Ask people about Abhishek Chaubey’s Ishqiya and they’ll mention the songs Ibn-e-batuta and Dil toh bachcha hai ji. If there is one problem with the brilliant sequel Dedh Ishqiya, then it is that there are no ‘hit’ songs (even though Vishal Bharadwaj’s music works really well in the film). But if there was ever a Bollywood film that deserves to make hundreds of crores, it’s this one. Dedh Ishqiya is a hundred times better than part one.
If you were worried that director and co-writer Abhishek Chaubey and Vishal Bharadwaj (producer, co-writer, dialogue writer and music director) had exhausted their supply of sardonic dialogues in the first film, relax. Dedh Ishqiya outdoes the first film in wit and intelligence. Few filmmakers have the ability to deliver dark and nuanced humour with such confidence, and the Chaubey-Bharadwaj team has scored with this deeply awesome instalment.
At face value, Dedh Ishqiya is about a necklace, a rich widow and the two criminals who want to own both. Fittingly for a story about conmen, the film is full of secrets, subtexts, satire and homages. But first and foremost, Dedh Ishqiya is a very entertaining movie. It’s got a generous doses of cinematic comedy, a terrific special-effect-aided romance between Naseeruddin Shah and Madhuri Dixit, a superb villain and more.
The story picks up an indefinite amount of time after the events of the first movie. Babban (Arshad Warsi) and Khalujan (Shah) continue to con their way through life in the hinterland and evade being buried alive by their former boss, Mushtaq (Salman Shahid). After a heist goes wrong, the duo chance upon the ultimate con: ‘settling down’ in a gigantic, nawabi palace occupied by the ridiculously rich Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit-Nene) and her companion Munniya (Huma Qureshi).
Trouble brews and hilarity ensues when the villain Nawab Jaan Mohammad (Vijay Raaz) decides to contest Khalu for Begum’s hand over rounds of shayari and target shooting. As the film goes through its myriad twists and turns, the secondary characters follow their own individual arcs, making Dedh Ishqiyateem with intrigue and, of course, confusion. Begum Para’s stunning and labyrinthine palace complements the story with its many layers wonderfully. Setu’s elegant cinematography, while giving your retinas a spa massage, also plays on the idea of layers visually. And so, for example, when we see the gathered audience for the shayari contest, we see them from the top, through a net of bulbs that serve to both illuminate and obscure. There’s a scene in which Setu’s use of shadow play that will haunt your dreams for days.
Much of the film’s humour is dry and sarcastic, with deliciously acidic irony. There are deconstructions of Mexican standoffs juxtaposed to songs with stinging, poignant lyrics. The shayari contest between Khalu and Jaan Mohammad is itself worth the price of admission. The genius of Dedh Ishqiya lies in the details. Just after Shah and Dixit-Nene wax eloquent about Ghalib and Lihaaf, a shot shows a bar with the signboard ‘Bhayankar Chilled Beer’ and Shah’s knocking back country liquor. The climax of the film takes place at a railway station called ‘Bap’. Hilarious nuances like these are scattered generously all through the film.
Shah and Warsi are a classic onscreen couple: they bicker, fight, dupe each other, but ultimately can’t do without each other. Babban and Khalu are funny guys with a moral compass that always points towards immorality, and Shah and Warsi portray them delightfully, with a refreshing lack of apology. This time Shah’s Khalu loses his faux youthful mehendi-dyed beard but gains a tint of vulnerability as he pursues Begum Para. Matching him punchline for punchline is Warsi, who is hilarious but also able to reveal a darker side when he shows Babban to be a superficial romantic who doesn’t hesitate to manhandle and slap his current beloved when he feels betrayed. Warsi should really do more films like this one instead of last week’s unmentionable dud.
As Begum Para, Dixit-Nene looks stunning and has a few superb scenes with Shah, but doesn’t have the magnetic screen presence she used to have. It’s still great to see her back on the big screen in a really good film. Qureshi yet again plays a woman wearing an invisible ‘Don’t mess mess with me’ sign, and she seems to have perfected that style here. It’s nice to see that she’s getting better and more wide ranging with every film. Manoj Pahwa in a small but significant role is terrific. Bringing down the house is Vijay Raaz, who is delightfully scummy and who teases every comic as well as menacing possibility out of Jaan Mohammed’s character. It is frustrating that he doesn’t appear in more movies.
In short, Dedh Ishqiya is smarter, funnier, richer and way more gorgeous than its predecessor. If you’re a fan of clever lines with terrific actors, great writing, masterful direction and Urdu poetry, Dedh Ishqiya hits your sweet spot. If you don’t really give a damn about any of this and just want a fun time at the movies, Dedh Ishqiya is perhaps the most hilarious thriller Bollywood has produced.