"Curse of the second half," they said. "Punishing the heroine," they said.
And I, like a fool, asked, "How bad can it be?"
It turns out, so bad I cannot even discuss this film without getting into all the various spoilersome niggles I had with plot and characterization. For a short, spoiler-free version, here's my take:
I was never bored during Ishaqzaade, to the credit of the film's production. However, what promised to be an action-packed Romeo & Juliet tale of two young lovers (fresh faces Parineeti Chopra and Arjun Kapoor), their families divided in political and religious rivalry, ended up being quite the dysfunctional mess. While there's some good - music, Parineeti Chopra's acting - there's just so much bad I'm not quite sure I'd recommend it.
And now, onto the SPOILERS...
If there was any justice in the world, somewhere half-way through the film, Parineeti's Zoya would have had a switch flip in her head and she would've gone full-on Urmila-in-EHT, avenging the injustice that befell her in the most mind-bogglingly gruesome manner imaginable. I would've enjoyed that, especially as I loved Parineeti in this - she's so solid for a newbie, lively in her expressions, believable in her sorrow. I'd rate her as highly as Anushka Sharma, my other favourite among the young recently debuted actresses.
Unfortunately, that doesn't happen, and instead the film decides to have various female characters (first Parma's mother, then the prostitute with the heart of gold Chand) tell her that her love is what will cure the incredibly sociopathic male lead Parma. How unhealthy is this message? I'm all for the cliché of a woman's love curing a criminal, but considering this is the very same guy who completely and utterly messed up Zoya's life, in the cruelest, most calculating and cold manner possible, I'm not so sure he's all there for the curing. After such unforgivable actions, how can she trust him, let alone anybody? The message is harmful, to say the least. That man who had no regard for your feelings, wishes or honour? That abusive jerk? Stay with him, because you're the one who might turn him from an animal into a human being.
So instead of him getting his due comeuppance, instead the film builds toward a situation where they're both so utterly screwed they kind of have to be with one another. Is this romantic? Not even in the most tragic sense do I feel it is. I'm known to enjoy some pretty troubled, dysfunctional couples - love doesn't always have to exist in a problem-free, cushioned environment. But this here is just beyond the pale. When Zoya is shown to forgive Parma, finally, and the two marry properly, I don't get the sense that everything will be okay for these crazy kids, because at least now they've got each other. No, instead I'm stuck on thinking how this is more or less her Stockholm Syndrome'd by the circumstances into this marriage with him. Love him or perish, you're screwed either way, might as well...
It would help if the character of Parma was fleshed out or shown to be a little more respectful of Zoya's feelings and opinions. Instead he comes off as the sort of brat he acted like when he was deceiving her, conning her into the fake marriage. Does he end up deserving her forgiveness? Not even an inch of it. Arjun Kapoor might be an okay actor, but his talents so far did not stretch to give the role the sort of innate humanity that the character really desperately needed. I ended up hating Parma, and mistrusting his every action, no matter how genuine. He was rotten, and even if consequences lead him to abandon his initial loyalties, it does not redeem him in my eyes.
The final disclaimer gives some sense of why things went they way they did, why the movie doesn't cheer for progress or display any, and things go back to the status quo, as if nothing ever really happened in the first place. On the other hand, I'm sure a lot of these real life stories of ishqazaade (love rebels according to the film's own translation) are ten-fold in romance than the movie paying tribute to their lives.
So why did the film makers make these bizarre choices to "jazz up" what could've been a really good tale of love against all odds? I'll never know, nor will I ever understand. In the end you're also left wondering the inhumanity of an ideology where "honour" turns your own children into mere possessions that you only care to destroy to salvage your own "respect". What a cruel world it can be...