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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Ishqeria, Review: Malaria, loveria and ishqeria—this ease or disease?

Ishqeria, Review: Malaria, loveria and ishqeria—this ease or disease?

Some films have pleasing visuals, simple dialogue, nice songs, over the top characters and actors mis-matched to their roles. They seem to be a picnic for the makers, but offer little or no entertainment to the viewer. What is worse is that a film like Ishqeria is inordinately delayed, looking dated and jaded on release.

Ishqeria is directed by Prerna Wadhawan and written by her, along with Radhika Anand. Perhaps the fact that women are in the driver’s seat we have a story about four girls who help a fifth win her man. Along the way, there are references to periods, the colour of (digestive) motions, female facial hair and moustache shaving, a woman referring to her breasts as “Merey do anmol ratan’ (my two priceless gems) and so on.

It’s a college in Mussoorie where the action takes place, amid picture-postcard surroundings. Neil Nitin Mukesh plays a third year college boy named Raghav Dalmia, aged 21 (yes, you got that right) and a first year student named Kuhu (Richa Chadda), who, by the same yardstick should be 18! She falls for him lock, stock and barrel, on first sight. Her room-mate

Lavleen Chowdhary is a motor-mouth, full of bravura and a gang-leader, a prankster possessing a queen size ego about her class and brains. Raghav is the heart-throb of the college and there is no way he would give even a first look at Kuhu. Enter Lavleen. She and friends (including co-writer Radhika Anand) hatch a plot. Follow Raghav, find out his habits, likes and dislikes, and cultivate a life-style that he identifies with, and he is bound to get interested. It’s childish and improbable, but it works. What triggers it off is Kuhu’s new found regimen of jogging, on the same field and near the same track on which Raghav does his exercising. One thing leads to another and just after you can say Jack Robinson, they are in love. Kuhu lets out her deepest secrets and Raghav spills his beans. Although they are opposites in many ways, the opposition attracts, according to pole dynamics. Two happenings queer the pitch. Firstly, Kuhu forgets Raghav’s scholarship interview and secondly, she panics at missing her period.

Writers Radhika Anand (studied at St. Stephen’s School, North Carolina and the Film and TV Institute of India) and Prerna Wadhawan take the opposites thing too far. In fact, one character actually says that what happens to us in life is the exact opposite of what we plan for us. Characters do the opposite of what they are expected to do, dialogue usually centres around opposing and contradicting sentences and claims, the rich boy leads a miserly existence and scrapes together his college expenses by taking tuitions, Raghav’s best friend who cannot stand the gang seems to nurse a soft corner for Lavleen. He keeps telling Raghav that they have been best friends for 21 years. So, when did they become friends? At age zero?

Director Prerna Wadhawan is Managing Director of Swarp Films, the company that has produced the film. She studied Film/Cinema/Video at New York University back in 2005. Apparently, this is her debut film. It is amply clear that she is learning the hard way and will need to marshal all her resources to progress from here. Her photo album style of narrative gets monotonous and boring after a while. The pregnancy, marriage and divorce of the lead couple and Raghav’s re-engagement are things you lose chronological track of. There is no trace of any of Kuhu’s parents or relatives at any stage nor any reasons advanced for the missing family. Scenes featuring Raghav’s father should have been emotional dynamite. Instead, they turn out unintentionally funny. At least half, if not 75% of the dialogue is in English, and that is okay for city collegians, but it will alienate almost all small town viewers.

Neil Nitin Mukesh (Johnny Gaddar, New York, Golmaal Again) is ill at ease and probably aware that he will stick out like a sore thumb when age becomes a factor. At 36, you cannot play 21 and get away with it. Well, he might have been 32 when the film was started, but that is no excuse to the audience. Moreover, either he had a bad cold while shooting most of the film or he needs to work on his diction. Likewise for Richa Chadda (Masaan, Daas Dev, Gangs of Wasseypur), who is now 31. They struggle to get under the characters, but succeed only marginally. Raj Babbar looks dapper in his expensive suit, but why make him speak so much English when he is not comfortable with the language?

Juby Devasia is a feisty Lavleen, over the top but admittedly so. Manish Anand is cast as Raghav’s best friend and does a reasonable job. Gurbani Judge makes a good Radhika, Raghav’s second fiancée.

Cinematography by Dani Sanchez-Lopez is extremely eye-pleasing. Some shots are in exquisite black and white, for effect. Editing by Steven H. Bernard fails to create a proper rhythm. Art Direction by Manish Kolte is impressive, with some of the sets and locales looking truly exotic. Two of the three songs are hummable. One with Arabic-Persian words in the mukhda, ‘As-Salaat-ul’, sung by Aarish Singh, is unintelligible but quite tuneful. Composer-singer Papon has worked on the other two, which includes a catchy holi track. You can see him sing the college welcome song on stage, live, and the orchestra is in full-form.

The title suggests that love is a disease. We have had a popular song of yesteryear where love was equated with not malaria but lovaria, so a new word was coined: Ishqeria, ishq being Urdu for love. Is it a disease? Does it spread with this ease? Can relationships be so blatantly manipulated? Is ‘Mills and Boon (didn’t you guess?) meets Archie-Betty-Veronica’ a dependable formula in 2018? Not if it is scripted the way Ishqeria has been.

A big disappointment awaits you if you go with the barest of expectations. Yet, who knows, cooey co-eds out on a date might see something in it! For the discerning film-goer, it is bound to evoke yawns between guffaws. It’s outdated, unreal, improbable and a lot more. What it is not is trashy, hence the considerate rating.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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