Friday, August 24, 2018


Release date:
August 24, 2018
Mudassar Aziz

Sonakshi Sinha, Jassie Gill, Jimmy Sheirgill, Piyush Mishra, Aparshakti Khurana, Jason Tham, Cameos: Diana Penty and Ali Fazal
Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and a spot of Mandarin

Happy Bhag Jayegi was the sleeper hit of 2016, a comedy revolving around an Amritsari bride who runs away from her wedding to marry the man she loves, but lands up in the home of a stranger – a Pakistani politician – by mistake. Diana Penty was luminous as the eponymous leading lady of that film, which, despite its insubstantial plot and flagging second half, managed to be funny all the same. She reprises her role in a cameo in Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi even as it diverts its gaze to another Punjabi girl called Harpreet a.k.a. Happy, this one played by Sonakshi Sinha.

Writer-director Mudassar Aziz appears to have taken the feedback on his previous venture to heart. Happy Part 2 not only remains largely amusing if you can excuse a few waning patches here and there, the writing of its characters and the plot also have more substance than Part 1. Of course it is a parade of non-stop nonsense, but how does it hurt to get a fit of the giggles in a film that yet does not insult your intelligence and heads off in directions that Bollywood rarely bothers with, especially in comedy?

For a start, it is nice to once again meet a heroine not helplessly hanging around waiting for a man, any man, to bachao (save) her when she is trapped in trying circumstances. This Happy is a combustible woman and like that Happy takes matters into her own hands when the going gets tough.

There’s more where she came from. How often do we get to see a Hindi film featuring a turbanned Sikh as a major character without the screenplay being packed with Bhangra and cries of “balle balle”, without the guy in question being loud and boisterous, and sans sermons about Sikh valour or traditions of service to others? Representation should not be about pedestalising minority communities, but about acknowledging their existence in big and small ways without feeling compelled to create a shindig around an individual’s religious or ethnic identity.

So yeah, we have Khushwant Singh Gill (played by the very likeable Jassie Gill) who is recruited to Happy’s team in a foreign country, without so much as a balle balle or a lecture about Sikhism. Then there is the Lahori cop Usman Afridi (Piyush Mishra) and the Amritsari thug-politician Daman Singh Bagga (Jimmy Sheirgill), carryovers from Happy Bhag Jayegi, still sparring over Urdu and Pakistan in a still engaging and still inoffensive fashion. Yeah, a Pakistani character who is not belittled or demonised in this era of crude, in-your-face nationalism that India is passing through and Bollywood is pandering to. Imagine that.

The trickiest part of Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi is that it is set in China, which would have been an excuse to make lazy racist jokes in most Bollywood films, but not here. Aziz walks a fine line – a clever line – by allowing his characters to be racist as they would be in real life, while using their prejudice to throw a spotlight on the “all Chinese look alike” attitude of the average insular Indian who resorts to the dismissive umbrella labels “Cheeni” and “chinky” for people of the entire geographical region extending from our own north-eastern states all the way to Japan. Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi’s humour incorporates consequences that the primary characters suffer for their insularity and ignorance. This is done mainly through the medium of the gangster Chang played by Jason Tham.

None of this is spelt out in black and white, nor is the normalisation of a gay romance in a brief passage that eschews Dostana-style jokes completely. In a film where you least expect it, we are thus reminded without anyone overtly saying so, that homosexuals, cross dressers, Pakistanis, the Chinese, Punjabis and women – groups that are usually stereotyped in Hindi cinema – are all just regular people.

Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi could still have done with more work on its writing and direction – the songs (barring the remix of the appropriately chosen classic, Mera naam Chin Chin Chu) are ordinary and feel superfluous, there are places in the narrative where the energy dips (which is inexcusable in a comedy), the manner in which a fellow called Fa in Shanghai is introduced seems to suggest that he will be a significant player among Happy’s allies but then he inexplicably disappears for most of the film, and the sidelining of Diana Penty’s Happy feels like such an opportunity lost considering the spark this underrated, under-utilised actor showed in the first Happy.

Truth be told, I was really looking forward to more scenes with Sinha and Penty together, because though Sinha is the bigger star, Penty has the charisma to match. Where she does get screen space in Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi, Penty gives us evidence of her innate verve, which adds to the disappointment on this front.

Sinha’s filmography so far has been dominated by crass big-banner ventures often trivialising sexual harassment and starring major male stars, in which she played the hero’s lover who could have been played by any other marginal female star. She has underlined her ability to be more than just a vapid sidelight and in fact to carry a story on her shoulders in films such as Lootera, Noor and Ittefaq. Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi gives her the chance to tap her comic timing and she does so with gusto, leading the charge in an ensemble cast of gifted actors. Piyush Mishra is as hilarious as he was last time. Sheirgill gets more opportunities here to mine his flair for comedy and is good too. And Gill is, without question, hero material.

Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi is not without flaws, but they are overshadowed by the absence of references to farts, poop and animal backsides, homophobia, misogyny and other ugly biases that have repeatedly reared their heads in the kind of comedies Sinha herself has been a part of over the years. Pleasant and engaging is an option in this genre – thank you, Mr Aziz, for knowing that.

Note: This is not a Hindi film. The dialogues are a mix of Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and a spot of Mandarin (I think), with Punjabi dominating the conversations but not so much that a non-Hindi speaker would be lost.

Rating (out of five stars): **1/4

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
137 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Release date:
August 15, 2018
Milap Milan Zaveri

John Abraham, Manoj Bajpayee, Manish Chaudhary, Aisha Sharma, Amruta Khanvilkar

A violent vigilante out to clean the system by extra-legal means, a corruption-ridden police force, two good men with contrasting approaches to justice, a parent shamed in his prime, a son determined to restore his father’s reputation – we have seen variations of these elements in so many Hindi films in the 1970s and ’80s (some memorable, some terrible) that no amount of efficient direction is likely to have saved this film from its own triteness. As it happens, director Milap Milan Zaveri is also the writer of Satyameva Jayate, so he really has no excuse behind which to hide for this travesty he has subjected us to.

Satyameva Jayate begins with the back-to-back gruesome murders of two corrupt Mumbai policemen. A mysterious hooded figure (John Abraham) oversees both. The audacity with which these crimes are committed calls for the investigative skills of supercop Shivansh Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) who has a reputation for unflinching honesty in a deeply dishonest force.

Because the writing lacks imagination yet aspires to be both smart and profound, Shivansh makes an inexplicable leap of the imagination to arrive at a link – I will not tell you what – between the killings and the words “Satyameva Jayate” (truth alone triumphs) that are engraved on the national emblem. The handful of interesting surprises that the plotline does throw up are all confined to the first half. Thereafter, everything recedes into the background in the face of the film’s high-decibel soundtrack and dated, oh so dated, feel.

The repeated referencing of Lord Shiva and the juxtaposition of gory Moharram visuals against one of the killings lacks novelty. The only point at which the use of religious motifs in the film works somewhat is when the Destroyer of the Hindu Trinity finds a companion in the call of the muezzin, but here too the all-round loudness puts everything else in the shade.

At first when a character tells a cop, “Ab tujhe aisi maut maaroonga ki tu iss janam mein jalega lekin dard agle janam tak chalega (I will give you the kind of death the pain of which will last into your next lifetime)” it seemed like we were in for some fun 1970s/’80s-style dialoguebaazi, but it is one thing to revisit an old, enjoyable trend and quite another to Xerox it without an iota of innovation.

If by now you are expecting to hear that Manoj Bajpayee’s acting is the one bright spot in Satyameva Jayate then your optimism is misplaced. The usually stoic Bajpayee does not outshine the script as might be hoped in normal circumstances. Instead he – tragic but true – overacts. Earlier this year, Neeraj Pandey served up a strangely vacant thriller called Aiyaary, and Bajpayee had managed to find something within himself for his performance even in that film. In Satyameva Jayate though, he seems to have given up on life. While he is passable through most of the narrative, he hams to embarrassing effect in the climax.

Abraham, on the other hand, underacts no differently here than in most of his recent films, but he looks handsome as always and is repeatedly seen in bicep-baring ganjis, so I guess there is a redeeming factor after all. 

Amruta Khanvilkar, who was so impactful in a small but substantial role in Raazi earlier this year, is completely wasted in an insignificant satellite part in this film. Debutant Aisha Sharma, on the other hand, plays an important character who gets hardly any time on screen. She has a noticeable personality and very distinctive voice, so it would be nice to see what a better director might get out of her in a better film some day soon.

Milap Milan Zaveri is an established Bollywood writer whose credits include the screenplays he co-wrote for the box-office hits Grand Masti (2013), Housefull (2010) and Heyy Babyy (2007), and his directorial venture Mastizaade (2016) in which Sunny Leone’s bottoms and breasts had starring roles. From objectifier of women in these films, he switches to defender in Satyameva Jayate, providing confirmation of what feminists have said for decades: that men who speak of protecting women rather than supporting us should not be encouraged or trusted. Among the many clichés in this film are lines pedestalising women that are thrown at a potential rapist. Ho hum.

Satyameva, the truth alone, shall be told in this review. To say the film is shrill is an understatement. In fact, it is deafening both literally and in its tone. Abraham even gets a Sunny Deol moment when his screams rupture a tyre that has been placed around his torso to imprison his arms. To describe Satyameva Jayate merely as tired would be a kindness. In fact, the writing and execution are both exhausted, making it an exhausting viewing experience.

Rating (out of five stars): *

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
141 minutes 11 seconds