The first trailer of Anushka Sharma’s Phillauri brought back happy memories of Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal (2009). The parallels were hard to miss — from the sepia-toned visual palette to the heart-tugging themes of love and longing that stand the test of time. Newbie director Anshai Lal attempts a heady mix centered on the familiar brew, but manages to whip up only a dodgy screenplay.
Right in the first scene, we meet Kaneda returned Kanan (Suraj Sharma), having a nightmare about becoming the laughing stock for turning up stark naked at his wedding with childhood sweetheart Anu (Mehreen Pirzada). Evidently, he is developing cold feet, presumably from a prolonged period of long distance relationship (three years, we are told later). But he has his heart set on going with the flow — braving the rituals with a stoic smile and a joint in hand. When the boy is married to a tree to nullify is ‘bhaari mangal dosh’, he meets Shashi (Anushka Sharma), the friendly ghost bride from 1919 who is stuck with the reluctant groom-to-be.
Lal and co-writer Anvita Dutt use up the entire first half to perfect the setting with some uproarious moments and a few heartfelt ones. The former comes primarily from Suraj, who makes it impossible for you to take eyes off him. With crackling comic timing and perplexed expressions, he is practically the best part of the film. Pirzada, unfortunately, has the most underwritten part. But even she gets a standout drunken scene, which she nails beautifully. But the first hour tends to get tedious, giving rather little of the plot. There are clichéd characters, like a beeji who fancies her drink at 9 am and fondly cracks inappropriate jokes about her dead husband’s kharab niyat. #hayemainmarjawa
Post-interval, the film picks pace as we are sucked into the romance of the old-world couple — Roop (Diljit Dosanjh) and Shashi. Dutt and Lal carve their love story around poetry and music. The earthy tunes are effectively used to create some palpable chemistry between Diljit and Anushka, both at their best. She plays the all-heart, strong-minded, defiant woman, who will go all the way for the man she loves. Diljit matches her with his dimpled smile and understated act. Together, they iron out many problem areas in the film. But the deal breaker here comes right in the end — a silly climax that is hurriedly written and executed at a snail’s pace. The reunion of VFX-created, shimmery translucent ghosts is a tad much to digest.
A film like this is frustrating, to be frank. The narrative is refreshingly written, brimming with breezy humour. But it is ironic that the haunting spirit is lacking, both metaphorically and literally speaking.