True love is like ghosts, which everyone talks about and few have seen – Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Romantic horror is a fascinating genre in films. In Bollywood cannot think of too many films in this genre though the immortal song ‘Aayega Aayega’ from the 1949 reincarnation saga MAHAL captures the essence of this genre perfectly. It is eerie yet alluring and it does not hurt that you have a ‘haunting’ beauty like Madhubala enacting the part. Strangely enough Hollywood seems to be able to only envisage vampires in this genre of films, be it the DRACULA movies down the years or the recent TWILIGHT series, all average films though. The disturbing 1989 David Cronenberg film ‘THE FLY’ and more recently the 2008 Swedish film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN are the among the best in this genre. Anushka Sharma’s second production ‘PHILLAURI’ bravely ventures into what is virgin territory for Hindi films.
WARNING : SPOILERS AHEAD
Kanan (Suraj Sharma) which by the way is a distinctly south Indian name, is a foreign return who is all set to marry his childhood love, Anu ( #MehreenPirzada ) in an elaborate Punjabi wedding. Only hitch: He is a ‘Manglik’ and by custom(??) must marry a tree to set things right. Only he ends up marrying Shashi (Anushka Sharma) a lovelorn ghost who haunts that tree. The rest of the running time (127 mins in all) is spent with Kanan trying to sort out Shashi’s messy love affair with a singer Phillauri (Diljit Dosanjh) from pre independence India.
SCRIPT AND SCREENPLAY
The premise of a bridegroom-to-be accidentally marrying a ghost is copied from the 2005 Tim Burton animation film CORPSE BRIDE and given a desi tadka by the writer Anvita Dutt. Like #ImtiazAli’s LOVE AAJ KAL which dealt with two love stories running parallel to each other, PHILLAURI moves back and forth between the present and the past (in sepia toned visuals) where we come to know of Shashi’s brother not being approving of her relationship with Phillauri. The initial scenes of the ‘weed rolling’ jittery-about-settling-down Kanan are breezy enough. And the first scene where Kanan sees the ghost of Shashi is genuinely funny and so are the next few scenes.
The trouble is that the constant back and forth does not always work especially the languid pace of the Phillauri-Shashi love track. And at 127 minutes of running time the film seems overlong by at least half an hour. Plus, the climax seemed hackneyed and too convenient. Dutt who has mostly written lyrics & dialogues for urban centric films of Yash Raj & Karan Johar productions tries her hand at writing the screenplay here. The ill fated Shahid Kapur Alia Bhatt starrer SHAANDAR was the first time and based on evidence of what one has seen so far, she should stick to what she knows best.
Shashwat Sachdev, the debutante music composer of PHILLAURI has a bright future in films. With soulful melodies like ‘Dum Dum’ and ‘Sahiba’ and catchy tunes like ‘What’s Up’ & ‘Naughty Billo’ (with a nice little rap by Anushka Sharma) this is one of the better soundtracks of 2017. One of the best things about PHILLAURI has to be the brilliant special effects and the way the ghost of Shashi has been shown on the screen. The casting by Anmol Ahuja & Abhishek Banerjee is unusual and one wonders how much say Anshai & Anushka had in the matter.Vishal Sinha the DOP of stylised films like AB TAK CHHAPPAN & BHOOT does a swell job of creating a rustic flavour for the Anushka-Dosanjh love track. Rameshwar Bhagat, the hotshot editor of Salman ‘BHAI’ Khan’s last two blockbusters (BAJRANGI BHAIJAAN, SULTAN) does a so-so job and the film feels self indulgent at several places.
Mehreen Pirzada who made her debut in a film down south last year makes her Hindi debut with PHILLAURI. As Anu she exudes an easy charm and seems natural in front of the camera. It is just that her role has not been given as much importance. Yet in that one scene where she gets drunk and gives it to Kanan, she shows potential. Suraj Sharma – best known for his role as the kid in the iconic LIFE OF PI has acted in a couple of films since with his film UMRIKA even winning the Audience award at the Sundance Film Festival a couple of years ago. As the confused NRI stuck in a weird situation his is a nuanced performance, never really going over the top. His scenes with the ghost, Shashi make for some of the film’s most entertaining moments.
In the title role of the singer-poet #Phillauri, Diljit Dosanjh makes an entry forty minutes into the fil. He does a great job considering that his role is probably the most underwritten. He lends a quiet dignity to his character yet somehow his love story with Anushka comes across as tepid and it is the soulful songs that (kind of) save the day. #AnushkaSharma as the ghost in that resplendent gold dress is bewitching. She puts her all into the role of Shashi and her timing in the comic scenes with Suraj’s character is superb. As the haughty Punjaban from another era stuck in a time warp as a ghost, she does full justice to her role.
About director Anshai Lal, must say that life has been a roller coaster for this Delhi lad who started out as a model before assisting directors like Saket Chaudhary (PYAAR KE SIDE EFFECTS) and Shimit Amin (CHAK DE INDIA) and it has taken a good ten years for him to debut as a director with PHILLAURI. Though one must appreciate him for choosing an off beat subject the execution is far from perfect. But this being his first film it can only get better from here. Hope he gets more opportunities.
PHILLAURI has some terrific moments, excellent special effects, good performances and a great soundtrack but is bogged down by inconsistent writing and an epic romance that simply fails to take off. Films with unusual subjects and lacking star value (read HERO) need to have great word-of-mouth from audiences to work. Like NH-10 which was riveting stuff. Sadly PHILLAURI is no NH-10. Watch it only if you are an Anushka fan.