WTF ASIA 233: Ishqiya (2010)

If you are going to someone’s house, always remember to call beforehand.

Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 115 minutes.




 



 

 

Krishna had been singing in her sleep when her husband Vidyadhar wakes her up with a necklace that has a tiny Taj Mahal on it. I guess, somewhat teasingly, Krishna says that since the emperor has built the mausoleum, then she as his slave is ready to die. The rest of their flirting session seems to incorporate other somewhat troubling details from the Taj Mahal’s history. Yes, this is how the movie begins. 

Later, as Vidyadhar is eating dinner, Krishna tells him to surrender. He is shocked that she would say that, but Krishna tells him that the authorities have no witness to charge him under sections 302 and 304, meaning that there is only section 396 that would give him 4 years in prison at most.

Vidyadhar asks Krishna if she had gone to the cops. She admits that she did. She tells him that they have barely spent any time together and the lonely nights had been killing her. I am not sure how him going to prison for four years will end that, but anyways…Vidyadhar initially tries to play it off, but then says that he will cylinder himself if they don’t come to power in three months. She tells him that the word is surrender. Yes, that is what he meant.

Later that night, Kris OH SHIT!

 



I am…erm…not entirely sure what is going on.

But I am guessing that this is bad.

Iftekhar and his nephew Razzaq had taken 2,000,000 rupees, or around 25,000 USD from Iftekhar’s brother-in-law (is he also Razzaq’s other uncle?) Mushtaq. And, of course, Mushtaq wants it back. Razzaq claims that the money is all in the bag. But Mushtaq wants them dead anyways, family or not.

With Iftekhar and Razzaq in the pit, Mushtaq asks for their last requests. Razzaq’s request is to tell a joke. It is a pretty ribald joke, enough so that Razzaq is too shy to say the punchline. But Mushtaq is invested, so Iftekhar suggests that Razzaq whisper it. So, Razzaq goes up to Mushtaq, pulls him into the pit, and grabs his pistol. He points it at one of Mushtaq’s goons as Iftekhar holds a knife to Mushtaq…where did he get that knife?

In any case, Iftekhar and Razzaq get the better of Mushtaq and his goons. They tie up Mushtaq to his chair. Razzaq wants to kill him, but Iftekhar does not want to make his sister a widow. Wait, so Iftekhar’s sister is Mushtaq’s wife and Ifekhar is Razzaq’s maternal uncle…so is there another sister? How is Razzaq related to…okay, well anyways…anyways, Iftekhar considers Mushtaq and himself to be brothers-in-law, even if Mushtaq doesn’t. Probably should have stolen from family, but whatever. Mushtaq says that he forgives them, but they are not buying it. They start walking away as Mushtaq says that they will dig their own graves next time.

The two men are driving…somewhat recklessly through I guess northern…east central…India. During that time, they call up associates in the hopes of getting helped out. Unfortunately, most people deny them aid for one reason or another. But one person does offer to give them passage to Nepal…for a price. They just have to make their way to Gorakhpur, which is about 70 km from the border. The two think for a minute. Gorakhpur is where their old associate Vidyadhar Verma lives. Surely, he would help them cross the border for less. Instead of calling ahead, they figure that they can just show up and he will welcome them. They probably should have tried calling first.

After the car breaks down, the two steal a motorcycle and make their way to Vidyadhar’s house in Haliya village. They do not remember which one is his house, so they ask the only person whom they see. The elderly woman asks for a match so that she can light her torch. With her torch lit, the woman takes them to the Verma home. And a wary-looking Krishna answers.

Krishna lets the two men in, but says little to them. Iftekhar and Razzaq talk on and on about their relationship with Vidyadhar, which is mostly about them all hiding for months after the murder of a politician. Wait…what?? Well, anyways…they ask where he is, but Krishna talks only about food and drink. Iftekhar says that they can wait for Mr. Verma. When will he be back? Never.

The next morning…wait, were their beds outside? Anyways, Iftekhar is awakened by Krishna singing and playing the sitar, or doing something with the sitar. He goes over to gaze at her from the next room and, while he is super-old, it is clear that he is also super smitten. She doesn’t notice, as she is in her own world. And so is he. So much that he doesn’t notice that he is about to knock over a plant in a glass until just before it falls to the floor and breaks, causing Krishna to stop singing. She doesn’t notice Iftekhar, seemingly assuming that a servant boy named Nandu was responsible. And finally, Razzaq wakes up. I am surprised that the bright sky of the day did not wake him up.

After hiding the bag of cash, Iftekhar goes to see Krishna, who asks him to taste test some jaggery that these two guys made to make sure that they haven’t ruined it. He says that it is very good, and asks if she would like to try. She says that she is not fond of sweets, so he asks how she has such a sweet voice. Smooth.

