Films named synonyms of the word love and with the tagline “not a love story”, have almost evolved into a genre in the Indian film industry. As the title and the tag suggest, these are often films which start out as a run of the mill love story and then tries shock and awe techniques on an unsuspecting audience. To call them formulaic wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Ram Gopal Varma wreaked havoc with the idea in his heydays and his not-so-hey-days too, which is one reason why the tag has lost its novelty, more or less, I’d say. Bollywood loved the theme so hard and long that they now actually have a franchise called Hate Story. Having said that, it was something that we haven’t seen much of in the Malayalam film industry though 22. Female Kottayam used the the same formula. But with Ishq, the first true not-love-story has made it’s debut in the Malayalam film industry, it’s safe to say, and how.
Ishq at it’s core tackles a theme that has been explored by many films in the recent past, moral policing. We have seen versions of it in films ranging from Uncle to Varathan. Personally I felt that Ishq had shades of Kali too, but extremely light shades, I must add. Ishq is an artist’s reaction to the actions of some of the meanest and most depraved elements of our society, it is nothing lesser than a slap on the face of the moral brigade and the real news footages that run during the end credits is the most subtle yet fitting response to the perpetrators behind those acts of moral policing. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Michael Jackson’s scream in the iconic “They dont really care about us”, so to speak. But Ishq’s greatest success lies in the fact that it explores this malady in layered, complex ways. It builds an illusion that it’s just another film with simple answers but then it pulls a fast one on you and you end up loving the film for it. The film actually walks a tight rope and could have ended up being criticised for it’s male centric narrative but it redeems itself in spectacular fashion. Ratheesh Ravi tells us loud and clear that there’s more to him than Pullikaran Stara, in fact this time around, he has done a star turn as a writer. For a debut director, Anuraj Manohar has shown impeccable control over his craft and has paced the film perfectly. The writer and the director opens the film with some sweet moments and then builds tension on the screen into a crescendo towards the end.
There are no heroes in this film if you ask me, not in the conventional sense. Shane Nigam is supposed to be the actor in the leading role and he delivers in his inimitable style. It’s almost a role tailor made for him, that of the next door boy with a hint of derangement. Then you have a Shine Tom who is the antagonist and manages to garner the hatred of the audience almost effortlessly. Giving him company is a measured Jaffer Idukki. Ann Sheetal is the female lead and holds her own in this film which I felt is about vantage points, where the victims are ultimately always women. That brings us to Leona Lishoy, who shines in her brief but lingering portrayal of an unsuspecting wife who ends up a victim too. Apart from these actors, the most notable presence is Jakes Bejoy in the form of his stellar background music. In Ishq, like in our lives, for the men it’s about hurt egos and retaliation and women are left to pick up the pieces. The film, I felt is also about the construct of the alpha male. It suggests that there are no alphas really, only circumstances. The male ego, the film shows, can take a beating from another male with an upper hand in a confrontation and even reconciles with it, but tends to snap when it’s questioned by a female. But that’s just my take. Ishq or Uncle or any other film on the issue is not going to change the society that we are part of. Renaissance had an impact on art, not the other way round, having said that, in that sense, Ishq could be a sign too, of awareness, if not change. On a closing note, Ishq is instant gratification, and more.