‘Ishq’ review: Not in Shining Armor

In the Malayalam movie Ishq (Love), a mostly effective take on moral policing and patriarchal outreach, writer Ratheesh Ravi and director Anuraj Manohar track a young couple in love — Sachi (Shane Nigam), an IT professional, and Vasudha (Ann Sheetal) who, as the former’s sister’s wedding approaches, take off in his car for some intimate canoodling time. The opening establishes Sachi as an indulged boy at home with mother (Parvathi T.) and sister (Swasika) all but ruffling the boy’s hair at every small remark. Shane Nigam shines in his dimpled grinagog act, his braces cusping his innocence with the joys of entering a grown-up romantic rendezvous with Vasudha. 

What he and Vasudha don’t brace for is the run-in with Alwin (Shine Tom Chacko) and Mukundan (Jaffer Idukki) in a private parking spot. The dubious duo claim they’re cops and insist on escorting the scared-witless couple, which is when Ishq shifts its trajectory to a harrowing night of harassment and double-entendre that, at the end of it, irreversibly cracks the lovey-dovey mirror via which Sachi and Vasudha day-dream of their future. Chacko and Idukki are terrific, especially Chacko, his character’s darkness lit up only by the evil glint in his eyes. If this night of harassment seems interminable in its length and pace, it’s probably how director Manohar intended it to be, almost transferring the time perception of his leads’ suffering from onscreen right into your living room. 

In the dark of the night, actor Chacko shines.

But it is what happens in the third act that is a big revelation. It’s also when Shane Nigam gets in a strange combination of nervous twitch and deadly focus to lead the tight, nail-biting final act that also has the graceful Leona Lishoy facing its impact. While Ishq’s raison d’être may be the scourge and self-appointed madness of cleansing the so-called moral fabric of the society we live in by poisoned scrubs, it raises dust on other deeply embedded mites in the same cloth. Namely, those at receiving end of such policing: while it’s truly a traumatic experience for both sexes, it is the women who are slut-shamed as the leering focus-light refuses to dim out, salivating at the sight of them writhing and cringing. If Ann Sheetal’s presence isn’t the primary focus here — despite her character facing the brunt of the story’s scare — that’s intentional too. Because it’s about men and their warped, maniacal egos. While what drives such patrolling on innocent folks is misdirected worth, it’s what propels the redemption that’s even worse. It’s not love. It’s the terrible triumph of wanting to know that the male ego isn’t bruised. 

Ishq (2019) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

Ishq is streaming on Amazon Prime and is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years). Mild violence, sexual references.

Director Anuraj Manohar Time 2h 14min
Writer Ratheesh Ravi
Stars Shane Nigam, Ann Sheetal, Shine Tom Chacko
Genres Drama, Romance, Thriller

Watch the Ishq trailer here.