A GEM FROM AVADH

Mehru Jaffer

It is true that a dedh part of the film is about fleshly stuff, like boobs, bums and smooches. But more of Dedh Ishqia is about yaari between a few people who meet by chance. The masti that these characters indulge in life is almost enviable and definitely more sacred than sex or transient love.

This jewel of a film is about human beings bonding, and buddies who know how to enjoy each other despite the life-threatening circumstances they face. It features the Begum Para, widow of Mahmudabad, a role that easily elevates Madhuri Dixit’s dhak dhak girl image to that of an enchanting ataria woman. What this enchantress of Mahmudabad has in common with other characters in the film is sheer camaraderie. Begum Para shares with Naseeruddin Shah’s Khalu, Arshad Warsi’s Babban and Huma Qureshi’s Munia an ear for that special call to adventure which beckons all those souls ripe for transportation to the next surprise in life, perhaps in the spirit of Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s impatient plea for intoxicants, to free the moment without fear of the punishment that invariably befalls all adventurers:

Aaye kuchh abr kuchh sharab aaye uske baad aaye jo azaab aaye...

This most entertaining tale-within-a-tale takes place against the dusty landscape of Mahmudabad, a two-hour drive from Lucknow and an important station, exposing an entire way of life within the cultural circle of the capital of Avadh. Due to the very unusual glitter of this way of life and the prosperity that came with it, the lands of Avadh have been coveted for centuries by adventurers from around the world. The British saw Avadh as the cherry on the cake and chewed it up in the nineteenth century as if the heavens had given them the right to do so.

The Mahmudabad fort covers a sprawling twenty acres in an estate founded in 1677. It is the ancestral property of a family of Iranian soldiers who had made Akbar, the Mughal emperor, so happy that the family received the title of nawab, from the Persian naib for second in command. Throughout the middle ages, Mahmudabad was one of the wealthiest kingdoms of Avadh, which over time became a treasure house of not just the rarest of rare diamonds and pearls, but also of a very attractive style of living with other human beings. This very heartfelt view of the world gave birth to a unique use of language and other cultural practices like learning and poetry, the crumbs of which are still around for all those who bother to scavenge in the debris like filmmakers have done.

The decay inside of the gorgeous architecture of the Mahmudabad fort in sepia tones and soft lighting is an important feature of the film. However, there is no nostalgia here for what is no more. Madhuri’s character has no love lost for the dust and decay around her. She lights up her present with as many neon lights and microphones as her dwindled income will allow her, to share her deepest thoughts with the world. Her old-world use of the Urdu language is laced with much vocabulary used by people today.

 

So what if the past was perfect? Of what good is it to her now? The spirited Begum Para appears to ask as she prepares to do anything, by hook or crook, to make her future even more fabulous.

And the filmmakers seem in total sync with every emotion of the beguiling begum. They echo her pain by showing Mahmudabad exactly as it is today. In one chorus, the film shouts that Mahmudabad is not very pleasant to live in now and the audience finds itself nodding even as it tightens the seat belt to find out how the crisis chosen in the film will play itself out.

Following in the footsteps of the best traditions in storytelling, the above crisis gives way to a call to adventure. Dedh Ishqia begins with a crisis faced by the bumbling Babban, played by Arshad Warsi, who is out to save his life. Made to stand inside a grave in barren surroundings, he begs to be let off by his tormentor, who looks more wretched than Ravana, and who is surrounded by sinister sidekicks with guns. Babban is armed with little more than the wits that help him to get on in life.

Dedh Ishqia moves forward by getting all its characters to use their wit to survive, ending with the breathless question of, ‘What miracle will save the lovable rogues now?’

The answer is surely hidden in yet another sequel of this very Arabian Nights-esque cinematic delight.   

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2014