Please note that this post has spoilers, and I highly recommend watching this movie with a blank slate.
After being almost blown away in my first viewing, the second viewing intensified my feelings for the film and at the same time perplexed me even more about the movie’s overall trajectory of two people falling in love. After a lot of deliberation with my sisters and my good friend, one thing I’m sure of is that film is working on a completely different level and awareness than what I’m making of it.
The film uses the gender divide, both as a launchpad and a very imposing backdrop (almost rubbing us in the face) for a love story between a boy and a girl. It goes about the gender divide in a very ‘matter of fact’ way almost teasing us touchy souls to take it all in as shown without making any noise.
The story is set in a hyper real world where men are ultra macho and easily driven over the edge by anything that might threaten their ego or honor. And the most edgy of them all is our hero Parma. He is a hard core. Although he is obnoxiously in your face, he is someone you would want on your side when in trouble. In short he personifies the ultimate male trait/need/desire, TO PROTECT. Protect the honor of his family; protect his friends and his loved ones. He owns this hyper real world. In the same world we have our heroine Zoya. Born amongst such men, she is a wannabe ‘man’. She is loud, brash and extremely spirited to take over anyone and everyone that stands against her. The thing that attuned me with her was the childlike enthusiasm of aping the men around her. They both belong to political rival families, and they clash. The egos clash and expectedly sparks fly and tempers rise. And here the film, the setup and the gender equation explode together and gives us a ruthless reality check. The ease with which Zoya is brought down from her high horse and made into a simple naïve girl ready to give up her family honor for perceived love, is very unsettling. This might be my man’s guilt working here (as pointed out by my good friend), but I wouldn’t want to dismiss my feeling very easily because the feeling was so intense that I couldn’t get past it for the entire running time of my first viewing. And the film makes it all the more unsettling by treating it as pragmatically as possible.
Earlier Zoya is shown wanting a man who will die protecting her. She is asking for a man manlier than all. And she gets it, in almost a punishment like fashion. A part of Habib Faisal is almost heard saying, “She was asking for it and she got it!”. The way Chokra Jawan hai plays right after the ruthlessness, in an almost celebratory fashion, celebrating the exploits of the anti-hero gave me the creeps. But that was all in the emotional flow. It is clear it was intended as a showcase of the dark and dirty side of the drunk manly energy. The shot of Parma and his dadda drunk and smearing each others faces with colors celebrating their victory immediately reminded me of the holi rape from Damini. If you have witnessed drunk people dancing in Ganapti visarjan with gulal all over them, you would immediately understand the feeling I’m referring to. The raw unchecked violent energy on display added to the unsettling feeling.
At this point Parma is irredeemable. Even as his mother is rebuking him for his wrongdoings, we see no sign of remorse on his face. I was thinking to myself there could be nothing that can redeem him or create any sympathy for him from here. But immediately when he starts protecting Zoya, I was amazed how easily I started rooting for him. But still the residual anger remained and it was now a struggle to accept him as the hero or not. And Zoya faces exactly the same struggle, whether to accept him or continue self-preservation and punish him. This is where the film takes off and becomes an unlikely love story, with Parma and Zoya holding hands and running for their life. They are now together in arms, passionately in love and finally become ISHAQZAADE. Though difficult to digest this trajectory, I was once again discomforted by the female helplessness in the situation. She has nowhere to go and she has no other option but to let go of her ego and any remaining self-respect and embrace survival. And survival is Parma. And this embrace of the Protector and Protected turns into love, which infact is very natural and abides by the age-old gender dynamics. The circle is complete. Men will be men and women better be women.