It is almost like a disclaimer, the way the tagline rolls after the title of the movie: Ishq, ‘not a love story’. Do not worry, audience, we will not bore you with another boy-girl romance. So you know even as the movie begins with the all-too-real phone romance between Sachi (Shane Nigam) and Vasudha (Ann Sheetal), it is not going to last. You wait for something to go wrong. And when it does, the expectations you’d have built up till then – because there was a nice flow to the scenes so far – fall, one by one. Ishq may have tried to touch upon the real social problem of moral policing in the state, but the way it chooses to handle the problem is really wrong.
Anuraj Manohar’s debut directorial begins with promise. The characters are introduced in their settings – Sachi, the phone-obsessed Kochi fellow, chatting up and calling his girlfriend, making big plans for her birthday; Vasudha, the college-going Kottayam student, leading every conversation to marriage and presenting matters at home. The giggles they share and the mandatory song that follows may seem typical but there’s nothing cringingly cheesy about it. They appear just like that typical couple we all know in life.
Shane’s character has a deeply possessive side that we see in the initial scenes. When a guy from another table of a coffee house looks at Vasudha more than a couple of times, he goes to have a word with him. He comes back and tells her he doesn’t like it – meaning he doesn’t like another man even looking at her. This, you imagine, might be a preview of what is to follow later. But when the couple run into real trouble, Sachi appears overly timid, submissive, even as he makes meek attempts to protect Vasudha.
They drive a car into a parking lot late in the night to have a moment together. The anticipated trouble happens then. Shine Tom Chacko as the really creepy Alvin comes shining a torch into the car, demanding to know what their business is. Sachi steps back when Alvin says he is with the police and is joined by an older man, played by Jaffer Idukki. From this moment on, Shane appears to shed all expressions off his face – it is mostly blank, even at the height of panic.
The two men want to know step by step of what’s been going on in the car, grilling Sachi for details. Shine plays this character so very smoothly you can actually picture the traumatic moments that victims of moral policing go through. But just as Shane appears to have given up on emoting, the script too loses the smoothness it had so far. The whole episode becomes a drag that you just wish would be over soon. The tension is lost and annoyance takes its place. You fail to understand why the overly possessive Sachi is suddenly so impassive even as he understands the truth about his attackers. All this while, Ann Sheetal as the panic-stricken young woman plays her part well. You can even defend her being mostly mute, given she is written as a pretty conventional young woman, saying lines like ‘can’t you marry me already’ when Sachi acts possessive.
You know the script has lost it when there is suddenly an unnecessary song in the middle of this prolonged drama. Scriptwriter Ratheesh Ravi appears to have decided that there need be just two major sequences – the attack and the reaction, and drag them both so much to make it 135 minutes.
What follows the attack is the reaction, how Sachi and Vasudha deal with it. If earlier the script had dragged, now it takes a wrong turn – it has enough in it that sadly gets applauded by a misguided audience. To say why this is wrong would be a spoiler – enough to say it shakes the whole purpose of what the film seemed to be about.
Anuraj Manohar probably meant well, tackling a real issue faced by so many couples. He has also managed to end the film with the right note, albeit dramatically. If he had just shown some care to draw the lines at the right points, the movie would have been a loud message to all the moral police groups in the country – and there are quite an unnecessary number of them hanging around.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.