At a time when being a fan of an Indian cricketer can be an offence in Pakistan or saying a word or two in praise of Pakistani people can land you sedition charges in India, despite Indians and Pakistanis often making the best of friends especially overseas in the West or in places like Kuala Lumpur and Dubai, this Indian comedy film Happy Bhag Jayegi has come at the right time. In an earlier article, I have explored how cinema, music and comedy shows help bring people of different nationalities in our subcontinent together, referring to some specific excellent films dealing with the subject of Indo-Pak relations at a people’s level, like Filmistan and Kya Dilli Kya Lahore (no, I would not cite Bajrangi Bhaijan as an ideal film to this end for it only boosts Pakistanis’ confirmation biases; by the way, an excellent, must-watch Hollywood film upholding humanism over jingoistic nationalism set in Cold War times is Bridge of Spies, of which my friend Devaditya Chakravarti wrote an excellent review here on Khurpi), and this film would be an interesting addition. I have consistently maintained that inter-governmental dialogue between India and Pakistan on issues like Kashmir is futile till there is sponsorship of terrorism from the Pakistani end, and I do indeed have a hawkish attitude towards the Pakistani state (not the Pakistani people), but I also strongly believe that people-to-people contact and cultural exchanges must continue unabated.
The film is a story of an Indian Punjabi girl, Happy (Diana Penty), who simply wants to escape her marriage because she does not like the groom (Jimmy Shergill), whom she has been asked to marry by her father (Kanwaljit). She is also in love with Guddu (Ali Fazal), who is a college dropout and a guitar player (a failure at that too). As she flees on the day of the marriage, the cat-and-mouse game is expected to ensue as it does. But there is a twist. As part of her escape plan, she had agreed to jump into a truck that would take her away from her home and eventually to her lover. The truck she jumps into, however, takes her to Pakistan and to the house of a politician Bilal Ahmed (Abhay Deol) who is terrified that an Indian girl is at his place and he does not find a way to convince her to go back to India, but she refuses not wanting to be deported officially to her father’s residence, following which she would be forced to marry a man she does not love. In a spot, he decides to let her stay and arranges, with the help of a cop (Piyush Mishra) to bring Guddu to Pakistan so that they can get married in Pakistan. In the process, he also threatens his relationship with his fiancée Zoya (Pakistani actress Momal Sheikh making her Bollywood debut in this movie).
The rest of the story is about the funny situations and the hilarious one-liners that make the film an extremely funny watch. The sequences that are bound to draw out laughter from the audience are the subtle political statements presented in a funny way, as very few of the other movies do. Piyush Mishra and Jimmy Shergill have delivered a brilliant performance in the film, as has indeed everyone else. The wonder that the Pakistani cop played by Piyush Mishra displays in India and the sad wish that Pakistan should have had everything from Mahatma Gandhi (who has been respectfully quoted by Pakistanis from cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan to Malala, and many Pakistanis do acknowledge Gandhiji’s martyrdom in fighting Hindu extremism, their other disagreements with him notwithstanding), the Taj Mahal and Kapil Dev, brings more humour to the film at the expense of the bloody history between the two countries. Jimmy Shergill’s character is almost a repeat of what he did in Tanu Weds Manu and Tanu Weds Manu Returns, but it is still great fun. This is one performance by an actor where the repetition does not seem jarring at all! At an emotional level, the character of Zoya is very interesting and moving.
The cameraman Saurabh Goswami does a very good job in this film. He is certainly way better than what he did in Ek Thi Dayan and also way better than what he was required to do there. The music in this film is also very well-used, and the songs will definitely be remembered by the audience beyond the cinema hall. The other very attractive thing in the movie is that there are no unwanted distractions in the movie.
It is, however, rather unfortunate that this movie has been banned in Pakistan, though there was nothing in the film even faintly offensive, but for a caricatured portrayal of politicians and government officers on both sides of the border. Bilal cracks jokes looking at Jinnah’s portrait as to how Bilal’s own father wants him to excel in politics, in which he is not interested, and that is not in the least disrespectful towards Jinnah, and many more jokes about Gandhiji on Indian currency notes have been common in Indian cinema and TV shows, but it would be silly to think of that as disrespectful towards the mahatma (that there are many Indians and even Pakistanis subjecting the mahatma to the vilest of abuses and harbouring all kinds of misconceptions about him is another matter, and I have sought to dispel those misconceptions in this article). However, this ban in Pakistan is not surprising given that a film like Haider, which, given the themes it focuses on, is undoubtedly much more critical of the Indian state than the Pakistani state on the Kashmir issue and which was screened peacefully in India despite protests (and those suggesting that Haider was biased in favour of the Indian state should read this article), was also banned in Pakistan for just a few passing references critical of the Pakistani state. With bans like these that stifle voices, Pakistan indeed has miles to go. This open letter to the Pakistani establishment by the scriptwriter and director of Happy Bhag Jayegi, an Indian, Mudassar Aziz, is indeed a must-read in this context.
Overall, this film has done well at the box office as it has and is a cause for great joy with respect to the depiction of the interaction between the people of India and Pakistan. With all the rhetoric thrown around from both sides, this is certainly a very welcome relief. No surprise then that Abhay Deol is already interested in acting in a sequel to the movie!
A nice comedy film indeed! Would give it 8/10.