In my encounters of ghosts on screen, I’ve known quite a variety — fierce, horrific, gloomy, even goofy — but Phillauri’s well-behaved apparition is a first.
She glows incandescently in the dark and floats through space in shimmering, translucent attire, like a wish-fulfilling fairy stumbling out of the pages of an exquisitely illustrated children’s storybook. She speaks softly while her eyes glisten in wonderment.
Where most other spirits would wreak havoc on learning some random NRI chap tied a knot to the tree she inhabits and promptly chopped it off as well, Shashi, serene, shiny Shashi (Anushka Sharma), is amused over how such a juvenile deed, fuelled by his family’s superstitious beliefs and baseless ‘Aishwarya (Rai Bachchan) also did it’ logic can ward off an astrological complication.
Before Kanan (Suraj Sharma), the waffling, weed-puffing nitwit who’s flown down to Amritsar from Canada to wed his high school sweetheart (Mehreen Peerzada), winces at Shashi’s lustrous albeit harmless presence, Anshai Lal’s directorial debut Phillauri sets itself up as a typical big fat Punjabi wedding romp around understated idiosyncrasies.
Grumpy moms, nonchalant dads, rum-guzzling grandmothers, squeamish house help and a bride who’s understandably concerned about her to-be significant other’s perennial sulking — Lal tosses in a fair bit of quirk.
There is an indie-like normalcy wearing their interactions and zingers till a sense of monotony sets in. Lal’s insistence to maintain room temperature humour and downplay a frothy premise robs Phillauri of fizz in its comedy. Rameshwar L Bhagat’s lackluster editing only contributes to its growing inertia.
As does the absence of mischief across Shashi’s spooky act, which is preoccupied in wistful flashbacks of her poetic romance with a fellow Phillaur native (Diljit Dosanjh) in British Raj India. Lal examines the contrasts between the dynamics of relationships, then and now, through the differences of one’s privilege and another’s struggle but fails to offer emotional fulfilment of either.
Despite having many opportunities, Phillauri isn’t able to make full use of them.
It’s not from the lack of trying though.
Producer and leading lady Anushka Sharma looks ethereal and conveys the enlightenment of a woman before her time. What is amiss in her performance is whimsy. Perhaps, well behaved is not such a nice trait for a ghost after all.
Diljit Dosanjh employs his earthy charm to Phillauri’s many songs and scene whereas Suraj Sharma’s terrified commitment-phobe is like witnessing Chuckie Finister in live-action. He does it convincingly too but it’s exasperating when Phillauri doesn’t allow him to be anything else.
Newcomer Mehreen Peerzada exudes an impressive confidence and vulnerability, which is even more laudable given cinematographer Vishal Sinha’s penchant for close-ups.
Funny how after dodging dramatic vigour like a shortcoming, even at places where it would be viewed as benefit, Lal succumbs to a gimmick of a climax. The special effects are seamless but for a story that circles around a spirit it’s a pity how little one sees of it in the movie.