Dedh Ishqiya (Love 1.5) is that rare breed of movie where the sequel is actually better than the original. Ishqiya which released to rave reviews in 2010 as an original, homegrown black comedy, produced with the blessings of auteur-producer Vishal Bharadwaj, marked the debut of Abhishek Chaubey. The film’s appeal lay in its indie feel versus the typical Bollywood masala, the rustic background of real India versus the glamorous sheen of urban India as portrayed in a standard Indian flick and its stellar star cast of Naseeruddin Shah, Vidya Balan and Arshad Warsi.
The story revolves around the shenanigans of two small time criminals, Iftikhar (Khalujan) and Babban. The Uncle-Nephew duo are on the run from their gangster chieftain (Mushtaq), who wants to bury them alive, after they botch up a job. While in hiding, they meet up with Krishna, the sexy widow of a local gangster. Both Uncle and Nephew fall for Krishna’s charms and she convinces them to kidnap a businessman. Krishna however has an ulterior motive and there in lies a tale of intrigue, passion and betrayal. Who is playing whom? Is Krishna the helpless widow with overactive libido that she pretends to be? If not, what’s her game. And who does she actually love? Babban or Iftikhar?
Dedh Ishqiya (2014) continues with the escapades of Khalujan and Babban and interestingly, it begins on the same note as Ishqiya: Babban standing in a dug out grave narrating a ‘latifa’ (joke) to Mushtaq (the gangster boss). Once the punchline is delivered, Mushtaq instructs his men to bury Babban alive for botching up a job. But wily Babban now has to tell an “afsana” (story) to save his life. Of course, he manages to get the better of the boss and his henchmen and runs away to find Khalujan who has deserted him in his hour of need and what’s more, absconded with the prized necklace that they had robbed. He tracks Khalujan down to Mahmudabad where the widow of the Nawab, Begum Para, is holding a mushaira (poetry contest). Posing as a ghazal-spouting nawab, Khalujan falls for the charms of Begum Para (played by Madhuri Dixit to exquisite perfection) and Babban instantly loses his heart to Begum Para’s confidante Muniya (Huma Qureishi). The plot thickens when Jan Mohammed, a local politician, enters the fray. He is bent upon winning the mushaira — the lucky winner of the mushaira will wed Begum Para — and has blackmailed a poet to write his ghazals for him. The besotted Khalujan gifts the stolen necklace to the Begum even as a plot to kidnap the widow is revealed. Who has engineered the kidnapping? The story turns and twists its way to a high-octane ending touching upon the themes of love, betrayal, passion… Will the Uncle-Nephew Duo lose it all again?
This time around, Chaubey tells a gripping story with the reveals coming thick and fast in the last act. Like the first film, this one too retains the black comedy. For instance, in one scene Khalujan tells Babban about the seven stages of love: “Ishq ke saat mukaam hote hain – dilkashi, uns, mohabbat, akeedat, ibaadat aur junoon (There are seven stages of love – attraction, infatuation, love, reverence, worship and obsession).” When Babban asks what is the seventh stage, he replies, “Maut — Death”. Later the same dialogue is used with a slight twist by Babban when he asks where does ‘sex’ come into all this and answers his own question with: “Dilkashi. Sex. Uns. Sex. Mohabbat….”
Unlike the previous film, the storytelling here is superior; the reveals are set up brilliantly and keeps the audience engaged. Even more fascinating is the ambience of the film — the Urdu-accented dialogues and the decadence of the nawabi lifestyle are juxtaposed against the cut-throat motivations of its characters.