September 19, 2014
Parineeti Chopra, Anupam Kher, Aditya Roy Kapur
Daawat-e-Ishq is the most irresponsible film to emerge from mainstream Bollywood this year. No, Habib Faisal, it’s not okay to trivialise issues as serious as dowry and Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, in your bid to appease those men who think it’s being widely misused while you stay on the side of political correctness to please women too. Brides have been murdered, families have been driven to despair and debt over this horrific custom. It’s one of the reasons cited by Indian parents who kill off their daughters before birth.
No doubt 498A has been abused by some people (is there a law in this world which has not?) and of course such women should be severely punished, but their numbers are being greatly exaggerated to divert attention from the plight of the majority who suffer this practice. In such a scenario, if you do wish to discuss misuse of this law, then at least have the gumption to cite a genuine, realistic, condemnable example. It’s disappointing that you of all people Mr Faisal, you who wrote the wonderful Band Baaja Baaraat and directed Do Dooni Char, should write and direct a half-baked film on 498A. My heart broke a little when I realised the writer of BBB had directed the frighteningly regressive Ishaqzaade. The remaining bits were crushed this week.
Daawat-e-Ishq’s idea of ‘misuse’ of the law is in itself undercooked and terribly contrived, seemingly driven by the fact that the writer wanted to make a point about it and yet not demonise the heroine, thus leaving enough space for romance-shomance, luv-shuv and naach-gaana between pretty girl and pretty boy at pretty locations, in a film that does not seem to know what it wants to be or what stand it wishes to take. Gulrez Qadir (Parineeti Chopra) of Hyderabad is tired of being rejected by dowry-hungry families of prospective grooms. She’s smart, a great student, good-looking and working while studying, but to ladkewaalas, all that matters is that her father can’t afford to pay big bucks to buy a boy. The story up to this point, which is about half an hour of the film, is clear, concise, believable and nicely handled. The film goes downhill though from the moment Gulrez a.k.a. Gullu decides to turn confidence trickster, and hatches a far-fetched plan – I won’t describe it here – to pull a fast one on a dowry-seeking family.
Along the way, she meets the handsome restaurateur Tahir Haidar (Aditya Roy Kapur) in Lucknow. With two bright sparks playing the leads, you would think that half the director’s battle is won. It’s impossible not to be taken in by those glowing lamps Parineeti has for eyes. Aditya with his mischievous smile is also a charmer. They look like they could have good chemistry, but he enters the picture more than half an hour into the film, and then too he does not get to spend that much time in conversation with her; they’re sent off to sing and dance instead.
Individually they’re clearly trying their best with the material at hand. In fact, Aditya let’s his hair down so completely that his artless, flirtatious, sensitive Tahir should rank as his best performance to date. It’s a measure of how charismatic these two are that one finds oneself emotionally invested in their relationship in the end despite the weak writing.
The title song, used widely to promote this film, had raised expectations that Daawat-e-Ishq would be a good food film, but even that aspect is inadequately treated. Just taking a camera into a restaurant or serving tons of food doth not a food film make. We needed to see the passion in the eyes and the artistic grace in the hands of the people cooking those biryanis and shahi tukdas, their fire reciprocated by the consumers of their creations. Food films are not a common genre in India, certainly not in Bollywood, but Faisal does have a couple of fine recent examples to follow, such as the lovely 2012 Malayalam film Ustad Hotel and those sensuous cooking scenes featuring Nimrat Kaur in last year’s Hindi-English The Lunchbox. Food makes for great visuals. Food spells romance. Daawat-e-Ishq fails to deliver any of the above.
Even Sajid-Wajid’s songs have been lazily chucked into the film. There is much to like here, especially the lilting undulations of the qawwali music in the title track (ah, Javed Ali and Sunidhi Chauhan!) and the near-devotional love song Mannat, but their quality is overshadowed by the mindlessness with which they’ve been thrown into the mix.
The best part of Daawat-e-Ishq is what you’re least expecting from it: the equation between Gulrez and her father (Anupam Kher in full form), between Parineeti and the senior actor. They are parent and child but also friends; she is a youthful live wire, he is bent with age; she is an unapologetic rebel, he is tradition bound and yet so so proud of his feisty daughter. The relationship between daughters and single fathers is not often explored in Hindi cinema. This one is enough to warm the stoniest hearts. Equally unusual for a Hindi film is the fact that the theme of dowry here has been placed within the Muslim community.
Some thought seems to have been invested in the film’s costume design too. Tahir’s kitschy shirts are amusing. It’s also interesting to see Gulrez’s smooth metamorphosis from being a practical, lower-middle-class Hyderabadi shoe salesgirl to the ultra-glamorous, over-dressed daughter of a Middle East-based Indian millionaire.
The good stuff, however, comes as individual elements that can’t conquer the hurriedly-put-together screenplay. Topping the heap of bad stuff is the flippant, unthinking treatment of a matter as grave as dowry. The final word from Daawat-e-Ishq seems to be this: not everyone who asks for dowry is a bad person; some ladkewaalas are just good souls blindly following reeti-rivaaz without any evil intentions. What on earth were you thinking, Mr Faisal? And why, dear Yash Raj Films, did you produce this film?
Rating (out of five stars): *1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
Photograph and video courtesy: Yash Raj Films