Movie Review: Ishaqzaade (2012)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Unlike most movies produced by Yash Raj Films, Ishaqzaade (“Love Rebels”) didn’t get a major roll-out in North American theaters when it released in India in May. Instead, YRF waited to show Ishaqzaade — rechristened as “Born to Hate…Destined to Love” — at the Toronto International Film Festival, where its global sales rights were acquired by Shoreline Entertainment.

Even though the film is already available on DVD in the U.S., I hope the new acquisition means greater theatrical exposure for Ishaqzaade. It’s a tremendous movie.

Ishaqzaade is a Romeo & Juliet-type romance set in the terrifying world of local politics in Uttar Pradesh. It’s election season in the town of Almore, and the reigning politician, Qureshi, is challenged by the patriarch of the Chauhan family. Besides political animosity, the families are divided by religion as well: the Qureshis are Muslim, the Chauhans are Hindu.

Parma Chauhan (Arjun Kapoor) is the youngest of his grandfather’s grandsons. He’s marginalized in the family hierarchy in part because of his age, but also because his mother is a widow (not that she was responsible for her husband’s death). Parma is desperate to get in his grandfather’s good graces, but Parma’s attitude makes him a liability.

Parma has the devastating combination of a short temper and a sense of entitlement. When a merchant mentions selling diesel fuel to the Qureshis, Parma burns the merchant’s warehouse “to teach him a lesson.” He fails to consider that abusing the common folk hurts his grandfather’s election prospects.

The youngest member of the Qureshi family is Zoya (Parineeti Chopra), herself something of a firebrand. She’s responsible for coordinating her father’s campaign on her college campus, but is eager to do more. When Parma and his goons kidnap a dancer performing at a Qureshi party, Zoya chases after him in her jeep while firing her newly acquired pistol. However, her father’s plans for her are limited to marrying Zoya off to a banker from London, and he laughs at her political ambitions.

Zoya and Parma’s story really begins with an on-campus encounter. He urinates on her father’s campaign poster. She slaps him. He points a gun at her. Parma is impressed that Zoya doesn’t flinch at the loaded gun. She’s impressed when he sneaks into the girls’ bathroom to apologize.

This story is not Romeo & Juliet, however. When Parma starts pursuing Zoya, he’s still the same deplorable person who burned the merchant’s warehouse. Zoya is immature in her own right, in that she allows her feelings to override her awareness that her father would never allow her to marry a Hindu, let alone a member of the Chauhan family.

Ishaqzaade never lets romantic film conventions obscure the social norms of the region in which the film takes place. Religious differences are not something to be toyed with and are not easily overcome. Politics can be a similarly deadly enterprise, with seemingly no offense too minor to be greeted with gunfire.

I was most fascinated with the role of women in the film. Zoya’s headstrong personality makes her a fine mascot within her family, but doesn’t lend itself to a quiet life as a wife and mother, the only future her father sees for her. Zoya’s mother and Parma’s mother are sympathetic to her but pragmatic as well. Undersized and out-gunned, the women in both families have little choice but to submit to the will of the men.

The only other women in Ishaqzaade outside of the two families are prostitutes. The kidnapped dancer, Chand Baby (Gauhar Khan), is admired for her beauty and dancing skills, but it’s always clear where she ranks in the social order. Chauhan refers to her as “the whore.”

When men place so much emphasis on controlling women (and their sexuality in particular), it makes women a natural target for exploitation. From a practical standpoint, it seems a squandering of resources. Zoya’s brothers are good for carrying out simple orders, but they lack her cleverness and passionate commitment to the cause.

Chopra does a great job making Zoya feisty, yet vulnerable and naive. After all, she’s essentially still a kid. Kapoor has a swagger that makes Parma loathsome while simultaneously betraying the insecurity fueling the bravado. Parma is not a loveable character, but he is fascinating to watch. The lead actors’ performances are well-executed in a movie that demands much from its cast and its audience.


25 thoughts on “Movie Review: Ishaqzaade (2012)

  1. Shah Shahid

    I completely agree. I’m surprised that most people who saw it, didn’t clue into the Romeo & Juliet-esque right away after the balcony scene. Which was an innovative tweak of the famous scene.

    Glad to see others share my opinion on it. Sad it didn’t get a bigger fanfare when released.

    1. Kathy

      This is the right way to do an homage or a tweak on a familiar story. You’re totally right about the balcony scene, and Parma is a perfect anti-Romeo. Parma even shares his name with a city in Italy. I’m not sure if it’s going to get a wider release in the U.S., but I’m glad it’s finally available on DVD.

