Issaq, directed by Manish Tiwary has texture, some interesting characters, and a premise ripe with potential. Yet all that is squandered away in this rather literal adaptation of Romeo and Juliet because of an incoherent screenplay and sloppy editing.

Tiwary sets the film in Benares, where the Kashyaps and the Mishras have a long-standing feud, presumably over common business interests. Their enmity routinely spills onto the streets when members of either camp encounter the other. Curses are exchanged, blood is spilled, and so it continues.

When Rahul (Prateik Babbar), the young son of the Mishra family patriarch, and Bachchi Kashyap (newcomer Amyra Dastur), the daughter of his father’s sworn rival, inevitably fall in love, her hot-headed uncle Teetas (Ravi Kissen) almost pops a blood vessel, and becomes determined to thwart their romance permanently.

Rooted in a milieu the director is evidently familiar with, Issaq nevertheless proves a hard slog because the language is often indecipherable. Unlike Gangs of Wasseypur and Omkara, to which it owes much by way of inspiration, the dialogues here are frequently contrived, particularly some of the exchanges between Prateik and Amyra that are peppered with (intentional) mispronunciations of English words.

As many as three editors are credited with piecing together this film, and yet there are chunks of vital information that appear to have been lopped off carelessly. Significant characters – like a minister who attempts to broker peace between the two warring factions, and a Naxal leader (Prashant Narayanan) who exploits their rivalry – get little screen time to justify their presence in the script. On the other hand, an intriguing subplot about a central character and his affair with a married woman never feels adequately explored.

There’s a tender, playful tone to the romance between Prateik and Amyra’s characters, and the pair shares a warm chemistry. But both actors lack the chops to carry off the more serious scenes in the film. Prateik, in particular, has a charming presence, and the camera clearly loves him. But he struggles – and fails spectacularly – in creating a wholesome, believable character. Meanwhile, dependable actors like Ravi Kissen and Neena Gupta ham through their scenes, while Rajeshri Sachdev gets a few moments to shine.

At nearly two hours and thirty minutes, Issaq is a plodding bore of a film that inspires neither empathy for its romantic leads, nor enough contempt for those who drove them to their tragic end. It’s an exhausting and predictable exercise in futility.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Issaq. Shakespeare won’t be thrilled. And neither will you.

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