Film: Issaq

Director: Manish Tiwary

Cast: Prateik, Amyra Dastur, Ravi Kishen, Rajeshwari Sachdev, Makarand Deshpande, Prashant Kumar and Prashant Narayanan


Just a few weeks ago, we had Aanand Rai taking us to Varanasi for a ravishing romantic romp in "Raanjhanaa". Now, this!

With considerable support from his co-writers Padmaja Thakore-Tiwary and Pawan Soni, Manish Tiwary has written a raw, rugged and rapacious "Romeo abd Juliet", which has no 'Balcony Scene' (thank god!) and yes, Juliet remains a proud virgin till the end. The deviations apart, "Issaq" is a frightfully fertile film filled with images of rancour and tenderness.

Tiwary wastes no time in getting into the thick of Montague-Capulet feud. Here they are named the Mishras and the Kashyaps - but what's in a name? Families teeming with gun-toting leery men whose voracious appetite for killing are matched by their libidos.

Tiwary's plot is Machiavellian in its Shakespearean ambitions. He twists and coils the love tale into shapes of great wonderment. So, if he chooses not to tamper with the original Shakespearean ending (down to the apothecary's potion working cruel deceptions on the couple's turbulent destiny), he makes radical changes in the Shakespearean play's politics.

Naxalism and Maoism are interwoven into the romance and courtship through a character, brilliantly played by the ever-dependable Prashant Narayanan, while the couple in love couldn't care less if the world all around them is going up in flames. Manish Tiwary manages to make his lead pair look so much in love and so oblivious to its damning repercussions that we wonder if this pair's karma is engendered by despair.

Indeed doom has seldom seemed so desirable on screen. Tiwary's brilliant production designer Ashwini Shrivastav gives to Varanasi a look of lived-in and loved-in splendour. Yes, we have been through these crowded bustling bylanes and river ghats of the holy city in a number of films. But somehow Varanasi looks... born again! Vishal Sinha's cinematography is plush and passionate and yet the film's visuals never topple over into the kingdom of the garish.

And what visuals! The director makes the desi Romeo and Juliet's turbulent togetherness an occasion for optical enchantment.

Rahul and Bachi, that is Tiwary's Romeo and Juliet, stroll in a bangles market, the loud vibrant colours of the glass ornament screaming out a riot of lovelorn messages. This lush sequences transpires right after Rahul's two sardonic friends (one of whom will die a gangwar-infused fearless death soon after) discuss how nowadays Rahul has lost his machismo.

But we are jumping the gun. Can't help it. Guns blaze all across this choleric love tale where the desi Romeo meets the ghar ki Juliet at a Holi bash. Here, the shot of Prateik falling from the rooftop into a yellow-coloured water tank is so brilliant that you fear the director's visual aptitude may overpower the basic plot.

Fear not. Manish Tiwary knows his Shakespeare as well as he knows the rugged north Indian hinterland of blood savagery and abuses, which Vishal Bhardwaj and Anurag Kashyap have brought so persistently into our range of vision.

Tiwary cleverly holds back the boorishness. There's little or no vulgarity and uncouthness in the script. "Issaq" manages to project the perky innocence of first-love without getting over-cute, cloying or cheesy.

A lot of the endearing and enduring impact of the romance comes from the two players.

Prateik is born again as an actor. His performance as a love-smitten Romeo is so apt that you tend to forgive his past embarrassing performances. There's a marked improvement in his diction delivery. The Uttar Pradesh accent does fall off. But what the heck! This Romeo is real. So are the songs, which mesh so fluently into the plot that you wonder why Shakespeare didn't write his tragic play as a musical.

Amyra Dastur is a prized find. Precocious, pretty, expressive and agile, this girl is a star in her very first film. True, she does come across as slightly too 'convent' to be a Varanasi girl, but her radiant sincerity simply melts your misgivings. Together, Prateik and Amyra create the best Romeo and Juliet since Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey in Franco Zeffireli's "Romeo & Juliet".

Among the rest of the very fine cast, Ravi Kishen is simply outstanding as Amyra's protective angry violent uncle. Whenever Ravi is on screen, it's hard to look at any other actor. Rajeshwari Sachdev as Amyra's stepmom steps into a randy role with relish. She is in splendid form, bringing to her character both a sexual frankness and a moral ambivalence on which hangs the impact of the tragedy.

This is one of the most innovative adaptations of Romeo & Juliet in any language.

Music review: The music of "Issaq" boasts of an intelligent blend of instruments and singer's voices.The first track "Issaq tera" is an out-and-out winner, with singer Mohit Chauhan spinning magic with his voice. The next album on the list is "Jheeni re jheeni". Do not make the mistake of writing it off as a slow-paced track based on its beginning. Singer Rashid Khan takes the number to sky soaring notes after the first few seconds. Sung with a tinge of regional flavour with the sound of classical instruments like sarangi, it is difficult to classify the genre of the song. But this one's definitely very passionate.

The third track "Bhole chale" talks about the journey of Lord Shiva with an entourage to wed Parvati. Sung by Rahul Ram and Sachinn Gupta, the fast-paced song is full of mischief. It slows down a bit in between to reflect a soothing and melodious sound, but eventually picks up pace. A touch of rock music makes its presence felt, but it does not take away the attention from the singer's impressive energy.

Next up is "Aag ka dariya", sung by Ankit Tiwary. Aggression is the keyword here. With alternative rock backing the song, this one reiterates the line - "Ek aag ka dariya hai aur doob ke jana hai". The tempo of the song changes from time to time as the singer talks about beauty of the female protagonist in the movie.

The unplugged version of "Aag ka dariya" changes the soul of the song completely, and for good. Ankit's vocals are better sounding here. There is also an ear-catching jugalbandi of sorts between the flute and the guitar.

You know it when an item song is added just for the heck of it! And the track "Enne unne" is just that! It may not be a hardcore item track, but serves the same purpose. It is sung by Tarun Sagar, Mamta Sharma, Papon and Kirti Sagathia. The listener struggles to find the reason and logic behind the song.

The next track is "Bhagan Ke rekhan ki". It is tough to slot it, but it has a 'wedding song' kind of a feel to it. It kickstars with a shehnai, and Malini sings the song well. Raghubir Yadav's voice brings a change for the listener.

Overall, the "Issaq" soundtrack scores well. The composers have tuned the singers and the music in an almost impeccable manner. Love, revenge, passion and sadness - what else can one require for a complete musical experience!


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