Imagine you wanted to make Tanu Weds Manu 3 and Kangana Ranaut did not have the dates. Who would you cast? Who else, among the current set of actresses, can embody this… this… force of nature? Anand L Rai, director of the Tanu Weds Manu films and one of the producers of Happy Bhag Jayegi, doesn’t seem to have spent a lot of time pondering this question. Happy Bhag Jayegi is an in-spirit sequel to those films, and Rai’s solution is to cast… Diana Penty. Penty is a number of things – tall, model-beautiful, and her gangly hesitation before the camera served her well in Cocktail, where we saw her last, passive-aggressiving with Deepika Padukone for Saif Ali Khan’s attentions. But an actress, she isn’t – at least, not yet. If that mysterious acting thing isn’t bursting out from within, you can maybe put over a drama scene or two, but comedy can cut you down to size. This film’s Tanu-equivalent is called Happy, and Penty’s performance, at best, reaches Buoyant. Ranaut would have given us Ecstatic or Thrilled.
Perhaps sensing this, director Mudassar Aziz, after a point, shoves Happy to the background, and begins to focus on the people who are looking for her. There’s the impressively named Daman Singh Bagga (Jimmy Shergill, who’s raised second-banana playing to a form of high art), Happy’s loutish fiancé from Amritsar who’s come to Lahore looking for her. (Happy is in Lahore, because she did what the title told us she’d do, and lost her way.) Then there’s Bilal Ahmed (Abhay Deol, playing the Shahid Kapoor character from Jab We Met; I couldn’t decide if Deol was plain rusty or putting on an impressive impassive-face), whose house Happy has ended up in, and who is fast falling for her. Finally, we have Guddu (Ali Fazal), the musician Happy really loves and her father (Kanwaljit Singh) really doesn’t. Oh, the father is in Lahore too, brandishing a pistol, being mistaken for an assassin out to get… Bilal’s father (Javed Shaikh), a top-ranking Pakistani politician.
The stage is nicely set for a revolving-door farce, but the film cannot decide whether to be a comedy or a romantic-comedy. So we are nudged towards the notion that Happy and Bilal may end up together. After all, both of them have an early scene in a bathroom, from which they flee. Both of them are being forced by their fathers to do things they don’t want (marry Daman, in her case; become a politician, in his). We expect the scene where these similarities will smooth over their initial differences. Then there are the sad songs, at least one too many. Momal Sheikh has the unenviable task of playing Bilal’s fiancée Zoya, whose character description could be summed up as “wet blanket.” But she gets a nice little scene where she retains her dignity. As does Guddu, who’s sensed, by now, that Bilal has feelings for Happy. (Fazal is wonderful in this scene.) This is pure Rai, this ability to redeem seemingly throwaway characters through specks of humanity. Or suggest character through throwaway touches. We don’t get much of a backstory for Happy, but when we see her in a brief flashback, she’s always wearing sneakers, as though always ready to run.
But the comedy, when it works, works so spectacularly that you may not care about anything else. A marvellously hammy Piyush Mishra plays Bilal’s long-suffering comrade-in-arms, who wishes all the famous people from India, including Mahatma Gandhi, were from Pakistan. One glorious stretch involving the intricacies of Urdu took me back to Chupke Chupke and the mischief it made with pure Hindi. (Come to think of it, you do sense the spirit of Hrishikesh Mukherjee lurking in these shadows.) When the word “nasheman” is mistaken, in Amritsar, for “nashe mein,” I burst out laughing, remembering my early years of grappling with Gulzar’s lyrics. Hearing Guddu being referred to as “amaanat-e-Hind” made me laugh out loud again. Every time you think the film is running out of steam, there’s a big laugh around the corner. I left the hall with a silly, satisfied grin, remembering, especially, Kanwaljit Singh’s words while chasing Bilal’s car. “Kambakht phone pe baat kar raha hai gaadi chala ke.” As though that is the biggest problem under these circumstances.
- Happy bhag jayegi = Happy will run away
- Tanu Weds Manu films = see here; and here
- Cocktail = see here
- Jab We Met = see here
- Chupke Chupke = see here
- nasheman = nest; home
- nashe mein = intoxicated
- amaanat-e-Hind = the precious property from India
- “Kambakht phone pe baat kar raha hai gaadi chala ke.” = The bastard is using the phone while driving.
Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.