Tejas Nair | March 29, 2017
Successful fantasy dramas in Bollywood are rare phenomena. With Amol Palekar’s Paheli (2005) as a solid benchmark, it can be difficult to create an interesting film, as this ambitious project by a debutante director shows.
Kanan (Suraj Sharma) is a young man who arrives from Canada and is taken by his parents straight to his would-be-fiancée and high school sweetheart Anu’s (Mehreen Pirzada) house for their engagement and subsequent wedding which is scheduled a week from now. Already mad with the swift turn of events and unsure about the whole marriage thing, Kanan tries to speak his mind, but it all falls in deaf ears. Things move at a faster rate as he is directed by the family pandit (Hindu scholar) to first marry a tree so that he can get rid of his astrological curse. No prize for guessing, but Kanan soon finds out that the tree that he married the previous day contained the ghost of a woman named Shashi (Anushka Sharma) who now believes and takes him to be her lawfully-wedded husband. A shaken Kanan tries to avoid her, but for how long? And how is he going to explain it to Anu, who now thinks that Kanan has changed from a genteel lover-boy to a weed-smoking hipster who plays around with women’s feelings…
If there is a thing called convenient filmmaking, then this is it. With the setup of a big Indian wedding that reminds me of a yesteryear Malayalam-language film, Anwar Rasheed’s Ustad Hotel (2012), used to introduce the characters, the film makes a promising start. Superstitious families, an over-attached girlfriend, and a mysterious ghost from the previous century – the film has everything a Bollywood film could ask for. And for some time, it even manages to entertain. However, the level of quality and entertainment soon falls when you realize that the humour is forced and the drama unceremonious and inconsequential. Kanan is a 26-year old man and his encounters with Shashi are so childish they are cringe-worthy. Suraj’s portrayal as the helpless guy does not work either, even when he is supported by a talented supporting cast.
The only positive element that works for the film is that the suspense about Shashi’s past stays strong throughout the film, mostly because it is explored non-linearly and is only dug deeper in the final 30 minutes. The base is quite similar to Palekar’s 2005 SRK-starrer, with the exception of disappointing performances from the lead cast. Suraj sports a single expression throughout the 2 hours of running time – whether it is him flirting with his would-be wife or being terrorized by Shashi. Anushka does not do much for her character other than lazing around from point A to B looking like she hasn’t a clue. All excuses defending her character should be attributed to bad writing. Pirzada is a cutie, but needs to improve her acting chops if she wants to stay. Diljit Dosanjh is the only main character who gives out an authentic performance, and we cannot thank director Anshai Lal for that. The direction is overall average, with Lal using tried and tested methods to narrate his story and still failing to impress. The fitting and well-crafted background score and few hummable songs further accentuate the film as a one-time watch.
With laudable CGI for a Bollywood film and the fact that the romance in the film is tied to an important part of Indian pre-Independence history, this second production by Anushka Sharma is a watchable but average affair. Go for it if you have nothing else to do.
BOTTOM LINE: Anshai Lal’s “Phillauri” is a ghost story that flip flops between romance, fantasy, and comedy with these genres providing entertainment in the descending order. It is high on romance thanks to the backstory set in the 1910s, but is pretty low on comedy, no thanks to the writing.
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