Dedh Ishqiya

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Many things to enjoy in Dedh Ishqiya, writes Anupama Chopra

There are many things to enjoy in Dedh Ishqiya - starting with that curious name.

Director Abhishek Chaubey's new installment in the adventures of the lovable rogues - Khalujan and Babban - is rich in atmospherics and poetry.

There are nawabs, sher-o-shairi, and a courtly old-world romance but make no mistake, this is a twisted theatre of the absurd in which the gamut of human folly - greed, decadence, deceit, stupidity - is laid out for us. Once again, Abhishek and co-writer Vishal Bhardwaj find the vein of humour in the darkest situations, including a stand-off in which many guns are pointed at many heads.

Khalujan and Babban, played nicely by Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi, are petty thieves with such wit and charm that you want to hang out with them. These are honourable conmen, unafraid of punching, shooting, brandishing knives but when the ladies are in trouble, they come gallantly to the rescue.

There is a superbly funny running gag about the stages of love and a gorgeous climactic shoot-out. Best of all, the film gives us women who are unapologetically scheming and lusty. They break all the rules and get away with it. It's wonderfully refreshing. And yet, Dedh Ishqiya doesn't have the seductive sparkle that Ishqiya did. In the first film, Babban referred to the heroine Krishna as a sutli bomb and desi tamancha.

The ladies here - Begum Para played by Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Muniya, played by Huma Qureshi - aren't as deliciously twisted though Madhuri is still compelling. The first half of the film is devoted to a swayamvar that Begum Para holds to choose a husband - the best poet wins the bride.

The construct feels artificial and the pacing is languid. I also struggled with the Urdu - it was melodious but I wish I understood more of it.

Still, Dedh Ishqiya is worth watching just for Abhishek Chaubey's ambition. He is not constrained by the demands of the box office.  I am eager to see what trouble Khalujan and Babban will get into next.