A big fat Punjabi wedding is temporarily interrupted by the arrival of a ghost in Phillauri. It’s a promising film that tosses around some ambitious ideas but it’s also weighed down by pacing issues and occasional script contrivances.
Just days before he’s meant to tie the knot with his childhood sweetheart, Canada-returned Kanan (Suraj Sharma) appears to have developed cold feet. Add to that the fact that as a result of performing a precautionary pre-wedding formality, he’s accidentally married a spirit. Anushka Sharma, playing the ghostly apparition, floats around the place visible only to the young man. Naturally all sorts of mayhem ensues.
The film cuts between this track, and the past, in which the ghost’s back-story is revealed. Turns out she has some unfinished business from nearly a hundred years ago. At the time, she was a young woman named Shashi, living not too far from Amritsar in the rural town of Phillaur under the watchful gaze of her strict older brother who had no idea that she wrote poetry or that she had fallen for a reformed lothario and folk singer (Diljit Dosanjh).
Despite some nice moments between Diljit and Anushka and the distinctly earthy songs, this track unfortunately ends up feeling like a slog because it offers little by way of surprise or intrigue. You’d much rather stay in the present day, where Kanan, still being stalked by Shashi’s ghost, and confused about his feelings on getting married, is causing much stress to Anu (Mehreen Pirzada), his pretty bride-to-be, even as the rest of their extended families – particularly a scene-stealing, whisky-loving beeji – try to calm his nerves.
Director Anshai Lal and writer Anvita Dutt mine laughs from the absurdity of the contemporary track, while giving us two interesting female characters who couldn’t be more dissimilar. Although separated by a century, Shashi is feisty, strong-willed, and possesses a flair for the creative. Anu, meanwhile, so blinded by love, reveals nothing by way of spine or self-respect. The film then is centered on the idea that love – or the pursuit of love – is the only honest, enduring emotion even as everything else is susceptible to change.
However, the film is truly and irreparably crippled by its languid pace. At nearly 2 hours and 20 minutes, Phillauri is way too long, and just doesn’t have enough plot to merit that running time. The film’s second half is stronger than the first, but ends in a climax that is sure to polarize viewers. I thought it was bold and original, and it worked for me, although I wish the special effects team – which until this point had done a good job – hadn’t gone beserk trying to show off in the film’s final moments.
All four leads put in strong performances, but Suraj Sharma’s flair for physical comedy is a refreshing revelation, and Diljit Dosanjh is impressive, particularly in the intense bits. Anushka Sharma, who’s also produced the film, brings a nice old-world charm to Shashi. She shines both in the dramatic portions and the comedic ones.
Phillauri isn’t a consistently smooth ride. It’s uneven and bumpy and unforgivably slow in portions. But a lot of it works and some of it flies. In a landscape where original ideas are hard to come by, I’m willing to settle for that.
I’m going with three out of five.
Rating: 3 / 5