Happy Bhag Jayegi: It’s all about loving your neighbour

Unlike what the promotions would have us believe Happy Bhag Jayegi is not about Happy or Diana Penty who plays the lead character. Thankfully so. The sophisticated, westernised Penty hardly looks or behaves like the rooted Amritsari kudi that she is meant to be on screen. And it also requires way too much of a suspension of disbelief to imagine that a polished Penty could be dishing out yummy aaloo paranthas (a significant ingredient in the film, mind you). If in Bajrangi Bhaijaan the adorable little girl Shahida gets stuck in India and has to be taken back to Pakistan, here it’s Happy, on the run from her own wedding, who lands up in Lahore by mistake. The crucial difference is that Happy is far from adorable, just plain petulant and irritating. Throughout the film people keep talking about falling in love with Happy and one keeps wondering how anyone could do that. Quite like her, the man she is in love with, Guddu (Ali Fazal) is also largely inconsequential.

It is Pakistan that is vital. What’s interesting is how Happy… is an Indian comedy that turns out to be more about our neighbour, in fact Pakistan is its strength. Of course, friends across the border may have an axe to grind in terms of the authenticity of depiction. But was that ever the intention of the makers? Much of the Pakistan depicted in the film takes off (deliberately so) from several of their soaps and serials we have got to watch here in India. However, there can be little to crib and nitpick about if all those supposed (and real) cross-border tensions can be made to dissolve in two hours or so with a few shared laughs and endless banter?

Director: Mudassar Aziz
Cast: Abhay Deol, Diana Penty, Jimmy Shergill, Piyush Mishra, Ali Fazal, Momal Sheikh, Javed Sheikh, Kanwaljeet
Run time: 126 mins

For me the more likeable set of characters are all *that* side — even an Iffatbi, a Fakhru Mamu or the bumbling baddies are nicer than the pallid, insipid Happy. The centre of the film is actually Abhay Deol (a well-calibrated, measured and welcome return to form) who plays Bilal Ahmed, son of the former governor. All depth and dignity, he is the solid, dependable, romantic hero, the kind you’d love to take you home. He is the guy with a passion for cricket who has to give it all up for statesmanship, all to become the next Jinnah. It’s the uninspiring Happy who rather curiously lights up the lost spark in him and his relationship with fiancée Zoya (a perfectly cast Pakistani TV actress Momal Sheikh).

Set off against Bilal is the hammy cop Afridi (Piyush Mishra is at once over the top yet cultured), both on a mission together to deport Happy to India. Afridi is, perhaps, the most interesting character of the lot, mildly resentful when it comes to travelling to India yet the one who desires many things/people from India in Pakistan, including Taj Mahal and Yash Chopra. He is a nice representative of many, on both sides, who are caught between a strange love and loathing. “Ask me about anything but Kashmir,” he says, ever so cleverly, even when drunk. And, lest we forget, there’s also much culture and dignity oozing from Bilal’s dad Javed (Javed Sheikh) who wants him to “change the history of Pakistan”, a nice running joke in the film. In fact, such is the poise and the decorum running through Pakistan that even the screwball, slapstick end comes with a dash of adab and tehzeeb (refinement and sophistication).

On the Indian side things start off loud and grating but then there’s the dimwit local politician and Happy’s spurned suitor Bagga (Jimmy Shergill), to up the ante. He is the other man in film who steals the show from right under Happy’s nose. Shergill’s poker-faced zaniness, specially the catchphrase “card bantwa diye the” and his perennial repartee with Afridi are laugh out loud all the way.

Of course, there are gaping plot-holes and slapdash contrivances galore but some genuine fun and many smart lines to balance things in favour of this Indo-Pak interaction of a different kind. If you come laughing out of this one you know there’s “padosi mulk ka haath” in it. A good handshake all the way.

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Printable version | Jul 18, 2021 3:18:26 AM |

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