HAPPY BHAAG JAYEGI. Director: Mudassar Aziz. Players: Diana Penty, Abhay Deol, Momal Sheikh, Jimmy Shergill, Ali Faizal, Kanwaljit Singh, Piyush Mishra. Music: Sohail Sen. Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu with Eng. sub-tit. Theatrical release (Eros)
To mention Pakistan in a Hindi movie script, habeas corpus requires that it be in the context of either a) war footing (Refugee, Border, Line of Control, Kargil) or b) parody (Filmistan). Yes, there was the sordid romance that more often than not gets entangled in border lining barb wire (Veer-Zaara, Henna)—which squarely place them back at war footing in the grand scheme of things. That leaves precious little space in the middle. There is no other route.
Unless you are Happy Bhaag Jayegi. Avoiding a movie focused on war or parody, this nifty border-hugging comedy takes a friendly cultural clash between neighbors and elevates it into an unlikely delight.
This story, written by Director Aziz, has a somewhat far-fetched and yet pleasantly approachable premise. Harpreet Kaur aka Happy (Penty) is about to be unhappily married off to the strong-armed Bagga (Shergill) in New Delhi. Not so fast. Happy, you see, has other plans. On the nuptial date, Happy plans to elope with her beau, the not-so-rich Guddu (Faizal). The teensy weensy bummer is that instead of hiding in the truck that will carry Happy to her beloved Guddu, Happy mistakenly jumps onto the wrong truck and ends up in—wait, wait—Lahore, Pakistan where Happy becomes a most unruly and unwelcome house-guest to the Lahore princeling Bilal Ahmed (Deol). Jeepers creepers!
Aziz and company make this completely implausible scenario so seamless and so plausible that before one can truly appreciate the irony of precious turns to Happy’s misadventure, we are already onto the next escapade. The comedy style that Aziz employs is often reminiscent of black and white 1960s Johnny Walker or Shammi Kapoor mistaken-identity, mistaken-deliveries capers. A large enclosed basket that should haul flowers instead has a highly surprised—and angry—bride popping out of it. A no-nonsense and handsome lord of the manor clad in traditional salwar-kameez must rely on his bumbling cast of benevolent underlings to maintain a social straight face. They are trademarks that help this bridal flight remain afloat.
From the get-go, the staging is also surprisingly non-religious. Happy, her angry father back in Delhi (Singh), Guddu and Bagga are all Sikh or Hindu. Everyone in Lahore is Muslim. And yet there are no signs of comeuppance directed at anyone’s creed. This is all about the inflections of vernacular—Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu—that mix in comical phrases and the juxtaposition is uncanny. It is all good clean fun.
As Happy, newcomer Penty brings a nice who-me-surprised expression to her role. She must—and does—remain feisty to throw everyone else off-kilter. Deol’s political. Grand Poobah-in-the-making is refinement personified—at least in his public appearances. His trespasses with his upper crust fiancé Zoya (Sheikh) might as well be Dharmendra and Saira Bano from another era. Ahmed’s unwitting sidekick is the not-so-bright Lahore beat cop ACP Afridi, played with impeccable self-deprecation by Mishra. Afridi being made to go to New Delhi against his better judgement is seen refusing to step off of a bus to touch Indian soil. That pretty much sums up the state of diplomatic affairs that often characterize the India-Pakistan rivalry: the scene is both hysterically funny and also simply insightful.
Sohail Sen’s soundtrack has good things to offer. There is bhangra bounce—Harshdeep Kaur and Shahid Mallya’s Happy Oye and especially the throb of Mika Singh’s Gabru. There is emotion—Arijit Singh’s Zara Si Dosti and especially Altamash Faridi’s beautiful Ashiq Tera. And there is a sufi-qawalli stop—Javed Ali’s Yaaram. The quality, pacing and choreography of these songs greatly enhances the story’s appeal while the somber musical moments gracefully counter-balance the non-stop laughs.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the script is its apolitical take. For all the zingers flared in both directions, Indians and Pakistanis might as well be neighbors settling a missing-bride case over the fence. Improbable as it may seem, it is highly refreshing to see an India-Pakistan détente through soft focus binoculars which capture a blurred-line contiguous landscape separated by miles and not trenches.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.