Anshai Lal’s “Phillauri” could have been two films, except for the ghost that glides in and out of the two stories. Tree-dwelling spirit Shashi (Anushka Sharma) – dead for nearly 100 years – finds herself in the middle of a big, fat Indian wedding.
The wedding in question is of Kanan (Suraj Sharma) and Anu (Mehreen Pirzada), childhood sweethearts about to enter into reluctant matrimony – at least as far as Kanan is concerned. He seems distinctly out of place at his ancestral home in Punjab when he returns from Canada and is besieged by overbearing relatives.
A priest tells Kanan he’s “manglik” (suffering from an astrological anomaly thought to cause marital discord, among other things). The only way out for Kanan is to get married to a tree, and then to his fiancée. His parents and future in-laws, all seemingly educated people, agree. And sure enough, Kanan gets married to a tree the next day.
What he doesn’t realize is that Shashi’s spirit resides in the tree, and he’s tied the knot with her – or at least that’s how she sees it. The spirit follows her new husband to his house, and spooks Kanan enough for him to appear even more addled to his family. But for what it’s worth, the comic track with a reluctant groom, his ghost bride and the wedding in the background actually works, not least because of Suraj Sharma’s perfect expressions.
It is when the film moves back in time to the 1900s for Shashi’s love story with Roop Lal, a singer-poet smitten with her, that time stops still. The storyline moves at a glacial pace and director Lal makes liberal use of slow motion. As star-crossed lovers torn apart by circumstance in pre-Independence India, neither Sharma nor Diljit Dosanjh (who plays Roop Lal) can rustle up interest. Despite the inordinate screen time devoted to their love story, you find yourself itching to get back to the present with Kanan and Anu.
The idea must have been to juxtapose the two love stories, but on screen, that sentiment hardly comes through. The two timelines and the characters seem worlds apart, and the tenuous thread that holds them together seems to snap much before the 137-minute narrative ends.
Of the cast, Sharma as Shashi is luminous as the ghost (thanks in no small measure to special effects), but it is Suraj Sharma who steals the show with a stellar turn as the jittery groom.
If only the director had sped up the past and focused on the present, this would have been a different film.