Imagine this. You are a woman. You meet a man who is youthful, good-looking, charming, funny. He has a poetic soul and a talent for generous seduction. Every encounter is a heady excursion in wit, fine food, daytime wine and fervid romancing. What’s more, he is progressive, admires strong women, supports LGBT causes and is sensitive to the undercurrents of class. Would you feel like you hit the Mills and Boon jackpot or not?
The women in Dedh Ishqiya, including Huma Qureshi, remain opaque, desperate, good hearted, apologetic about their wickedness
Time passes but the relationship stays where it is. Each effort to change it, give it another shape, fails. This perfect man is only happy performing as the great lover. Boredom creeps in. You ignore it. You wonder where this thing is headed but you quell the questions. After all he is attentive and progressive too. Aisa ladka phir kahan milega? You want so much to like him, so you try harder.
When it’s over you don’t feel angry, you just wish you had ended it earlier, when it was fun.
This is kind of how I felt at the end of Dedh Ishqiya. Although I found it often very enjoyable I wish I had left in the interval. In which case, I would have taken back a loopily entertaining film juicy with urbane wit, droll diversions and clever riffs on the ‘pehle aap’ Nawabi culture — and most of all the love of language. I can’t remember when I last heard so many throaty ‘kh’s and suggestive ‘z’s slither past filmy ghararas and winking chilmans in decaying havelis.
What recent film had a qawwal like this one — not a Sufi caricature — but one who moved and smiled with as much grace as his notes?
And yet, Dedh Ishqiya for all its good qualities, suffers from the same problem as the majority of Hindi films: it is unable to create female characters with any real perceptiveness. It sets out on a journey of sensuality but leaves the women behind, ending at a train station, aptly called Baap.
Some exams you have to work hard to fail. Getting Madhuri Dixit to play a fragile, plotting begum and ending up with a frumpy, uninteresting woman whose only mystery is a sad past, is an artistic failure that, in this day and age, is just embarrassing. Huma Qureshi’s sexiness is also of a predictable kind and there is not a scene in which the writer or director seem interested in what goes on in her head or, for that matter, aware that something does.
The male characters are presented with affection for their foibles and tenderness for their flaws. Because the filmmakers enjoy them, the actors too enjoy them and so do we, the audience. The women remain opaque, desperate, good hearted, apologetic about their wickedness. They are a catalogue of empty poses; some boyish idea of what a woman might be.
Even the revelation of the women’s sexual relationship is presented with nervous quickness — some girlish tickling and giggling and an ambiguous, fleeting shadow. The moment seems more about the fact that the filmmakers have read Ismat Chugtai’s Lihaf than about the women in the film. Wah, such well-read boys.
It’s hard to know whether the filmmakers became tongue-tied with political correctness or whether, like most conventional Indian men they are only comfortable in the company of men and so befuddled by women that they can’t look them in the eye and see the person in there.
Well, nari teri yahi kahani. Wait and hope that in the next indie film the boys will finally live up to the promise we keep patting them on the head for.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.