Robert Rodriguez once did something similar in the 1990s. He took a popular genre such as the Western, took elements of the local culture in, threw some mariachis in — and lots of love and passion — and there it was, a Western with a musical twist where the hero had to be equally good with guns and guitars.

Gone are the days of Classical film noir, where the dark side of man — greed, lust, hate, envy etc — was celebrated in frames that preferred the blacks within the old black-and-white palette. The likes of the Coens and Quentin Tarantino reinvented the noir genre in the 1990s with a complete postmodern approach, borrowing only the basics of the genre — the triumph of the dark side, the femme fatale who draws the protagonist into a web of deceit, the betrayals, the double crosses and the Mexican stand-offs — and turned these elements into a shameless celebration of cinema with references, homage and cheeky tributes to all their pop culture influences. Film critics called this neo noir. The films still explored the dark side of man through their deadly protagonists looking for redemption in a world of sin.

With Ishqiya, Abhishek Chaubey did something really cool. He gave neo noir a desi spin by completely subverting it. If noir was about the presence of evil lurking in every man, Chaubey turned that on its head to give us a film about the goodness lurking in every conniving crook. Because in rural, small town India, even the bad guys have a heart. The ‘Dil’ (heart) is the driver, the money is just the means to keep the heart happy. This is a country where love is more dangerous than hate. Because Ishq can get you killed.

If Ishqiya nailed this much, Dedh Ishqiya perfects the form and makes it classier. Abhishek Chaubey, along with his co-writer Vishal Bhardwaj and lyricist Gulzar, endows this world with the richness of Sufi poetry and Urdu literature without ever letting the elitist high arts get in the way of the populist low brow elements off the streets. Dedh Ishqiya is that rare kind of film that borrows from the Westerns, as much as it does from Indian cinema (more Sholay references) and even Urdu literature. It’s a curious mix — the best of the West and the East, the old and the new, the classy and the cheap — done seamlessly and effortlessly. It is indulgent and opulent, but you can still smell the soil. It is as good with the gun as it is with the ghazal. Action, Romance, Dance, Poetry... wah, wah!

Babban and Khalu are back (Arshad and Naseeruddin make such a fine pair once again) for another adventure with their dil, the ‘Bachcha’ that gets them into trouble, yet again. Just like the first part, nothing is what it seems like, especially not the women. Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi soak in the rare amount of class Bollywood actresses are bestowed with and emerge as the finest feminist heroines of our times. Saying anything more might be a spoiler but read between the lines and you will see the winks at the Censors and the morality imposed upon us even today by the custodians of culture.

This is a modern trip into the old world; and the timeless charm is best experienced with mobiles off and watches forgotten.

It may not be the finest film, coming just 10 days into the new year, but Dedh Ishqiya sure sets the bar high.

Dedh Ishqiya

Genre: Neo Noir

Director: Abhishek Chaubey

Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Madhuri Dixit, Arshad Warsi, Huma Qureshi, Vijay Raaz

Storyline: The two crooks are back in another little Indian town to steal what they can but life has other plans for them

Bottomline: The desi neo noir genre comes of age, Dedh times as deadly