Abhishek Chaubey’s follow up to the 2010 success Ishqiya is cleverly titled Dedh Ishqiya (one and a half Ishqiya). The protagonists remain the same – Khalu and Babban. While the first part saw both vying for Vidya Balan’s attention, this time Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi find themselves in the crosshairs of Madhuri Dixit Nene (Begum Para) and Huma Qureshi (Muniya).
Augmented by Vishal Bhardwaj’s delicious and droll dialogues and Gulzar’s quirky lyrics, Dedh Ishqiya is set in hinterland India. The screenplay lingers a while too long to establish where the characters and the story are headed. This lag happens in the middle section, after Khalu and Babban, who have stolen a priceless necklace, are separated briefly and reunited at a crumbling royal house.
Khalu (Shah) is wooing widow Begum Para (Dixit Nene), who seeks a poet as her second husband. Her handmaiden Muniya (Qureshi) is also her closest confidante, who soon becomes the object of Babban’s (Warsi) affection. Acting as a foil to Khalu’s amorous attempts is the local MLA, played by a feisty Vijay Raaz. But there is another plan afoot, one that is sure to entrap the love-struck duo and this leads to a somewhat silly and protracted climax that becomes the least memorable part of the film.
As in part one, the most electric scenes are those between Shah and Warsi – both actors are exemplary. Qureshi glides through her role effortlessly while Dixit-Nene is well cast as the graceful, enigmatic dowager.
Kudos also to the cinematography, costumes and production design teams, but mostly it’s the dialogues one relishes. Largely in Urdu, Bhardwaj juxtaposes fading feudal grandeur with modern cultural icons like the iPhone 5, Batman and the poet with Italian antecedents who invokes his political connections as a last ditch effort to save his skin!