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Revisiting Manish Tiwary’s Issaq As It Turns 10



There have been numerous interpretations  of Romeo & Juliet  the worldover.Nothing prepares you for this. The bludgeoning impact of director Manish Tiwary’s desi Varanasi must-see adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet would certainly have made Shakespeare smile. Old Willie Boy might even exclaim at some points of the tale of the tender and the titanic, “Damn, why didn’t I think of this?”

With considerable support from his co-writers Padmaja Thakore-Tiwary and Pawan Soni, Manish Tiwary has written a raw rugged and rapacious Romeo & Juliet which has no ‘Balcony Scene’(thank God!) and yes, Juliet remains a proud virgin till the end.The deviations apart Issaq is a frightfully fertile film filled with images of rancour and tenderness.

Tiwary wastes no time in getting into the thick of Montague-Capulet feud . Here they are named the Mishras and the Kashyaps—but what’s in a name?–families teeming with gun-toting leery men whose voracious appetite for killing is matched by their libidos.

Tiwary’s plot is Machiavellian  in its Shakespearean ambitions.He twists and coils the love tale into shapes of great wonderment. So if he chooses  not to tamper with the original Shakespearean ending(down to the apothecary’s potion working cruel deceptions on the couple’s turbulent destiny) he makes radical changes in the Shakespearean play’s politics.

Naxalism and Maoism are interwoven into the romance and courtship through a character brilliantly played by the ever-dependable Prashant Narayanan while the couple in love couldn’t care less if the world all around them is going up in flames.Manish Tiwary manages to make his lead pair look so much in love and so oblivious to its damning repercussions that we wonder if this pair’s karma is engendered by despair.

Indeed doom has seldom seemed so desirable on screen. Tiwary’s brilliant production designer  Ashwini Shrivastav gives to Varanasi a look of lived-in and loved-in splendour. Yes,we have been through these crowded bustling bylanes and river ghats of the Holy city in a number of films. Somehow Varanasi looks…born again! Vishal  Sinha’s cinematography is plush and passionate and yet the film’s visuals never topples over into the kingdom of the garish.

And what visuals!The director makes the desi Romeo and Juliet’s turbulent togetherness an occasion for optical enchantment. There are sequences that  have stayed with me long after the final fatal finale. Rahul and Bachi,that is Tiwary’s Romeo and Juliet, stroll in a bangles market , the loud vibrant colours of the glass ornament screaming out a riot of lovelorn messages .This  lush sequences transpires right after Rahul’s two sardonic friends(one of whom will die a gangwar-infused fearless death soon after ) discuss how nowadays Rahul has lost his machismo .

But we are jumping the gun. Can’t help it. Guns blaze all across this choleric love tale where the desi Romeo meets the ghar ki Juliet at a Holi bash. Here the shot of Prateik Babbar falling from the rooftop into a yellow-coloured water tank is so brilliant you fear the director’s visual aptitude may overpower the basic plot.

Fear not! Manish Tiwary knows his Shakespeare as as well as he knows the rugged North Indian hinterland of blood savagery and gaalis which Vishal Bhardwaj and Anurag Kashyap have brought so persistently into our range of vision.

Tiwary cleverly holds back the boorishness. There is little or no vulgarity and uncouthness in the script. Unlike Habib Faisal’s Ishaqzaade ,the foul-mouthed Hindu-Muslim Romeo & Juliet which made love look like a one-way ticket to hell, Issaq manages to project the perky innocence of first-love without getting over-cute  cloying or cheesy.

A lot of the endearing and enduring impact of the romance comes from the two players.

Prateik is born again as an actor . His performance as a love-smitten Romeo is so apt you tend to forgive his embarrassing performances in his last few films. There is  a  marked improvement in his diction delivery. The UP accent does fall off . But what the heck!This Romeo is real.So are the songs which mesh so fluently into the plot that you wonder why Shakespeare didn’t write his tragic play as a musical.

Amyra Dastur is a prized find. Precocious, pretty, expressive and agile this girl is a star in her very first film.True,she does come across as slightly too ‘convent’ to be a Varanasi chick. But her radiant sincerity simply  melts your misgivings. Together Prateik and Amyra create the best Romeo and Juliet since Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey in Franco  Zeffireli’s Romeo & Juliet.

Among the rest of the very fine cast Ravi Kissan is simply outstanding as Amyra’s protective angry violent  uncle.Whenever Kissan is on screen it’s hard to look at any other actor. Rajeshwari Sachdev as Amyra’s stepmom steps into a randy role with relish. She is in splendid form, bringing to her character both a sexual frankness and a moral ambivalence on which hangs the impact of the tragedy.

I’ve to mention a sequence where Bachchi/Juliet is being married off to the cop-suitor(Prashant Kumar, well cast). Rajeshwari applies the haldi on her grieving stepdaughter.Within seconds Rajeshwari’s expressions go from contempt and smugness to feminine empathy and compassion… the hallmark of a great actress.

Tiwary blends such moments of free-flowing sensitivity with the darker murkier reality of blazing guns and furtive fornication without letting the sleaze touch the purity of the central romance. Love and war come together in a passionate embrace.A sense of desperate longing runs through this adrenaline-pumping drama driven forward by a cast of actors who know there  is something vital happening  here.

So do we. This is one of the most innovative adaptations of Romeo & Juliet in any language.


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