them falling like nine pins for her, fighting for her attention. Her native cunning is reflected in the cold blooded manner in which she masterminds the kidnapping plot. Put simply, Vidya is terrific as Krishna, with her body language, bold gestures and volatile eyes. She is a true delight to watch as she manages to keep one on tenterhooks, not sure what to expect next. Her ethos being, all is fair in love. Vidya matches up to the performance of Naseer and Arshad with her scintillating portrayal of Krishna. Even the minor characters have been extremely well written, for instance,the don who is after Mamujan and Babban, the businessman with his quirky sexual tastes and the old woman, each managing to be as memorable as the main characters.
Surely credit for this should go to Chaubey for the manner in which he has conceived and written his characters and the confidence with which he has directed this movie. Playing an equally prominent role in the proceedings is the setting and the backdrop, which is so lifelike and authentic, with its gun and kidnapping culture and with young kids being roped into caste wars which dominate eastern UP. Without going into heavyduty details and wasting screen time, Chaubey manages to lay out all of this effectively.
Vishal Bhardwaj's music is like an icing on the cake. It is delectable and at least two of its numbers, 'Ibn e Batuta' and 'Dil To Baccha Hai' have become fairly popular. The other two numbers, which have been sung by Rekha Bhardwaj too would have been noticed by music lovers. The camerawork by Mohana Krishna is quite enticing, especially the manner in which he captures the very colourful backdrop.
One just wishes that Chaubey could have sorted out the ending and this would become one of those cult movies. Though entirely 'desi' in tone, the film replicates the style of many a European film. 'Ishqiya' is a stylish movie, peppered with lots of black humour, which manages to keep one glued to the end, except for the unimpressive climax. Nevertheless, it's canny Chaubey all the way……