Iftekhar apologizes for the pot that he broke and…for what happened to Krishna’s husband. He asks what happened, and she doesn’t answer. He says that Vidyadhar was always there for his friends, and Krishna responds…somewhat cryptically. The conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Razzaq, who seems well on his way to getting drunk. Krishna jokes that the two of them are apart as chalk and cheese, and Iftekhar says that they are as apart as a Hindu and a Muslim. I am not entirely sure what he means by that, but it is treated here as a joke, and Iftekhar asks her if he looks like the sort of person who would be friends with someone like Razzaq. No, Razzaq is his nephew.

Oh…and we get our introduction to Nandu, pointing Razzaq’s own pistol at him. Razzaq is more annoyed than anything else. Nandu tells him that the trigger is twisted so that the user would end up shooting himself in the face. Not foreshadowing at all. A more amused Razzaq asks Nandu how old he is. Twenty minus five…so fifteen. And how does he know so much about guns. Nandu says that people in his village fire guns young. Nandu gives him the gun and says that his father can fix it up. He goes to leave, but Razzaq chases after him and asks him if he knows the way to the red-light district. Nandu says after he is done cleaning for Krishna, but it will cost him.

Krishna is singing as she prepares food. Iftekhar recognizes the song from a movie. Apparently, his uncle was the maestro at a music school. Krishna asks what happened that turned Iftekhar…this way. Destiny, he sighs. He tells her to keep humming, lest the food become too spicy…smooth. She asks him to peel the garlic, so he does. He says that he had hoped that her husband would help him and his nephew cross into Nepal, but now it will take a few days to find a new work-around. Well, there is that sketchy travel agent guy. Anyways, Iftekhar asks if there is a safe house that they can stay for the moment. Krishna offers to let them stay with her. After all, the safe house would have no music for him to hear or plants for him to ruin.

Razzaq takes Nandu to town. On the way, Nandu tells him about the caste war between his village across the forest, and the village of the landlords on the other side of the lake. The war has been going on for decades, and his village “earned” six landlords last month. Nandu says that he will be joining his village’s army very soon. When they reach the town, Razzaq gives Nandu 500 rupees, over 5 times what he promised, and asks what Nandu would do in the army. Instead of answering, Nandu gives him directions to the red-light district. Razzaq offers him a job of sorts, and Nandu neither accepts nor declines.

Razzaq finds himself in what looks like an apartment crowded with men and a dancing woman. A man approaches him with a book filled with photographs of women. But Razzaq seems more interested in the dancing woman in front of him. All right, then.

Uh oh.

Back at the Verma residence, Mushtaq’s goons give Iftekhar and Razzaq a beating. Afterwards, Iftekhar asks for forgiveness. Mushtaq asks where the money is. Iftekhar and Razzaq simultaneously give conflicting answers, causing Mushtaq to laugh. So, Iftekhar goes to where he had hidden the bag, only to find it gone. Razzaq says that he had taken 500 from it just that morning. They go through the entire room looking for the bag. Krishna comes in to see what is going on, only for Mushtaq to…introduce himself. Iftekhar tells him to let her go, but Mushtaq says that he could bury her with them.

And, like Mushtaq had said earlier, he is forcing Iftekhar and Razzaq to dig the hole this time. Iftekhar is in the middle of begging for his life when his sister calls up Mushtaq. Mushtaq actually gives the phone to Iftekhar to answer. He explains the problem and begs her to help. She tells him to give the phone back to Mushtaq. She asks Mushtaq to let them go if possible…or just kill them.

Ultimately, Mushtaq decides that he wants his money back. So, he will give Iftekhar and Razzaq a month to pay up, with interest. And if they try to escape, then he will find them and bury them in graves, with part of Krishna’s body in each.

Later, after Mushtaq and his goons have left, Razzaq confronts Krishna, accusing her of having taken the money, as she had been the only one here during the time that it went missing. She says that while Razzaq was out enjoying himself, Nandu was here cleaning Razzaq’s room. So, Razzaq gets on the motorcycle and heads to Nandu’s village.

And that child just shot a gun while running past Razzaq.

There are more guns where that came from. Razzaq encounters a small gathering of men and boys listening to a guy giving a speech against the landlords. And there are a bunch of rifles in front him. And then he stops talking to stare at Razzaq, which gets the others to look at him as well. Razzaq sheepishly asks for Nandu’s house.

A few of the soldiers take Razzaq away to interrogate him. Razzaq tells them that he came from Haliya village, and one of them says that that is close to the landlord village. He clarifies that he is from Bhopal, and is merely staying with Mr. Verma at Haliya village. That he is looking for Nandu to get the gun fixed. He doesn’t mention the money. One of the troops tells him that Nandu has joined the army, so Razzaq had better stop trying to look for him. Then he asks about Mr. Verma, and Razzaq is surprised that they don’t know that he…um…is no more. Well, they eventually let him go.

