Director Manish Tiwary’s Romeo and Juliet, set in a Benares where the air is dense with ganja and gulal, has no new vocabulary. Baz Luhrman has done Shakespeare; so has our Vishal Bhardwaj, both quite convincingly. Issaq is ear-splittingly loud—every character is on a boil, screaming foul with contorted facial features. Storytelling is linear and predictable, performances by the lead actors, Prateik and Amyra Dastur as Rahul Mishra and Bachchi Kashyap, are far from electric. Rahul and Bachchi speak to each other as if they were already in a domestic contract in which the man rules. This Romeo and Juliet have not a scintilla of the kind of precarious spark that Shakespeare’s lovers had.

Wherefore art thou? Why would the writers (Pawan Sony, Padmaja Thakore and the director himself) want to throw a time-tested classic into this localized, cliché-ridden cesspool?

The Kashyaps and the Mishras are old rivals. The third beneficiary in this battle for power, money and control over local natural resources is a Maoist group led by a brutal and uncharismatic leader (Prashant Narayanan). Rahul Mishra falls in love with Bachchi Kashyap in an afternoon of holi hysteria. After the families discover their affair, Rahul is on the run. In pain, oppression and much melodrama, the couple waits to reunite. The tragic end is unintentionally facilitated by a levitating baba (Makarand Deshpande). There are many Benares staples, among them a white-skinned woman in awe of her spiritual guru’s puerile ideas about romantic love. Juliet is powerless, lost and has a surprise for her Romeo: “I am a virgin," she moons to him.

Prateik is a few films old and is still an actor without any maturity or skill. He can’t communicate even half of the character’s passion. Dastur’s ethereal and delicate looks are not enough to see her through the role, without acting chop. Dialogues are ordinary, and the two actors’ delivery of the dialogues make them more stilted. Among others in the cast, Ravi Kishan hams through his flat, evil role. Rajeshwari Sachdev, Prashant Narayanan, Akhilesh Jha, Neena Gupta, Vineet Kumar, all good actors, have done their job of bringing humdrum characters to life, in this bundle of tiresome stereotypes.

Issaq released in theatres on Friday.

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