Ishkq (Preity Zinta) is a half-Indian half-French photographer who says she will never marry. Akash (Rhehan Malliek), the sports agent she meets on a train from Rome to Paris, hates weddings. We know, right then, that they will, by the film’s end, reconsider their respective positions – but we play along as they pretend to have commitment-free fun. This ships-passing-in-the-night aspect of Prem Raj’s Ishkq in Paris resembles the central conceit of Before Sunrise, and like the couple in that film, Ishkq and Akash spend a night in Paris walking and talking. (He has to catch a train to London the next morning.) The difference here is in the element of chance. Ishkq and Akash run into Chunky Pandey, who plays a street-corner hawker peddling trinkets like Vidya Balan’s oversized blouse and Bill Gates’s first mouse. He sells them a die whose six faces are marked with activities like Dinner, Coffee, Sex, etc. They roll the die and decide what to do next. Dinner follows. Then coffee. Much later, sex.
The emotional complications between people can become fodder for a frothy rom-com or an incisive drama. The problem with Ishkq in Paris is that it wants to be a bit of both. (Ishkq and Akash break up, and it rains – suddenly we’re in that kind of movie.) The rom-com parts are at least inoffensive, in the way that watching a shampoo commercial is inoffensive. Well-scrubbed leads. Smoothly oiled banter. Upscale locations. Tasteful filmmaking. It could have been a lot worse. It could have been Main Aurr Mrs Khanna, this director’s earlier film. And then, it becomes a lot worse. At first, there’s a hint of role-reversal when Ishkq, in Rome, pursues and woos an Italian waiter. She’s like a man, we think, right down to her sex-without-strings stand. But later, this choice is judged a grave mistake. Akash, who’s fallen for Ishkq, proclaims, “Tumhe tumhare akelepan se bachana chahta hoon,” that he wants to save her from a life of loneliness. If you think this development reeks of chauvinistic condescension, you haven’t heard what he tells her divorced mother (Isabelle Adjani) – that it’s wrong for a couple to split up after they have a child. Had they stayed together, he lectures, Ishkq wouldn’t be so leery of commitment.
It’s hard to decide what’s worse – this psychobabble, or the bland drama that it sets up. Revelations that would require months of therapy and insight are acquired over the course of a single conversation. The leads don’t help. Zinta is too perky, apparently unaware of the difference between being cute and playing cute. And Malliek is too mellow, all bland good looks. (He really would fit in a shampoo commercial.) Though who, really, could acquit themselves well in the face of lines like “Paris ko pyar karne walon ka shaher maana jata hai”? Or this burst of balladry from a Frenchman who Ishkq dates: “Bharatiya nari ko husband pyari, so you and me marry.” Or, my favourite: “I think dice roll karne ka samay ho chuka hai.” These lines, as much as the fate of the leads, appear to be the result of chance: random English and Hindi words picked out a hat and strung together by a blindfolded toddler. A film with a psychic belly dancer should have been way more fun.
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