At one point in Dedh Ishqiya, Muniya (Huma Quereshi), covered in a hijab, travels in a rickshaw to the city and asks someone outside a tea shop if that place is the Salim Chai Khana. The person asks her name and she responds bluntly that she is Anarkali, an obvious reference to Salim-Anarkali from the classic Mughal-E-Azam. It is these instances of repartee throughout Dedh Ishqiya that make it such a clever and funny film.
Dedh Ishqiya is another story of the shenanigans of the lovable Babban (Arshad Warsi) and Khalu Jaan (Naseeruddin Shah). They return here in a completely different setting from Ishqiya, although the basic premise of the film is same as that of the earlier film. The film is set in Majidabad where the wife of the erstwhile Nawab, Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit), organizes a swayamvar to fulfill the last wish of her dead husband. However, nothing is as it seems. What follows is a tale that involves poetry, love, heist, kidnapping, and gangsters. The plot is fairly simplistic and it is easy to figure out where the film is heading. In fact, I found the plot to be very weak, there were no real surprises except the one in the end where Italvi comes in the train (I thought that it would be the police officer). But it is the moments of charming poetry, witty dialogue, and some splendid performances that give the film its heft. The film has a certain old-world nazaakat, and it is that which separates it from the mundaneness of the films of today.
What I found interesting was that Dedh Ishqiya is not only a tribute to the charming Urdu poetry and a bygone era of the Nawabs and the tehzeeb, but is also a tribute to the music of a different era. The film, in fact, pays homage to one of our most famous singers — Begum Akhtar. At one point in the film, her rendition of Humri Attariya plays on the gramophone. Some moments later, another thumri by her, Wo jo hum me tum me qarar tha, plays in the background. Unrelated factoid: Dhobi Ghat had also paid a tribute to Begum Akhtar by including one of her thumris in the film. At another point in the movie, Man Re Tu Kahe Na from the film Chitralekha (sung by Mohd. Rafi with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi) plays on the radio when Begum Para and Muniya are playing with each other after they had successfully implemented their own kidnapping heist. Even in that hilarious scene of the gangster logjam is broken by the song Hum Ko Man Ki Shakti Dena from the film Guddi (1971).
Not only that, the film also touches on elements of some classic English music of a different era. In a scene, we see that the ringtone of Babban's iPhone is Please Forgive Me by Bryan Adams. At another point, we see that Khalu Jaan wears a shirt that has the The Beatles written on it. In another scene, we see that one of the minions of Mushtaq Bhai is wearing a shirt that has Pink Floyd written on it. Finally, during the end credits, the song Humri Attariya plays and the background of the song is reminiscent of Elvis vs. JXL's song A Little Less Conversation.
Elvis Presley's A Little Less Conversation
Again, it is no coincidence that the film chooses to name Madhuri Dixit's character after another famous actress of the 1940s and 1950s — Begum Para. Begum Para had played the role of Sakina's grandmother in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Saawariya. So, was the film also trying to make a point by naming Madhuri's character after an actress that she too was 'acting'?
At two-three other instances, I also felt that Dedh Ishqiya was referring to Sholay in some way or the other. In the first few moments of the film, Mushtaq Bhai had a biased coin that had tails on both sides. In another scene in the climax, Muniya points to Babban about the gun, just like Veeru had asked for Thakur to pass him the gun — the scene gave a Sholay feeling for sure. In another scene, Khalu Jaan goes and sits on the top of the fort, like Veeru and his suicide scene on the top of the water tank. In another scene, a maal gaadi comes in the end, like in Sholay where a dramatic chase sequences happens in the maal gaadi in the beginning. In another scene, Muniya catches Babban when he tries to steal the riches from the haveli, like the scene where Radha catches Jai when he tries to steal money from their house. The friendship between Babban and Khalu Jaan could in some ways be interpreted to be like that of Jai and Veeru.
In another of the film's hilarious and witty scenes, Jaan Mohammad asks Noor Mohammad Italvi, "Italvi?, yeh kahan hai?" He responds that it is in Italy. And then Jaan Mohammad says, "Bofors vala". It is such a brilliant scene that I found myself chuckling. Later, Italvi says that his mother and Sonia Gandhi studied together in the same school. I do not know why but I felt really bad for the villian Jaan Mohammad in the end. It is Vijay Raaz's terrific performance that he actually made me root for him to win in the end. Also, the film at many points talked about the importance of dynasty. At one point, Jaan asks Italvi if he looking like a Nawab. Italvi says, "Lag to rahe hain magar hain nahi". Then, Jaan cuts his finger and asks him if the color of his blood is different from that of the royals. Then, Italvi talks about changing his DNA. In the final scenes, Italvi rips off the clothes of Mohammad calling him 'Nakli Nawaab' and all this happens in the station called 'Bap' meaning father in Hindi, referring to some dynastic linkages. Also, while learning about DNA, Jaan calls it NDA. The induction of Congress party, Italy, Sonia and the NDA — it is in these details that the film enriches us with its dark humor.
