It’s the enchanted world of Urdu shayari, the rustle of precious silks and ada (style) beautifully contrasted with ruthless treachery and dark humour. Aesthetics seep through every pore of the film -- be it the language (soak in words like lamhat, raks, uns, roobaroo), the elegant embroidery on a character's costume, the andaaz, the dance, the subtly powerful performances, or the setting itself. Which is a fictional town called Mehmoodabad in mofussil North India.
Here, the widowed Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit) is organizing a shayari (poetry) competition to pick her suitor. It is at this symposium that Babban (Arshad Warsi) spots his Khalujaan (uncle, played by Naseeruddin Shah), dressed like a nawab. How did this happen, he wonders? It was only some time back that they had separated while running away from the cops for a robbery.
And in this merry mess involving Begum Para, Khalujaan, Babban, and Munniya (Begum's trusted confidante, played by Huma Qureshi), there’s this slithering, enticing piece of jewellery that does the rounds.
The film is as humorous as it is dark. Though the film essentially trails criminals -- the definition itself is re-examined. There are those "criminals" that defy society's conventional notion of love, those that remember their manners around a children's school, and those that don't mind narrating a "lateefa" or "afsana" as their dying wish.
Babban and Khalujaan’s boss too, returns attempting to dig them in their graves but then wonders, “If the joker dies, what will the Batman do?”
And it’s not just the women who use their beauty to get what they want. The men are complete peacocks preening in front of the mirror, fussing about whether they look the part, swathed in rich fabrics and accessories.
There's no doubt about it -- such exciting, arresting characters haven't been seen in Bollywood in some time now!
About the only grouse is the physical violence a character unleashes on another he claims to "love". Both Babban and Khalujaan are more impish than actually wicked (a character actually calls them ‘masoom’ at one point), this portion stands out as being ‘out of character’.
And one so wanted to see more of the dance—choreographed by Pandit Birju Maharaj and rendered by Dixit.
Abhishek Chaubey’s sequel (he also directed Ishqiya in 2010) is just as entertaining as the first, if not more. Chaubey tells the story (by Darab Farooqui with hints from a popular literature work by an Indian Urdu writer whose name could be a possible spoiler) like a fairytale with the urgency of a graphic novel.
Delightfully bereft of moral judgment, the film, in a stroke, exposes the underbelly of royalty in India bound as it is by chauvinism and tradition. The twist in the second half is delightfully original and amusing!
Add to that the crackling dialogue, superb production design (you are indeed transported to this fictitious Mehmoodabad), luminous cinematography and soulful music.
The performances are effortlessly brilliant. Naseeruddin Shah is masterful as the roguish uncle who is called ‘Mareez-e-Ishq’ by a doctor, and Arshad Warsi matches step as the aggressive and equally foolish Babban. A pair made in cinematic heaven, Shah and Warsi complement each other beautifully.
Madhuri Dixit lights up the screen with her towering screen presence, acting and beauty. Perfectly cast as the graceful Begum, it’s a pleasure to see Dixit onscreen in a worthy picture. Huma Qureshi brings out her character’s varied hues expertly.
Then there’s Vijay Raaz who plays a local MLA Jaan Mohamed and you forget blinking for those moments. So powerful and humorous is his rendering of this character, he often turns out to be the scene-stealer.
There's so much to be savoured in the film -- from the performances, aesthetics, music, and the story itself. You don’t watch a film like this, you soak it in!
Rating: Four stars