Daawat-e-Ishq review: Parineeti shines in a movie that will find many fans among men's rights activists
Unfortunately, Chopra's talent doesn't make up for the sloppy second half with its complete lack of sizzle and logic.
In a recent interview, Parineeta Chopra said if there's one thing that needs to change for women actors, then it's their pay cheques. "I'm sorry I'm saying this next to a hero," said Chopra, flashing Aditya Roy Kapur a beautiful smile to soften the blow, "but it's true. If we're in the same film, doing the same number of screens, I will be paid Rs 10 and he will be paid Rs 18."
If that's what happened in Daawat-e-Ishq (and it probably did), then it's criminal because Chopra is the only aspect of Habib Faisal's new film with which you can fall in love. Everything else teeters between average (like the writing) to criminal (like the decision to obscure Kapur's handsome face under kohl and facial hair).
Faisal has said he wanted to discuss dowry in a way that would not feel like a lecture to audiences. So he's given us Daawat-e-Ishq, which he's both written and directed. Chopra plays Gullu, a bright, sparkling young woman from Hyderabad. The fact that she's still studying in college doesn't stop her father (Anupam Kher) from trying to set her up in an arranged marriage. Unless our math has completely failed us, Gullu is at best in her early 20s, but she's already been rejected by scores of bride-hunting families because her father can't afford more than Rs 17 lakh as dowry. Why Gullu's father, who seems like a thoroughly lovely gent otherwise, has been subjecting his daughter to this ordeal at such a young age is mystifying.
But never mind that, because all these rejections haven't dulled Gullu's joie de vivre. It's when she acquires a boyfriend and his parents too demand a dowry that Gullu snaps. Furious, she decides she's going to make both the laws and this social evil work for her. She will use Section 498A to arm-twist one of these dowry-demanding devils into paying her pots of money. Her father has a brief moment of hesitation and then, inexplicably, agrees to be Gullu's sidekick in this outstandingly idiotic plan that involves wigs, bright lipstick, a goatee, fake passports, travelling to Lucknow and a suite at a fancy hotel.
Enter Taru (Kapur), the barely-literate heir and man-in-charge of Lucknow's famous Haideri Kebabs. In an effort to obscure Kapur's SoBo gloss, Taru has a shorn head, wears shirts borrowed from Govinda's wardrobe and ever so often, he leers and says "aye". The stubble and moustache don't do much for Kapur but the net result of all the kohl he's wearing is to make you realise just how long his natural eyelashes are.
Chopra's eyelashes, in contrast, are fake but everything else about her Gullu feels genuine until Faisal's script fails Chopra entirely. Chopra holds Daawat-e-Ishq together, with a little help from Kher, till interval strikes. She's playing a character that she's played too many times in her short career, but even so, she manages to inject a lot of charm and energy into her performance.
Some of the most delicious little one liners are in the scenes in which Gullu is trying to convince her dad to work on the con with her. At one point, Gullu excited rattles off how they'll "lagao" Section 498A on the bad guys and Kher responds with, "Kanoon hai, nail polish nahin".
Unfortunately, Chopra's talent doesn't make up for the sloppy second half with its complete lack of sizzle and logic. Kapur is awkward as Taru and the rustic bombast that is supposed to make him endearing is mostly cringe-inducing. Most of the time that Kapur is on screen, you wish someone would scrub the make-up off his face and give him a shave so that Gullu (and the rest of us so inclined) could ogle at him peacefully.
Realism and rationale are thrown out of the window after interval. Faisal relies on lazy shortcuts as though he's desperate to finish the film. The love story is summarily dealt with using a couple of songs and one of the most heartbreaking moments in the film is when Taru loses his temper after realising he was duped and drugged by Gullu. That's the moment at which you're forced to acknowledge that no matter how charming he is in interviews and how beautiful his bone structure, Kapur is horribly miscast as Taru.
Ultimately, the ending of Daawat-e-Ishq is hackneyed and rushed. It ignores Taru's justified rage, the issues that were raised by Gullu's actions, and relies on some half-hearted fight scenes to bring the film to its conclusion. Gullu and Taru deliver boring and predictable monologues about how frustrating it is to be asked for dowry. Then they look into each other's eyes, each of them wondering which one of them has better 'skillz' with the eye pencil. And we wait for the end credits to roll.
Daawat-e-Ishq is yet another script, like Ishaqzaade and Hansee toh Phansee, that just doesn't do Chopra justice. She's undoubtedly one of the most gifted actors of her generation and yet, the need to make the man a hero has led to her characters being shortchanged in almost every film she's done. Whether this is the worst part of the film or if that honour goes to Faisal's inept handling of how Section 498A is misused depends on what expectations you have of Bollywood.
Faisal's film is a classic Bollywood cop-out -- it touches upon serious issues but shies away from actually discussing or exploring them. As a writer, Faisal doesn't have enough conviction to either wholeheartedly support or oppose Gullu, so he settles for occasionally wagging his finger at her. Instead of an amusing exploration, what we get is a story that confirms the worst suspicions of every "men's right activist" -- women use Section 498A to victimise good, innocent men and their well-meaning families. Even when Gullu and her father see that Taru is against dowry, it doesn't stop them from continuing with their thoroughly unethical plan.
Daawat-e-Ishq is neither funny nor insightful so far as its discussion about Section 498A and dowry goes. Far from offering a balanced perspective, Faisal has made a film that's actually damaging, Daawat-e-Ishq is a Bollywood-shaped tick mark supporting the argument that Section 498A is used to harass people side. In an effort to be amusing, the film completely loses sight of the dowry victims and their mistreatment, which is supposedly what inspired the film.
The focus of Daawat-e-Ishq is how Gullu pretends to be a victim while actually victimising someone else. Taru, who ends up to be Jiminy Cricket to Gullu's Pinocchio, is the real hero because he is the one who is actually rejecting dowry. Both Gullu and her father are willingly part of the system that would pay men to get married. At no point do they question or rue this. All that they're concerned about is that they can't afford more than Rs 17 lakhs as dowry. If they did, they'd pay up. Not even the love of a good man will deter Gullu from her determination to punish someone, anyone, for all the rejections she's faced.
Despite honourable intentions, all Faisal has done with Daawat-e-Ishq is brought every paranoid chauvinist's nightmares to life on celluloid.
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