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NANDINI KRISHNAN
Cinema Scope

Craftsmanship in comedy

11th Jan 2014

Dedh Ishqiya

Director: Abhishek Chaubey

Starring: Naseeruddin Shah, Madhuri Dixit, Arshad Warsi, Huma Qureshi

What a relief it is to sit back half an hour into a film, and simply know that this is one trip to the cinema one will not regret. After the abundance of mindless, lifeless, plotless Bollywood produce I have subjected myself to in the past weeks, Dedh Ishqiya is a much-needed reprieve, outdoing its prequel in nuance, structure, acting and scope. The satire is subtle, the dialogue sharp. The music is haunting. The cinematography is a visual treat, with innovative angles and soft shadows.

To speak about the storyline would be to give away a lot of the fun, because the mistimed encounters and plot twists beautifully complement the sardonic humour in the film. Suffice to say that the film involves an exorbitant necklace, an affluent widow (Madhuri Dixit), a menacing villain (Vijay Raaz), and two charming conmen (Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi). The supporting cast is led by a poet called Nur Mohammed Italvi (Manoj Pahwa), a takhallus with origins the shayar never tires of asserting, even when he is held in captivity.

Within the comedy, the director contrives to bring out layers to the events as well as the characters, which the cast illustrates with finesse.

Naseeruddin Shah is in his element, holding forth on the seven stages of love with as much intensity as he's planning a life of decadence and sloth. Madhuri Dixit stifles her item girl instincts — well, except in the song Hamari Atariya, which is nevertheless enjoyable for her flawless dancing — to play a begum.

Arshad Warsi reminds us of what a good actor he can be, playing a character who comes across as a romantic fool, but isn't shy of punching his lady when he's angry. Huma Qureshi, whose performances have been consistently impressive since her solid debut in Gangs of Wasseypur, holds her own as Muniya, the handmaiden of Begum Para.

The language in Dedh Ishqiya is exquisite, with most of the dialogues in fasi Urdu. And small wonder, because the plot centres on a swayamvar, where the lady's hand will be won by the best shayar around.

The comic caper doesn't distract from the thriller element, and one never stops feeling on edge.

The Verdict: You may not fall off your seat laughing, but you never stop smiling. A great start to the year for Hindi cinema.

Anatomy of a failure

Inside Llewyn Davis

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: Oscar Isaac, John Goodman, Carey Mulligan

You can trust the Coen brothers to come up with a comic examination of failure. You can trust them to make you laugh at a man whom you feel sorry for. Later, I wondered how, sitting in tropical weather in 2014, I could relate to the snowy New York of 1961. Perhaps the angst I felt as I left the cinema was because of how well I could relate to the eponymous cynical defeatist, played wonderfully by Oscar Isaac.

Set in Greenwich Village, the film is about the remaining half of a folk duo, who is left to ponder whether he can pull off a solo act after his partner commits suicide. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) should be able to — he's a gifted singer, a charismatic man with a sense of irony. But, looking back from half a century later, you know he doesn't stand a chance. His breed of music is dying. Bob Dylan would soon burst into the music scene and change it forever. The Beatniks would lose their glamour, their youthful existentialism communicating itself to teenagers several generations down, but passing their contemporaries by.

Davis fits the antihero template — he sofa-hops and bed-hops, taking off to Chicago with a heroin addict (John Goodman), leaving a pregnant lover, missing cat and dead partner in his wake. And yet, our hearts ache for this man as he auditions in a nightclub, as he sings to his father, as he quickly composes a risible song, Please Please Mr Kennedy (Don't Shoot Me Into Outer Space) — reminding us that this was four years after the launch of Sputnik — and chronically loses a cat.

Death and music are constant themes in the film. The way it is shot, in muted shades through evocative landscapes, infuses us with a sense of loneliness and failure that the black humour only heightens. In one brilliant sequence, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel gets us into the head of a cat.

One wishes it had ended just a few minutes before it did, at a shot that would have been simply perfect, symbolic of the crossroads the character is at. But that's only because the film is, otherwise, pitch-perfect.

The Verdict: Contemplative yet hilarious, the film is a must-watch, both for the script and for Oscar Isaac's extraordinary performance.

 
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