Razzaq goes to his uncle and says that they should pack up and go. Mushtaq won’t find them and this place will get them killed before Mushtaq returns. Iftekhar says that Razzaq can go on the run, but he does not want to stay on the run for the rest of his life. And he cannot let an innocent person be killed because he left. So, he intends to kill Mushtaq. Razzaq cannot believe that his uncle will martyr himself for some romantic notion, especially since it was Iftekhar who had taught him to save himself first in the first place. They should just leave and let the girl die. Iftekhar refuses.

Two gunshots send the two men scurrying for cover. And two more. Who is shooting? Oh, shit, it’s Krishna? With a shotgun at Iftekhar’s face, she tells him and Razzaq that she did not give them shelter so that they could put her life at risk. So, no one is fighting or running away or anything without her consent. She tells Razzaq that she had always known that he was a scoundrel, but that Iftekhar had seemed smarter. Now she says that he turned out to be the biggest fool. She then throws the shotgun down and walks off.

Razzaq smirks. Innocent, right? Of course not. Krishna knows who her husband was, and why he was a wanted man. And soon, we will too.

 



 

 

I have seen this movie described as a neo-noir and…yeah, okay, sure. Personally, I would call it a crime comedy. Despite some of the somewhat grimmer elements here and there, it is mostly a lighthearted movie that is not meant to be taken seriously. It is a movie about a pair of goofball fools who have found that they have bitten off more than they could chew and end up getting into worse and worse situations.

Iftekhar may or may not have been telling the truth about his uncle, but whatever happened, he has turned to a petty thief. And, due to circumstances, he has turned his nephew Razzaq into a petty thief as well. They petty thieves somehow end up crossing their own relatives, whom they knew was a mean crime boss. Why they actually ripped off a relative who could track down and kill them is never explained but, again, they are fools.

Due to their foolishness, uncle and nephew’s attempt to flee to Nepal end up with them trapped in a region filled with danger. At first, it seems that danger would be the low-level war between the upper and lower castes. But when Mushtaq catches up to them and gives them an ultimatum, it turns out that there is a player whom Iftekhar and Razzaq may have not counted on: Vidyadhar’s widow.

Krishna is a rather interesting character. She let Iftekhar and Razzaq into her house, but was rather standoffish towards them for a while. That is fair; she doesn’t know who they are, and could have turned them away if she wanted to. She sort of let her guard down when she thought that they were not around to hear her or didn’t care; when she was singing to herself or talking down to those who work for her. She acted a reluctantly generous host to Iftekhar and Razzaq, so they thought that she was a nice woman. Or at least not someone to be concerned about. And that turned out to not be the case.

There may be gaps in the history of Iftekhar and Razzaq, even the recent history before the movie. But we get the general of idea of who they are now. With Krishna, even her present is shrouded in uncertainty. I would hesitate to call her a femme fatale, but it becomes clear that she is not quite as innocent as Iftekhar and Razzaq to believe she was. That is not really her fault. She was not hiding necessarily hiding the less savory parts of her personality. It is just that who she was was none of their business until it had to be. And when it had to be, she revealed what she knew about her husband’s business. That they could have her as either a formidable ally or enemy, not just someone to be ignored or lusted at. And…they still let their guard down around her. Razzaq because he is a bit of a hound for any pretty girl; Iftekhar because he is a hopeless romantic, despite being twice her age.

I will admit that there was a reveal about her that…I…erm…am not that fond of. And I am not sure how the Indian audience was meant to feel about it. That said, the movie had dropped a bunch of hints about it that I as a viewer had ignored, so perhaps that is on me. In any case, that reveal was relevant for a total of maybe three minutes before it is rendered moot, so whatever.

I think that what I like about this movie, on top of the humor and the unpredictable narrative, is the way that it presents the society as a very clumsy balancing act that occasionally dips into chaos. And that perhaps a little chaos is necessary. I did see that some reviewers had problems with the ending, but did not explain why, perhaps to not be too spoilery. Honestly, I do kind of wish that the movie’s climax was even messier than it was with all of the balls already in the air, but it was amusingly messy as it was.

At the same time, the movie does take pains to show the beauty of the area. As much as it kind of pokes at the area’s wealth disparity and the caste tensions, it observes the quiet moments with a gentle eye. For example, there was absolutely no narrative reason for the movie to include this shot, but it adds just a little something to the experience.

This movie fared…okay…at the box office…I guess. Not great. It certainly didn’t do well enough that I expected it to get a sequel, but Dedh Ishqiya came out in 2014. It was pretty good as well, though the first half or so can be a bit indulgent and could have been tightened up by quite a bit. It also did…okay…at the box office.

Anyways, this is a fun little crime flick. Yeah, that’s it.



 

 



 

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