Phillauri: This friendly ghost is a bore
Phillaur (city in Jalandhar, Punjab) tak toh theek hai, par ‘Phillauri’ audience ko phirati hai, which is not O-Kay! What is the syaapa? Story kithe aan, paaji?? ‘Phillauri’ is a good example of what NOT to do as a producer – insipid screenplay, lackluster performances and a director who doesn’t seem to know which end is up!
The basic premise of ‘Phillauri’ is this boy Kanan (Suraj Sharma) who returns from Canada to marry his childhood sweetheart Anu (Mehreen Pirzada) However, the local pandit (a hep, elderly Sardarji with one gold earring, believe it or not!) declares that Kanan’s kismet is quite phutti and so he must marry a tree first, otherwise it will not bode well for his wife. Lo ji, a nice, wide ped-shed is found, sardarji recites Sanskrit mantras (yeah, wait, the movie gets weirder!) and the baraatis return home to await the more sensible wedding of two humans, to Kanan’s papaji’s instruction that the tree should now be cut down (so this part didn’t make sense, except as a fragile link to the ghostly events that follow – I mean, cutting down a newly-wed tree is like killing off your wife, nyet?)
Later, much later, mind-numbingly later, events show us that this is the same tree almost a century ago – 1919 to be precise – from which Shashi (Anushka Sharma) committed suicide and she now hangs (oops, sorry, bad pun!) around Kanan, insisting that he has married her and not the tree – I dunno why, wouldn’t it make more sense for her to say he has destroyed her home and therefore she’s now gonna float around in his? Never mind, the story is full of inconsistencies such as this. For instance, for a ghost, she doesn’t know “her” tree has been cut down – aren’t ghosts supposed to be smart? Nor does she, even a century later, know what happened and why she had to commit suicide in the first place.
But I’ll save you the torment and tell you! Shashi, as a young, nubile lass from the village of Phillaur, fell in love with the local no-good Roop Lal (Diljit Dosanjh) She used to write poetry secretly, coz her virji didn’t approve and he used to sing; both called themselves ‘phillauri’ as they were from the village of Phillaur. Initially disapproving, Shashi’s brother, who spouts inane dialogue like: “maine tumhe apni beti ki tarah paala hai” (like, seriously? Didn’t this go out with Lalita Pawar’s era?) comes around and invites the entire pind for Shashi’s dhoom-dhaam wedding on Baisakhi day. However, saada phillauri is a no-show. A distraught Shashi then commits suicide.
In a bizarre link to real-life, we are then shown that phillauri had gone to Jallianwala Bagh on that fateful day and was shot dead in the massacre (actually, Shashi should go haunt those lousy, pusillanimous Brits responsible for such a heinous and dastardly deed!) And we know this because Kanan makes this leap in imagination simply because phillauri had come to Amritsar in 1919. Never mind, stranger things have happened. So he and Anu rush to Jallianwala Bagh – in the midst of their wedding – with Shashi in the backseat and lo and behold, Shashi is finally reunited with her phillauri lover. We now have an endless, very Walt Disney-esque shot of the two rising in the air surrounded by a halo of tinsel and glitter, with Shashi who hitherto – as befitting a ghost – had been clad in all-white, now back in her wedding joda. She also takes his hand and tenderly places it on her tummy, coz, whaddya know, she was pregnant when she committed suicide…excuse me while I go puke at all the cliches!
The story is slow going till the interval. Post this, the story is slow going till the ending. To cut a long, 2.5 hour story short: the film is S.L.O.W. ‘Phillauri’ is a poor hash job of ‘Paheli’ and ‘Love Aaj Kal’; the first, in its basic premise of a friendly ghost and the latter due to the flashback-present moment juxtaposition. ‘’Paheli’ succeeded due to a sound script and strong performances from its lead pair, with sensitive and focused direction from Amol Palekar. Imtiaz Ali maintained a thread of continuity in his story and that’s how he managed to pull off ‘Love Aaj Kal.’ ‘Phillauri’ is bewildering when it employs the same technique, due to a very weak script (Anvita Dutt) that banks entirely on some ha-ha moments between Kanan and his friendly ghost. Why is Kanan so reluctant to marry his childhood sweetheart? How come the girl’s and boy’s families are sleeping in the same house – AND they literally allow Kanan to sleep in Anu’s bed because he is scared?! Aishwarya Rai marrying a tree in her (real) personal life has actually been mentioned; wonder how the Big B’s have taken to this! In a pitiful attempt to raise some laughs, the servant Govind (who is vertically challenged; talk about platitudes) thinks Kanan is making gay overtures to him; apart from the scriptwriter and director, nobody in the audience thought likewise.
Yes, let’s speak about the director. Ansai Lal has earlier assisted on brain-numbing fare like ‘Housefull’ and ‘Himmatwala.’ Is it any wonder that ‘Phillauri’ turned out to be mindless?! He seems to have been largely ghost-like himself on the sets, because of direction I can see none.
Music is by Shashwat Sachdev; nothing particularly worth mentioning here and Diljit Dosanjh sounds almost shrill as he hits high notes in ‘Dum Dum.’ None of the lyrics are outstanding.
Given that this is a movie centred around Punjab and with an almost all-Punjabi cast and crew, much could have been done to bring out the unique flavor of this much-beloved land. Instead, we have lethargic shots of Punjabi men gathering to hear phillauri sing and we see some poems written in Gurmukhi, big deal. Shashi’s big brother looks morose and frightening and seems petrified of being in the film in the first place.
Suraj Sharma continues to show the potential he had with ‘Life of Pi’ and is an apt choice for the role, ably backed by the fresh-faced Mehreen Pirzada. He manages to raise quite a few laughs, but his character has not been well fleshed out.
I am a huge admirer of Diljit Dosanjh. His performance in ‘Punjab 1984’ sent shivers up my spine. However, he displays none of the spunk and mettle of the ‘Jatt and Juliet’ series and seems to have been somnolent through ‘Phillauri,’ relying on the director to tell him what to do – and clearly, there wasn’t much of that happening! Anushka Sharma too has surprisingly turned in a dull and under-played performance; more surprising because she is the producer of the film. What is this weird churidar-jodhpuri-salwar combination she has tried to pull off – for sure Punjabi women didn’t dress like this back in 1919!
It appears more effort was put into marketing and building up a hype around ‘Phillauri’ – which has actually worked against the film.
*Written exclusively for The Film Writers Association