Direction: Manish Tiwary
Actors: Prateik, Amyra Dastur, Ravi Kishan, Neena Gupta, Makrand Deshpande
Over the years, Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers have found themselves in various forms and in various places — classic, award-winning dramas (a famous 1936 version, and one in 1968), a musical about New York gangs (West Side Story), Baz Luhrmann’s guns-blazing punk version (Romeo+Juliet), even as warring garden gnomes (Gnomeo & Juliet), among several others.
Yet, seldom have they been associated with as nonsensical a mess as Manish Tiwary’s Issaq.
The story opens with a man relaying an eyewitness version of a gunfight between rival sand mafia — the Kashyaps and the Mishras. Who is this man? How does this event fit into the plot structure?
The film evades such issues of logical progression. Instead, what you get is a hodgepodge of stereotypes (rigid patriarchies, corrupt cops, even an evil Naxalite leader who sprays bullets and shouts ‘Lal salaam’) and flavouring borrowed from stylised, new-age Bollywood films set in the hinterland.
Yes, you do have a romantic hero in Rahul Mishra (Prateik), who’s more than adept at Parkour-ing over walls and climbing balconies, a prerequisite for Romeo, no doubt.
Yet, you’re left wishing that he also had the ability to emote, a department in which Prateik is left direly wanting. His Juliet, then, fittingly, is played by an amateurish Amyra Dastur (as Bachchi Kashyap). She is all mistimed facial contortions, and sports an accent best described as too-posh-to-pull-off-rustic.
A slew of side characters are thrown in to add heft and armed hands. Anurag Kashyap does it in Gangs of Wasseypur, largely to good effect. Tiwary, however, clearly out of his depth, doesn’t know what to do with his massive cast.
So he kills some off and relegates others to the background. Strong actors like Neena Gupta and Makrand Deshpande are wasted as insipid nannies and caricature-ish sadhus who levitate without rhyme or reason.
The setting is Benares, Tiwary will have you know with a collage of aartis, boats floating on the Ganges and, of course, our hero jumping over low roofs. Yet, the randomness that is Issaq could have played out anywhere.
It’s a pity that Issaq joins remarkable films like Maqbool, Omkara and Angoor on the list of Bollywood adaptations of Shakespeare. In a time when works of literature are judged by their TV and film versions, it could even give the Bard a bit of a bad rep.