The power of Parineeti Chopra. Hindi films’ most exciting young actress has proved more than once that she could carry a film all by herself. That’s what you get in Daawat-e-Ishq and it’s especially true in the initial portions. Thirty minutes into the film and we haven’t even been introduced to Aditya Roy Kapur’s character, the film’s leading man so to speak. It’s all Gulrez aka Gullu and her father played by Anupam Kher. In the end, Abdul Qadir (Kher) wonders how is it that to a timid middle class man like him who shuns lakhs of bribery everyday because he’s scared, a daughter like Gullu came to be. The stubborn, street smart, no holds barred Gullu. And we wonder the same about Parineeti Chopra the actress. Women centric films are all fine but in the mainstream world they are dominated by Vidya Balan or a Kangna or a Rani Mukerji. How is it that in a male dominated Bollywood, an actress, a greenhorn with filmography in single digit numbers is able to dominate presence or a whole film like that? She gets hoots and whistles in Chennai. Says a lot.
The food theme here is tackled from start to finish. It starts with cold samosas to represent the way Gullu’s matrimony woes are going and her dad’s embarrassment from all the dowry expectations. When Gullu meets Amjad (Karan Wahi) for the first time she says,“Your accent is so yummy!”. When Gullu loses it in front of the spineless boy and his parents as they disguise dowry as “help“, she goes,“bloody vegetarians!”. It’s apt, hilarious and sad at the same time but you know where that is coming from. This masterful way of working food into the film by Habib Faisal works throughout. Taru (Aditya Roy Kapur) uses food and his hospitality to woo her. She uses food to dupe Taru.
The father-daughter relationship is beautifully textured and follows a curlicue that’s more convincing than the actual love story. There is a mini love story in the first half that’s just as bit undercooked. But looking for a perfectly cooked love story with just the right colour is probably the wrong thing to do here. Gulrez was always going for an arranged marriage. She wasn’t intent on anything else. All she was looking for was honesty, a certain genuineness and maybe empathy. Daawat-e-Ishq is a little message heavy and that brings it down a few notches. There is also the one dimensional handling of section 498A and its possible loopholes. Maybe that’s why when Abdul finally gives in to going ahead with Gullu’s schemes his spectacles are cracked.
There is a mad effortless energy in the first half establishing the characters and leading to Gullu’s evil scheme and love story. The energy is kept intact even in the second but it is more labored. There is a rush to wrap up proceedings and it turns quite literal with Taru jetting across in search of Gullu. This is a film splendidly performed topped by Parineeti Chopra and Anupam Kher. Chopra has played this role before but it is meatier here that conveys her vulnerability without a touch of melodrama. Kher plays something similar to what he did in Special 26, portraying the trepidation of a middle class clerk made to do things beyond his wildest imagination.
Do Dooni Chaar remains Faisal’s best film but portions of Daawat-e-Ishq are written comparably well. He is at his best when making off-hand nods to the middle class of this country and here once again he succeeds in that. The Lucknowi kababs may not have come out that great but the Hyderabadi Biriyani sure is fantastic.
(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)