Review: ‘Phillauri,’ an Indian Rom-Com With an Epic Sweep


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Diljit Dosanjh, left, and Anushka Sharma in “Phillauri,” directed by Anshai Lal.

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Fox International Productions

Anshai Lal’s “Phillauri” is a Bollywood movie toggling between a contemporary screwball rom-com and a sweeping historical love story. Balancing both proves to be challenging.

In a sprawling home in Punjab, the families of Kanan (Suraj Sharma), a 26-year-old aspiring rapper, and his longtime girlfriend, Anu (Mehreen Pirzada), prepare for their wedding. But Kanan has his doubts — he thinks he might be too young for marriage — and to make matters worse, his family insists he first participate in a ceremony marrying him to a tree. (In this way, he is told, the hapless Kanan can avoid the usual fate of a manglik, a person born “under a cursed star.”)

Soon Kanan is haunted by the glowing ghost of Shashi (Anushka Sharma, no relation to Mr. Sharma), a friendly female spirit only he can see, who has a connection to the tree. His initial terror of, and conversations with, a seemingly nonexistent woman gives his fiancée pause.

Just when you think “Phillauri” is becoming a “Ghost Town”- or “Topper”-type romp, it switches gears, as Shashi imparts her own past. Flash back to almost a century ago, when she was a poet, secretly submitting verse to a newspaper under an assumed name. When she meets another poet, Phillauri (Diljit Dosanjh), a dashing ne’er-do-well, they fall into a love forbidden by Shashi’s pious brother. It’s painful to witness the script’s transformation of Shashi at that point from a hardheaded freethinker into a lovelorn obsessive. But things become worse for her: The abuses of British rule — specifically the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, in Amritsar, Punjab, in 1919 — lead to a dire personal loss.

We shuttle between eras until the threads converge in a present-day supernatural spectacular in Amritsar, attended by a legion of wraiths. Yes, Shashi’s soul finds peace, and Kanan and Anu become ready for marriage. But by then credibility has been drained and the drama has proved exhausting, unhelped by the listless male leads. (Ms. Sharma and Ms. Pirzada bring the spark here.)

Mr. Lal, making his feature directorial debut, clearly understands the camera and special effects. But working from a script by Anvita Dutt that reaches too far in too many directions, he is undone by his own ambition.

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