DEDH ISHQIYA. Director: Abhishek Chaubey. Players: Naseeruddin Shah, Madhuri Dixit, Arshad Warsi, Huma Qureshi, Vijay Raaz. Music: Vishal Bhardwaj. Hindi with Eng. Sub-tit. Theatrical release (Shemaroo).

The business of making sequels is still new for Hindi movies. While this worldwide filmmaking trend of late has mostly been used to cash in the built-in audience for previously successful mega-budget action movies, it’s now producer Bhardwaj and director Chaubey’s turn wi

Staged in a grownup playground where just about everyone—yes, everyone—is painted in shades of gray mischief, Begum Para (Dixit), a refined and rich widow with an egalitarian nawab-princely following, announces a poetry contest where she will marry the winner and immediately attracts the attention of Khalu-jaan (Shah), a ruffian with a dubious past. Posing as refined gentry, Khalu is soon joined by his bumbling side-kick Babban (Warsi). Before Khalu and Babban can even roll up their sleeves to defraud the beautiful widow, Khalu finds himself drawn to Begum Para and Babban is smitten with the Begum’s vivacious maid-attendant Munniya (Qureshi).th a smaller entry. Adding to the success of their quirky, myth-making and off-beat 2010 entry Ishqiya, the duo return with the equally off-beat Dedh Ishqiya, which amounts to an amoral, asymmetrical, myth-busting romantic comedy-thriller.

At heart, Begum Para’s opulent marital sweepstakes is what the ancients called a “swayamvar,” a Hindu ritual that allowed a woman to choose a husband from multiple suitors, a thematic fodder for umpteen modern day TV reality shows in India. Retro-fitting an ancient ritual with modern sensibilities—or lack thereof—is a clever trick employed in Chaubey’s script here.

In addition to diddling with an ancient marriage ritual with a lascivious edge, Dedh Ishqiya also wittingly or unwittingly emerges as championing gay rights. The refreshingly candid portrayal of a same-sex relationship as a pivotal element in the story is captured delicately and without judgmental innuendos. Regardless of when the gay angle was plotted into the movie, in the wake of a decision by India’s highest court recently striking down legal protections for millions of LGBT folks in India, this gutsy move by Bhardwaj and Chaubey hits an even more profound socio-political note.

When Bhardwaj, the maestro, teams up with lyricist Gulzar, the result has often been enchanting (Maachis, Omkara). The arc continues here with a breathtakingly beautiful score. There is Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Dil Ka Mizaaj Ishqiya,” which strikes a chord for ageless longing. Rekha Bhardwaj’s “Hamari Atariya”—originally penned for the first Ishqiya—finds a hand-in-glove home here, especially when accompanied by Dixit’s still-able classical Indian kathak moves and a sumptuous, sensual chorus backdrop. In a light classical node, Rekha Bhardwaj and the dance master Birju Maharaj gradually increase the tempo for “Jagaaave Saari Raina” where the notes eventually fill every audible crevice. In an age of electronically manufactured pseudo-ballads and dance chart positioning, Dedh Ishqiya is an immensely satisfying boon to the ears.

Dixit’s return to acting after taking a break to raise a family has been spotty up until now. The reason Dedh Ishqiya works for Dixit is that, much like Sridevi in English Vinglish, Dixit finally embraces, no, she relishes, a woman of a certain age now only interested in the comforts life has to offer and settling down with a soul mate. Shah and Warsi hold themselves in check as two-bit crooks the same roles they played in the first Ishqiya. An especially noteworthy role is Raaz as Khalu’s professional nemesis and personal competitor for Begum Para’s affections. Equally vile and just as much a poser, Raaz’s Jaan Mohammad provides the down and low cunning that Khalu must always contend with.

Devising a bawdy comedy and holding it together with a patchwork of male bonding in the trenches of low-life hoodlums, a feast of poetry, pseudo-courtly love, gay love and criminal trespasses that criss-cross every which way would be a tall order for lesser film makers. In the hands of Bhardwaj and Chaubey, Dedh Ishqiya strikes its mark, not the least of which is the notion that women can just as equally be dirty rotten scoundrels as men.

Score one for gender equality!

EQ: A

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