I also felt that Dedh Ishqiya hints at subtle homosexuality in almost all its lead characters. Of course, it was most visible in the two women and as Begum says that Muniya was her dost, behen and jaan. My problem was that the film tried to show that Begum turned into a lesbian because her husband did not give her enough attention because he too perhaps was gay as Begum remarks that he was only interested in laundebaazi. This is a flawed depiction of homosexuality. Heterosexual people do not turn homosexual because they have been spurned by a lover. People are either gay or bisexual; they cannot simply turn into one. I understand the argument that Begum might not have been aware of her homosexuality (or bisexuality) before marriage but it would have been great if the film at least tried to show some real depiction of homosexuality. Like how did Muniya come into her life? How did Begum realize she is attracted to women? Mainstream cinema has such a deeply flawed understanding of this topic that they still do not get it. The makers would have chickened out at the thought of hurting the 'sensibilities' of the audience, that is why they left everything open to interpretation. The makers give us enough hints, such as the rubbing of shoulders, how Begum felt jealous when she came to know Muniya spent the night with Babban, when Muniya runs and hugs Begum in that Lamhe moment where Babban is left standing with his open arms, or their shadows of physical intimacy that we see when they both were playing with each other when they had managed to get themselves kidnapped.
Some commentators have remarked that the scene where Khalu Jaan says to Babban to ask the girls for lihaaf was a reference to Ismat Chugtai's short story Lihaaf. In fact, if we read on Wikipedia, the story of Begum Para is exactly like that of the begum in Lihaaf. It says, "The story is from the point of view of a small girl who is the niece of the protagonist, Begum Jaan. Begum Jaan has had a very depressing life after marriage. Her husband, the Nawab, was much older than her and was thought to be extremely respectable for never having had any encounters with prostitutes. But it is soon revealed that it is because his interests lie in the other gender." But at the same time, in one scene, Muniya actually stops Babban from disturbing Begum and Khalu when they are sitting in the garden giving mixed signals.
The subtle homosexuality of Begum and Muniya was clearly visible, but at risk of being lambasted, I will say that I also felt hints of homosexuality, rather I will say bisexuality in Babban and Khalu too. Like the scene in the brothel, Babban is making love to the prostitute (whom we do not see) and in the commotion of all the noises, he is able hear to voice of Khalu coming from three rooms away! Or the scene, where Mushtaq says that they are like Batman and Joker as they are nothing without each other. And there have been numerous theories on the possible homosexuality of these two characters. At another point, Babban and Khalu even say that they love each other. At another point, Babban after spending the night with Muniya, says, "Aaj pehli baar main zindagi me tai nahi kar pa raha hun ki main de kya raha hun aur le kya raha hun", clearly referring to some change of coital roles. I know it is a wild conjecture but when the director himself has said that the relationship between Begum and Muniya is open to interpretation, can't we say the same about the male lead pair? This whole ambiguity about the characters, isn't it then befitting to name the film as Dedh Ishqiya — somewhere between one and two, neither here nor there.
My another problem with the film was the seven stages of love. They kept on saying that the seven stages of love were dilkashi (attraction), uns (attachment), mohabbat (love), akidat (trust), ibadat (worship), junoon (madness) followed by maut (death). All this while, I was thinking that they will get them killed in the end, that maut will finally come to them. But I guess they made a fool out of me or as they said in the film — chu*****. The detailing is so fantastic that the constellation that Begum Para says in the film yad al-jauza, popularly known as the Orion, also has seven stars — like the seven stages of love.
Dedh Ishqiya has one of the most beautiful lines of Urdu poetry. The film has used the poetry by Dr. Bashir Badr. Urdu is such a sweet language that it is hard not to get charmed by it. The mellifluous flow of the shers during the competition is one of the best scenes in the film. The scenes where they talk of the difference between baada and vaada, and harf and barf are enlightening.
In Ishqiya, Babban had said one very famous dialogue, "Tumhara love, love aur hamara love sex." Here also the film contrasted the courtship of the young and the old. Babban and Muniya discuss iPhones, Chinese noodles and sing songs like Kante Nahi Kat Te, whereas Begum and Khalu talk about stars, poetry, and naseeb.
In terms of performances, I thought Vijay Raaz and Arshad Warsi were the best. The way Arshad says main kai reyaun is so real. Madhuri looks gorgeous as always but her character was holding her from displaying her potential but her Kathak performance in Jagaave Saari Raina is simply splendid. No one can do Indian classical with such ethereal grace than her. She is lovely. The music is somewhat disappointing though. Despite some reservations, I liked Dedh Ishqiya.
Whenever I watch some films, I feel like an ignoramus about the fact that there is so little I know about culture. When I watched Dedh Ishqiya, I felt the same. There is so much creativity in the world and I know nothing. I want to do something creative as well :(
Bhayankar Thandi Beer
Books in Movies — Shotgun Psychology
Books in Movies — Points of the Horse
Dialogue of the Day:
"Yahan libaas ki keemat hai, aadmi ki nahi, mujhe gilaas bada de, sharaab kam kar de."
— Jaan Mohammad, Dedh Ishqiya