Director Anshai Lal takes on an ambitious first film, Phillauri which traverses two time periods. The problem is that the two time spans – 2017 and 1919 – are like two different movies. They are different genres, narrative and filming styles and the transitions between past and present are bumpy. Besides this several scenes and irritatingly lingering.
In present day Amritsar, Kanan (Suraj Sharma) returns from Canada to marry his high school sweetheart Anu (Mehreen Pirzada). Here are two Punjabi families that replace their morning cuppa tea with whiskey and water. Jovial and excitable they are also slaves to tradition. So when the pandit identifies Kanan as ‘manglik’ and recommends marriage to a tree to positively realign his horoscope, the inebriated wedding party agrees. Kanan is the only one who seems unconvinced.
But the tree houses a ghost and Kanan finds that he’s married an apparition who begins to haunt him. The central premise is “borrowed” from ‘Corpse Bride’ (2005) and incorporated by writer Anvita Dutt into a time travelling tale that’s part comedy, part drama.
Kanan learns that Shashi (Anushka Sharma) is a friendly ghost who has business that has remained unfinished for 98 years. This takes us back in time to a sepia-toned Phillaur where the townsfolk occasionally come together to listen to a ‘tawa’ (frying pan) or record. Here, a higher caste girl Shashi falls in love with a low caste singer Roop Lal (Diljit Dosanjh). She secretly writes verse under the pen name of Phillauri which she surreptitiously shares with the singer Phillauri (because they are both from Phillaur you see). But their love is thwarted by Shashi’s over-protective and unduly harsh older brother.
The potential satire that could have been built on in the modern tale (like a ‘roka’ [pre-engagement] over Skype) doesn’t carry all the way through nor does it juxtapose with the ancient love story that finds resolution in a moment in Indian history. Suraj Sharma does comedy well and he’s rather cute though his Kanan deserved one strong scene at least. The passion between Shashi and Roop Lal is well captured and both Anushka Sharma and and Diljit Dosanjh are immensely likable in their scenes but once more Dosanjh’s character remains under-cooked.
Once again I remain frustrated – because I want to see Anushka Sharma break out and take risks as an actress. I feel her best is yet to come. And I do hope Suraj Sharma and Diljit Dosanjh get more wholesome parts that showcase their talents to the fullest.