You have to commend the writers of Issaq for managing to take a classic story and making a mess of it. Director Manish Tiwary and team’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in Varanasi, is incoherent and as pot-holed as the Mumbai roads. They take the well-read, well-known, oft-interpreted story and manage to riddle it with clichés, spoofy characters and bullet holes.
Rahul Mishra (Prateik) and Bachchi Kashyap (Amyra Dastur) are from two feuding families. Why they are mortal enemies is never made clear. Against advisement and better judgment they openly romance on the banks of the Banaras ghats and even secretly marry in a temple under the auspices of a chillum-smoking sadhu (Makrand Deshpande).
The narrative jumps without warning or transition from scene to scene. Prateik is seen hiding from a Madrasi Naxalite (Prashant Narayanan) one moment and then leaping off a bridge in another. He’s seen wooing a firangi later and in the next scene falls in love the moment he sets eyes on Bachchi. His love is laced with madness. Just like Bachchi’s uncle’s (Ravi Kissen) hatred for the Mishra verges on the insane.
At some point is becomes clear that the Kashyaps, Mishras and the Naxalite all want rights to illegally excavate and tell sand.
We all know how Romeo and Juliet ends: with death. But before we get there, Tiwary assaults with excruciating scenes of Prateik on the run, being hunted down by the Madrasi, of a local policeman determined to marry Bachchi.
Unfortunately, you really don’t feel anything for the couple in question. Dastur is sweet and comes across as the innocent virgin she plays but it’s never clear what makes her stand out in a crowd. Prateik does not show any growth in performance even after a handful of films. His Hindi still carries a twang, his English sounds too western for a Banarasi thug. The supporting cast’s pitch does not match that of the lead actors’. They perform with exaggeration; in fact sometimes you think you are a watching a spoof. Only Narayanan, Rajeshwari Sachdev, Neena Gupta and Kissen bring some gravitas to the film.
An incomprehensible script (in spite of rock solid source material), over the top performances, lackluster dialogues and absence of chemistry between Prateik and Dastur (though credit to Dastur for a valiant effort) makes Issaq hard work to sit through.