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Dedh Ishqiya, the sequel to Ishqiya, is brilliant for its subtlety and in the way that viewers have been left to wonder in amazement about the relationship between Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi, the two leading ladies in the movie.
Here is the ultimate movie spoiler: Yes, indeed. Madhuri and Huma are supposed to be together in the movie, as in lesbians or at least, bisexual.
Lesbian or gay themed movies are not mainstream in Indian or even American cinema, but Dedh Ishqiya goes where few movies have gone before. This subtle way of exposing the audience to lesbianism is perfect because it does not play on stereotypes to reduce women to caricatures (Girlfriend), does not treat queerness like a bad joke (Dostana), while engaging a mainstream audience lost to brilliant but art-house gay Bollywood movies such as Fire or Onir‘s I Am.
What makes the movie a success? Well, read on.
1. Recruit an icon of Indian cinema for the lead role.
Madhuri Dixit is simply stunning in her lead role as Begum Para. There is no doubt that the movie was made with her in mind, as she shines in scene after scene with eloquence and mastery, delivering a magnum opus performance. In an industry where female stars have an expiry date of 30, her resilience and star power in her late forties makes her a true legend of Indian cinema.
2. Master the Craft of Subtlety
When Fire, a movie that explored lesbian relationships, hit the cinemas, Indian audiences protested by burning effigies, shutting down cinemas. Faced with that atrocity and the recent Section 377 decision that criminalizes sodomy in India, subversion is a great tool to drive home a point. The relationship is portrayed through playful talk and kept in the shadows from the audience. By not placing an emphasis on the actual sexual act of the two women, the film forces the viewers to humanize the lead characters.
When Naseerudin Shah’s character states “lihaaf mang le” towards the end of the movie, this is a reference to Lihaaf, a short story written by Ismat Chughtai, an independence era writer, on sexual repression, women’s liberation and homosexuality. In fact, with a similar plot line of a closeted Nawab and a repressed Begum, Dedh Ishqiya can be read as a movie adaptation of Lihaaf. The rest of the story is merely a camouflage for this revelation, cleverly made for the audience to consume homosexuality without knowing it.
And it worked. No one is burning down cinemas and taking out effigies of the actors. Rather, the audience is reveling in this masterpiece.
Why are you still reading? You should go watch Dedh Ishqiya now.