This one easily races ahead of the Vidya Balan starrer Ishqiya, as Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi and Huma Qureshi easily match the charm of leading lady Madhuri.
We have all been waiting with little impatience for Madhuri Dixit-Nene to make her comeback to Bollywood with a film and a role that has substance rather than style. When she did Aaja Nachle, everyone expected more fabulous dancing and a better characterization, but that film went ‘thud’ at the BO because it failed to provide that famous dhak-dhak appeal. This time, the Devdas avatar of the star comes to the fore, as she brings to life Begum Para in Dedh Ishqiya. The setting is feudal, but the characters very modern, street smart and conniving. And what a pleasure it is to see the four main leads causing all kinds of chaos with their shenanigans! Director Abhishek Chaubey has ticked all the right boxes with elan, adding the perfect comic flair to a story that could have been heavy and dull. And producer Vishal Bhardwaj interweaves poetry with irony in fabulously wicked dialogue and music that is more about melody than massy pop-tunes.
Madhuri as Begum Para is sheer magic. Her luminous smile enchants, her dance captivates, her mischievous glance casts spells. The widowed ruler of Mahmudabad, she wants a consort, a man who can spin circles around her with his verse and holds a swayamwar to find him. Aided – and admittedly abetted – by her lady-in-waiting Munira (Huma Qureshi), the Begum invites all the poets in the land to vie for her exquisite hand. Enter Khalujaan Iftikhar Hussain (Naseeruddin Shah), who with his cohort in crime Babban (Arshad Warsi) has just conned a jewellery store owner out of a fabulous necklace. Neither has the jewel, though both believe that the other man has run away with it. Khalujaan finds his way to Mahmudabad and pretends to be a shayar in order to woo the beautiful Begum. To help him he kidnaps a half-Italian poet called Nur Mohammad Italvi, who keeps him stocked with delightful shayari. Babban manages to escape the clutches of local goonda Mushtaq (Salman Shahid) and finds Khalujaan, but not without attracting the attention of dirty politician Jaan Mohammad (Vijay Raaz), who is also interested in Begum Para. And the ladies are as cunning as the men, if not more so, playing more tricks on Babban, Khalujaan and Jaan Mohammad than they ever believed would be possible.
The costumes, the characters, the cleverness, the construction of each scene…everything about this one is a treat. Yes, the dialogue if often obscure, with the high proportion of Urdu that colours it, but more is said with the eyes than with the tongue, which makes the entire film a pleasure to watch. There is subtlety, sarcasm, silliness and sophistication, all brought together with skill and the spirit of fun. The acting is superb, with Huma holding her own with the more seasoned performers. And then there is Madhuri. For her alone, this one is worth a watch…and a re-watch!