Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sound and Fury: Ishaqzaade

This is Ishaqzaade's storyline till half-time. Parma and Zoya are a small-town UP Romeo and Juliet. They meet cute when he barges into her house and holds her at gunpoint. That’s as personal a gesture as anyone makes in this movie, and soon they’re falling for each other despite belonging to different religions and rival political families. They marry, and just when you begin to wonder why things are going so smoothly, he tells her he wasn’t actually marrying her, just playing with her and destroying her reputation. She responds by shooting him. Only, he’s taken the bullets out. And so on.
That Habib Faisal's Ishaqzaade is entertaining is undeniable. It achieves this not by subtle suggestion, or by building a mood and maintaining it, but by keeping the viewer constantly occupied. The hits keep coming at you: chase sequences, love scenes, item numbers. There isn't a moment of stillness – not for the characters, or the story, or the roving camera. But if piling set piece upon set piece were all that mattered, Shaitaan would have been the best film of 2011. Ishaqzaade is an attractive collection of arrows whizzing towards a target that doesn’t exist.
Maybe it was intended to be so. Perhaps the very act of mulling over things – of characters forming an opinion that has some basis in reality – is antithetical to this film’s existence. Maybe Parma doesn’t change his worldview because his mother is killed, but rather, because she tells him to do so. That's a key difference. Changing his mind towards Zoya, a ‘musalla’, on his own would require him to pause and do some thinking. The film doesn’t encourage either of these activities. But a dying mother’s instructions – now that’s a whole lot easier to follow blindly. This refusal to examine the self extends to this film’s attitude towards its audience, especially the expectation that we’ll swallow the “social message” at the end without questioning whether a film like this has any right appropriating it in the first place.

As Parma, Arjun Kapoor seems bent on projecting a sort of animal magnetism, and ends up dangerously close to self-parody. He settles down after the break, but by then film’s been taken over by Parineeti Chopra. As she did in her debut, Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl (also written by Faisal), Chopra emerges as the best reason to watch this film. Whether Zoya’s gifting herself a gun or attacking Kapoor with a stick, a pistol or a shard of glass, Chopra comes across as believable and good-humouredly independent. Priyanka Chopra, Parineeti’s sister, essayed a similar take-no-prisoners role in Kaminey to widespread acclaim. Parineeti improves on that by seeming utterly at ease in the male-dominated small-town milieu of Ishaqzaade. If Zoya undermines patriarchic assumptions, it’s not because she’s out to provoke or be rebellious. This is just who she is.
It might be short on insight, but Faisal's film looks and sounds great. Chaturvedi’s camerawork recalls his work on both Vishal Bharadwaj’s Maqbool and (particularly in the chase sequences down narrow lanes) Ram Gopal Varma’s Company. Amit Trivedi’s music is dependable as always, and it’s supported by a fine background score by Ranjit Barot. Faisal’s debut film was Do Dooni Chaar, which was as becalmed as Ishaqzaade is jumpy. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. He has a knack for creating feisty female characters (Shruti in Band Baaja Baraat, the daughter in Do Dooni Chaar), and he’s gained visual style since his last outing. He’s lost substance, though. If his scripts for Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl and this film are any indication, he might be a writer-director in search of something worthwhile to say.

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