A love story set in early 1900s Punjab is contained within Phillauri in the form of sepia-toned flashbacks but really it deserves a film of its own. Here, it is couched between a psychedelic opening sequence, a modern coming-of-age tale, and a ghost comedy. The result feels a bit like seeing a grown-up in a bouncy castle — discordant but still kind of fun. Directed by debutant Anshai Lal and written by Anvita Dutt, Phillauri has been marketed as a film about a friendly ghost, Shashi (Anushka Sharma). She can be seen only by Kanan (Suraj Sharma), who happened to marry a tree she had been trapped in, as part of a Hindu ritual to correct potentially evil consequences in his stars. His odd behaviour thereon begins to worry his to-be wife Anu (Mehreen Pirzada) and their families. Shashi, meanwhile, attempts to make sense of why she has been released into the world. Suraj Sharma is great as the incredulous but compliant young bridegroom. His character, a slacker who is recently back from studying in Canada, struggles with cold feet ahead of marriage. Despite the performance, Kanan’s is the weaker section of the film. His identity crisis suffers from being thinly-written.
It is here that the film at times resembles Shaandaar (2015), another project in which writer Dutt was involved, although the humour is far superior here.The romance of Shashi, a budding poet, with Phillauri (Diljit Dosanjh), a rustic singing sensation, is arresting. With more screen time, this might have been a better musical drama than messy predecessors like Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar (2011). For one, the woman, even if inhibited by restrictions at home, does more in this film than merely provide encouragement to the man. Anushka is earnest in both aspects of her role — as the ghost navigating a modern world who innocently refers to a vinyl as “tawa” (pan), and as a poet smitten by the idea of having her words put to music. After a sincere Hindi film debut last year as a cop in Udta Punjab, Dosanjh produces another likeable turn, this time as a badass musician who cleans up for the sake of love. Given his own experience as a singer, he looks at home mouthing the songs including Sahiba, the flagship of the film’s soundtrack. Unsurprisingly, Phillauri requires many leaps of the imagination from viewers. The frequent interweaving of past and present, however, is inventive and engaging. The film’s various threads come together neatly closer to the end. But the final act, covered in Disney amounts of glitter, would have benefited from tautness. In its attempt to do many things, the film is unable to go deep enough into any of the stories.