I don’t think I would be spoiling anything when I say that Ishq begins and ends with a conversation between a man and a woman. The emotion in both situations, however, is different. The film’s tagline — Not a Love Story — is more dominant than its title. A series of high-pressure moments tests a man’s love for his woman and consequently makes every man in the audience reflect on their perspectives concerning certain complex issues.
The naive, twenty-something couple at the center of the film are Sachidanandan (Shane Nigam) and Vasudha (Ann Sheetal). With Jakes Bejoy’s beautiful music to enhance their quiet, romantic moments, life seems all hunky dory for them until a late-night confrontation with a creep named Alvin (Shine Tom Chacko) changes everything. The latter’s unwelcomed intrusion deals a huge blow to Sachidanandan’s ego. Something happened when Sachidanandan wasn’t looking and now he is desperate to know what happened — to confirm his girl’s purity.
This is an emotion that filmmakers like Padmarajan and MT Vasudevan Nair have explored in the past, by putting their protagonists in more complex situations than anything Sachidanandan goes through in the film. It asks every man in the audience: What would you do if you were put in his shoes? Like another recent Shane Nigam film, Kumbalangi Nights, Ishq is about men with fragile masculinity. In Kumbalangi Nights, there was Shammi; in Ishq, we get Alvin.
Though both Shammi and Alvin get their kicks from their own individual perversions, they both operate in a similar fashion. Oh, and they both happen to be family men. This is another film that reminds us that sometimes a man blessed with a beautiful family can be as psychotic as those who are deprived of it.
Ishq is bolstered by the scene-stealing moments of Shane and Shine — especially the latter. I’ve always seen Shine as an underrated actor who, up until Ishq, did not get the roles he really deserved. I’m glad that he finally got a character that does justice to the actor in him. As Alvin, Shine is truly a revelation, especially in the second half, when he also displays a talent for dark humour. He reminds me so much of actor Harvey Keitel from films such as Taxi Driver, Bad Lieutenant, or Cop Land. They both have the same, what I call, a ‘pervert’s gaze’.
As for Shane, it goes without saying that he once again delivers one of his finest performances through Ishq. Sachi doesn’t mind giving a piece of his mind to any guy who looks at her, but all his manliness leaks away in front of Alvin’s intimidating tactics.
On more than one occasion, he looks as if he is going to faint from the overwhelming humiliation he is made to undergo in front of his girl. Though Ann Sheetal doesn’t have many dialogues — because it’s the men who do most of the talking — she manages to be quite effective with the few lines she has been given. Also making a solid impression is Leona Lishoy as Maria, Alvin’s wife. There is an explosive, clap-worthy moment towards the end of the film involving Shane, Shine, and Leona.
What I liked best about this Ratheesh Ravi-scripted film is that it doesn’t take any sides. In the end, it neither absolves Sachi nor Alvin. Debutant Anuraj Manohar directs the film with the assuredness of an experienced filmmaker.
Ishq is replete with plenty of intense moments and I’m not exaggerating when I say that Anuraj’s commendable mastery over his actors’ performances brings to mind filmmakers like Sidney Lumet and Martin Scorsese. Not many films can make you root for a character and then minutes later make you ask if it wouldn’t be more appropriate to show them the finger instead.
Director: Anuraj Manohar
Rating: 4/5 stars