  2. TS (@m_tanaysarkar)

    Finally u have watched story featuring inter-caste couples, one hindu one muslim. Do lovers of different religion face same problem in USA Kathy? I once fell in love with a girl of different religion n the girl told me that its not possible to get married as her parents woud not agree n even she would find it difficult to adjust due to the difference in religion n culture. Music n background score is superb. n the best song is “Pareshan” I think Parineeti Chopra is cute n far more pretty than her cousin Priyanka Chopra. So now one more film is left which u haven’t seen is gangs of wasseypur. I heard they r planning it to release in USA. Is it available on DVD there??

    1. Kathy

      I’m not sure if Ishaqzaade opened in any U.S. theaters, TS, so I’m glad it’s finally available on DVD. (The Gangs of Wasseypur DVD is also finally coming out in America, so I should be able to review it within the next few weeks.) Parineeti Chopra has a bright future ahead of her.

      Lovers of different religious backgrounds don’t face nearly the same kinds of hurdles in the United States that they do in India (or in many other parts of the world). Parents here don’t have the same kind of veto power over who their children marry, and even if they initially disapprove, most parents eventually relent rather than risk not having a relationship with their child. It’s more incumbent upon the parents to have an open mind and trust in their child’s judgement.

      Many couples of different religious backgrounds choose to raise their own children by both religions. Children of one Jewish and one Christian parent often celebrate both Christmas and Hannukah. It’s also not uncommon for people to change religions if their partner is particularly devout. Both my brother- and sister-in-law converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism before they were married because their partners wanted traditional Catholic ceremonies. This isn’t such a big deal since both Lutherans and Catholics fall under the umbrella of Christianity, but conversions to Judaism and Islam are common as well.

      One key to remember is that Americans have a strong shared national culture, regardless of religion. If people here convert religions, the only thing that changes is where and how they worship. Their lifestyle, interests and friends stay the same.

  3. Shah Shahid

    Kathy: (You should change the comments setting to ‘threaded’, so we can respond specifically to each comment, as I will now. :P)

    I completely agree. Adapting something doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a line by line copy of the source material. For an awesome study of proper ‘Adaptations’, read The Prestige, then watch Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE (2006). Doesn’t have to be in that order.

    Didn’t know Parma was also a city in Italy. I assumed it was a Punjabi pet name for Parmeet or Parminder. lol.

    1. Kathy

      Thanks for the suggestions about both versions of “The Prestige” and threading comments, Shah Shahid. The dual meaning of Parma’s name — as pet name and the name of an Italian city — is pretty clever.

  4. Shah Shahid

    TS: Even though there might not be as extreme issues as South Asia when it comes to inter-cultural or inter-faith relationships / marriages, but resistance does happen in North America. Desis have a misconception that such things in the West are never an issue, and it’s all roses and fairies.

    When in truth, Jewish & Catholics families (to name 2 that come to mind) share some of the same Conservative mentalities as reserved Desi families. It’s amazing how many times I’ve met a Jewish / Catholic mother and thought ‘if she had a tan… she’d be South Asian’ based on how they’ve behaved with their kids.

    The Family dynamic in the West is a bit more, open to communication and expression of feelings… which circumvent issues that may arise. In South Asia, we don’t really communicate or express our emotions to our parents… therefore creating a relationship based on obedience and respect, rather than love and honesty. This usually creates majority of the problems.

    Sorry for going off on a tangent here…

    1. TS

      I express my feelings n emotions to my parents. I dont hide anything. I dont fall in the same category. all south asians r not same. thanks for ur reply but my question was for kathy n she has already replied.

    2. Kathy

      It’s a great tangent, Shah Shahid. To expand on your thoughts, first-generation Americans face more challenges when dating outside of their racial/cultural/religious background than do the children of parents who were born-and-raised in America. For example, there was no way the Indian-born parents of some of my Desi high school classmates would let their daughters marry a non-Desi boy. That’s not exclusive to Indians, but is common in many immigrant families. The one advantage these young people have in marrying someone of different background in America is that peer pressure may make the parents more likely to (eventually) accept their child’s spouse. Grandchildren also have a miraculous power to heal family rifts. 🙂

  5. TS

    ya in india every state has different culture language. things r changing though.,people of different religions r getting married. in my case the girl was vegetarian n I m non vegetarian. ha ha ha… that was the biggest problem. food habits tough to change, isn’t it?

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