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She is not afraid of the F-word. And her money goes where her mouth is. Anushka Sharma returns with her second production venture after the hard-hitting NH10 and you realise why she chose to associate herself with this period romantic comedy. Director Anshai Lal delights us with his debut movie, written by Anvita Dutt, conveying a (partially) feminist message simply and effectively with humour, heart and vintage charm.

Phillauri’s appeal lies in its languid pace and a story that flows relatively well. Its simplistic characters also make you care. The pre-independence era of Phillaur and folk music add a unique flavour. No doubt that Anushka’s character of the ghost steals the show – except for the slightly long-drawn show of her final liberation. Some good old editing was required to shave off the corny from that sequence.

Step into the ghost zone where new world accidentally meets old world. A Manglik groom Kannan (Suraj Sharma) is dragged from Amritsar to Phillaur and forced to marry a tree before he can wed his childhood sweetheart Anu (Mehreen Pirzada). The tree is home to Shashi, a friendly ghost, who has to follow him as they are now married. Kannan is inwardly scared to take the plunge and feeling the pressure of commitment.

A series of tragic and funny encounters follow. Soon we get a glimpse into Shashi’s past and both stories are revealed in parallel. Roop Lal (Diljit Dosanjh) is a cocky local folk singer with a disreputable past. She is the respectable sister of the local doctor who scorns him for wasting his talent and life. Not very hard to guess what happens next. They discover a common interest and fall in love. As the mystery unfolds, the rest of the movie glides in tandem between the past and present. Kannan helps Shashi figure out the reason she has been frozen in time. All is well that, err, ends well.

On the negative side, despite posing important questions in the narrative, Anshai doesn’t delve deep and succumbs to stereotyping. Shashi cares more about her reputation than identity despite showing streaks of independence. Both characters of today deserved thought and respect than being handed an idealistic answer to their dilemma. Kannan’s fear and struggle with commitment is passed off as an identity fad. Anu is reduced as a girl obsessed with marriage and Kannan seems to be her only occupation.

Despite these flaws, Shashi and Kannan keep you hooked in their spooky-struck world with their crackling camaraderie. His discovery of Shashi and their subsequent chats during the pre-wedding rituals are a highlight. Her past poses subtle questions about women’s name and place in society and you can’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction when Shashi finds her answers. The one-dimensional concept and an element of timelessness work in that sense. The tragic twist in the end, despite being predictable, ends up a surprise.

The superb supporting cast is a combination of sober and hoot. Shashi’s brother, despite his limiting mindset, is humane. The gracefully unapologetic dadi starts drinking at 9 am and doesn’t think twice about sharing details of her sex life. Kannan’s parents form a tickling team. The wedding drama is unintentionally funny, peppered with some punchy and lively dialogue. Anvita’s writing is particularly witty;  all characters seem to have a way with words. Kannan’s welcome scene, a serious panditji delivering the news of Kannan’s marriage to the tree plus his parents’ and in-law interactions are a riot.

A refreshingly soulful score by Shashwat Sachdev evokes a nostalgic feeling and pulls it all together. Check out the delectably delightful Dum Dum, old-school romantic Sahiba, tipsily unfettered Bajake Tumba and the soothingly celebratory Din Shagna Da (composed by Jasleen Royal).

As for the lead cast, Mehreen Pirzada is spontaneous yet a tad limited by her fluffy characterisation. Suraj Sharma rises above his commitment conundrum and balances both her and Anushka well, evoking enough sympathy for his situation. He is a natural on screen and has a flair for comedy.

The utterly charming Diljit Dosanjh returns in a naughty nomadic avatar after his debut in Udta Punjab. The screen comes alive when he grooves to Bajake Tumba, the long hair and attitude suit him well. He also appeals as the ideal beloved and expertly handles both aspects of his character. Yeh dil maange more. His chemistry with Anushka works fabulously with her restrained body language and his calm demeanor.

No surprises that it’s Anushka Sharma who cements this ghost venture with an all-round breezy performance. As a lost soul from past in current time, she is suitably excellent; armed with the right expressions and repartee. Tickled by her present, far away from the time she lived in. As the spunky Phillaur girl in her past, she is superbly restrained.

All in all, let’s say this light-hearted ride to the past is worth an outing and a ticket. To feel good, to laugh a little and perhaps wonder why a woman is still stuck in time where she feels she doesn’t have a choice.

cinemaspotter rating: 3.5 out of 5

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