Romeo and Juliet Drown in the Ganga

Issaq

Director: Manish Tiwary

Cast: Prateik Babbar, Amyra Dastur,

Ravi Kishan, Rajeshwari Sachdev,

Prashant Narayanan, Neena Gupta, Sudhir Pande, Makarand Deshpande, Vineet Kumar

*1/2

After the recent Raanjhanaa, Varanasi is back in focus in this week's Issaq, as the setting for a love story based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. But neither the town nor the author would be grateful for this representation, which stays consistently high-pitched and doused in blood and bullets and melodrama.

I had hopes from the colour-saturated beginning, because everything sprang up with such vividness. The picturesque Banaras, which never dims despite a million sightings. The young man, who like all young men, is desirous. The girl, who has a freshness to her. But within a few minutes, it was clear that Issaq was going to layer the love story with high decibels, and a constant rampage of characters.

Rahul (Babbar) sees Bachchi (Dastur) during a riotous Holi celebration at her haveli, and is instantly smitten. But these two belong to warring families, the Kashyaps and the Mishras. We know this because of the bristling bandooks on display every time there is a skirmish between the two parties. But the story never tells us what the enmity is about. Not only does the plot gloss over this point, it also doesn't tell us why Bachchi's family is on display so much of the time, with so little given over to Rahul's. It could well be because the girl's side is full of such colourful types as a sloping-towards-old-age father (Pande) whose second, young wife (Sachdev) has the hots for the first wife's virile brother (Kishan); the boy, on the other hand, seems to spend all his time lolling about with his two friends, when he is not running after the girl.

In the increasingly convoluted second half, even the remaining coherence curdles. A bunch of rifle-toting hoods, led by a muttering fellow (Narayanan) keep showing up and shooting people and shouting 'lal salaam': this thread hangs from its entry to its exit. A ganja-smoking guru (Deshpande) who keeps doing the invisible rope trick (a Banaras film without a levitating baba on the steps of the ghats? Impossible), much to the deliriousness of his bhakts, is also an important participant in the proceedings. And so on it goes, till the tragic end.

... contd.

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