Film review: Happy Bhag Jayegi

Films become so much easy to enjoy—or, in the worst case, endure—if their makers care about details. This fact may seem rather obvious, in fact, too obvious to even be stated, and yet, most Hindi filmmakers remain oblivious to it, producing works of such shoddy quality, devoid of any thought or effort, that they redefine mediocrity every Friday. So when a Hindi film, Happy Bhag Jayegi, a comedy, starring Abhay Deol, Jimmy Shergill and Diana Penty, shows that it cares, it’s difficult not to notice that fact, to warm up to it in that instant, even if that comes through a small scene. Consider an early moment in the film, when Bilal Ahmed (Deol), a resident of Lahore, sees a carton—that has Happy (Penty) trapped in it—in his living room move on its own. Scared and unsure of what to expect, Bilal picks up a cricket bat in defence. The sticker of that bat says “CA”, a sports company, headquartered in Pakistan, which sponsors many Pakistani cricketers. It makes sense, for when a Pakistani (or anyone else in fact) picks up a bat, it’ll probably be one manufactured in his own country. It’s a ridiculously small detail (and not even important to the larger story), but it does tell us something important: that the filmmaker, Mudassar Aziz, is invested, and, more importantly, cares about his story. And sometimes that’s all you need to build a point of contact with a film.

Revolving around the eponymous Happy, who runs away from her own wedding, in a truck in Amritsar, only to find herself in Lahore the next day, Happy Bhag Jayegi is a straightforward comedy, and, for the most part, committed to live up to its expectations: delivering laughs. The film, however, does seem uneven in its opening portion, where its actors, especially Deol and Piyush Mishra, are trying too hard, as if they’re aware that they’re in a comedy, constantly overdoing their mannerisms and lines. Deol, especially, known for his restrained performances, who hasn’t acted in a film like this before, is overcompensating here (particularly at the start of the film), bending his back to make his part look funny, and that effort is visible and jarring; even Mishra, a fine actor otherwise, seems to be parodying himself, constantly and desperately trying to come out of his comfort zone. We do eventually warm up to Deol and Mishra’s characters, as they’re written fairly well, and even their uneven, laboured portrayal have a modicum of truth to them, but it’s apparent that these parts needed actors well-versed with the idiom of comedy.

But the man who owns and saves this film, who looks so much in control that his performance is a sheer joy to watch, is Jimmy Shergill. Playing the role of a local contractor, who aspires to be a politician, Shergill’s Bagga is a man high on testosterone, low on intelligence, a delightful lowlife, who kidnaps his wife-to-be’s boyfriend, struggles to speak in English, and dances to a Sunny Deol song at his own wedding. It’s the kind of role that Shergill hasn’t played before, but he looks convincing, perhaps because he believes in Bagga, his buffoonery and brashness. What’s also important: Shergill, unlike Deol and Mishra, is not trying to be funny, but just by staying true to his character, he is.

One of the biggest strengths of Happy Bhag Jayegi is that it finds humour in small moments and doesn’t call attention to them. The film’s humour is unique to its characters and the situations they find themselves in; here, unlike many Hindi films, dialogues aren’t generic jokes, which would work anywhere else. Happy Bhag Jayegi never tricks us into laughing; which is why its gags are often original and enjoyable.

The film, however, does falter a bit in its final act, where it’s trying hard to impress us with a faux-romantic subplot, replete with a maudlin background score, and overwritten scenes. There’s nothing wrong in theory with this change in tone, but it looks forced, simply because it doesn’t belong to this film (at least not in the way it materializes), and you wonder why Hindi filmmakers try to inject romance in their films, as if humour as an emotion is not complete in itself, as if for a film to be meaningful, and worthy of consideration, it has to necessarily talk about Big Things: love, sacrifice, compromise. The film’s salvaged to an extent, in this segment, by some smart writing (in particular one heartfelt exchange between Ali Fazal and Deol), and the fact that it lends gravitas to a minor character, Bilal’s fiancé (Momal Sheikh).

Happy Bhag Jayegi, even otherwise, isn’t perfect; it demands frequent suspension of disbelief (some of its vital plot points seem way too contrived), and yet, despite its sporadic failings, it is, at its core, quite honest, and, for the same reason, engaging and pleasant. It sweats the small stuff, doesn’t pretend, and is alert to small joys of life—nothing spectacular but sufficient.

Originally published in the Wire.

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