This is a Yash Chopra production and the story has been co-written by Aditya Chopra, but no love story could be more unlike a Yash Raj Films romance than Ishaqzaade.
It revolves around two small-town lovebirds (or call them what you will), who are neither as meek as songbirds nor do they speak the lingo of soft romantic love in the splendour of solitude. Their passion grows in the shadows of life-threatening violence. So what's new?
Not much really, except for the grungy, downbeat treatment that writer-director Habib Faisal brings to the table for this oft-told story of impossible love played out in a nondescript north Indian town. But that might militate against the core YRF philosophy: Ishaqzaade isn't the sort of gossamer-coated crowd-pleaser that the banner specialises in.
The lovers in Ishaqzaade belong to two families that are divided by both politics and religion. The boy is a Hindu, the girl a Muslim. The patriarchs of the two clans, Surya Chauhan and Aftab Qureishi, are fierce political rivals engaged in a see-saw electoral battle in a town called Almore.
Hatred is the dominant emotion in this part of the world and street violence is always only a gunshot away. In this grimy milieu dominated by the two warring groups baying for each other's blood, love is low priority.
Cloaked in the violent love story that is Ishaqzaade is a message that could not have been better timed.
The film has opened in the multiplexes hours after a senior Uttar Pradesh police officer declared in front of TV cameras that he would shoot his daughter dead if she were to elope. That very mindset is deeply entrenched in the world that Habib Faisal depicts.
The boy, Parma (debutant Arjun Kapoor), and the girl, Zoya (one-film-old Parineeti Chopra), have hated each other ever since they can remember.
Things come to a head when Parma and his cousins, Dharma and Karma, storm a party at the Qureishi mansion and zip away with a dancing girl, Chand Bibi (Gauhar Khan).
To avenge the humiliation, Zoya confronts Parma outside her college and slaps him. The boy plots revenge. The act of vendetta ? he literally sleeps with the enemy to teach her a lesson ? has tragic consequences. Parma loses his widowed mother in the aftermath.
As circumstances go out of hand and the two patriarchs begin to worry about their political fortunes, Parma finds himself on the run with the girl, with both families in pursuit like a pack of hungry wolves. No escape, no retreat, no surrender: they are up against a dead-end where hope dies quickly.
Sadly, Ishaqzaade isn't quite as pulsating as the plot line might suggest. The script throws up some surprises all right, but the story of inter-religious love does not have legs robust enough to gallop all the way through to the end with sustained energy.
After a startling end to the first half, the film's pace drops several notches in the second half as the lovers seek refuge in Chand Bibi's brothel. ?There is peace here,? Zoya retorts when Parma reminds her that they cannot live in a whorehouse forever. The boy replies: ?Do you want the whole country to be turned into a brothel for peace to reign?? Well, well!
This cinematic plea against honour killing lacks crackle and fizz for want of true intensity.
However, Faisal Habib creates the small town environment with an eye for detail, with many of the interactions between the young foes-turned-lovers taking place in and around a train station, in abandoned coaches and decrepit yards.. It is a typical upcountry semi-urban space ? dusty, crowded and cacophonous - with genuine and tangible dimensions.
The main characters, too, are by and large believable, especially because the roles are essayed by young actors who look real. The hero isn't a sculpted hunk; the heroine is, at best, a pretty girl next door. However, the supporting cast, with the exception of Gauhar Khan, make little impression.
That leaves too much of a load on the inexperienced leads. If only Arjun Kapoor's dialogue delivery had greater punch and Parineeti Chopra could pull off the emotional moments without going shrill, Ishaqzaade would have been a markedly better film.