Happy Bhaag Jayegi Review (SPOILERS!!!): Kind of Midsummer Night’s Dream in Lahore

No one cares about this movie, do they?  That’s kind of too bad.  It’s a sweet little film, and it says something a little unusual and interesting about relationships, and also narrative structure and assumptions.

Either it says something interesting about narrative structure and assumptions, or it is just a poorly constructed film.  One way or the other.  But I will choose to be generous.

I already did my spoiler-free review, so I am going to dive right into SPOILERS here.  Not a full detailed shot by shot description, because this film really isn’t worth that, but at least an overview of what all happens and in what order.  Interspersed with what I thought about it.

Diana Penty is getting married in Delhi.  Big wedding, Jimmy Shergill is adorably doing a terrible dance performance for the Sangeet while she cheers along.  And then she excuses herself to go to the bathroom, where she digs out running shoes she has hidden, and calls Ali Fazal to confirm that his friend’s truck is under the window and that she loves him and will see him soon, and then jumps out the window, accidentally leaving her phone behind.

Meanwhile, Abhay Doel is playing hooky from an India-Pakistan agriculture conference in order to play Cricket in the street.  His father yells at him, because he is supposed to be the next Jinnah and change the history of Pakistan, and he keeps skipping out on important meetings.  But they are still taking home a bunch of agricultural product gifts from the conference, and of course Diana Penty accidentally landed in their truck, not the truck Ali Fazal set up for her, and is whisked across the border hidden in a basket.

So, this is the standard structure of two outsiders who are meant to be together, right?  We meet the hero, we meet the heroine, we look forward to when they will meet, and clash, and then fall in love.  Why else would we open by watching these two very different people?

(Like this.  Obviously, Shahrukh isn’t going to end up with Karisma and Madhuri won’t end up with Akshay, because otherwise why would be keep intercutting between Madhuri and Shahrukh’s lives?)

In Pakistan, we establish some more that Abhay is unhappy with his restricted life and longs to play Cricket, and that his father puts too much pressure on him.  And then Diana Penty pops out of the basket and starts yelling at him.  She takes off running, trying to get back to India, is promptly arrested, and gives Abhay’s name to try to get out of trouble.  Abhay picks her up and hides her in his house, because he is worried about the scandal and publicity if she is deported and tells everyone that she is connected to his family.  And Abhay’s fiancee, Momal Sheikh, finds out and is initially angry, but then decides to help because she wants to be sure Diana gets married to Ali Fazal and out of their lives.

Okay, this is a little bit different!  Having the “arranged marriage” fiancee be difficult, but then coming around.  She is set up to be just awful, in the usual way fiancees are.  Abhay’s Dad is nagging him to return her calls, he sees her on the street and hides, she yells at him and won’t listen to or believe his explanations.  She agrees to help, but mostly just to get Diana out of their lives.  But then, in the middle of a montage sequence of Diana hiding at Abhay’s house, Momal notices how sad and lonely she looks, and takes her on a shopping spree.  So, she may be a classy uptight rich lady, but she is also worried about others and capable of expressing her concern in her own way (through buying designer clothes).

Meanwhile, back in India, Jimmy Shergill has destroyed Ali Fazal’s house and is insisting that Diana Penty will marry him, no matter what.  Ali is a decent guy, so he figures out that Diana is missing and goes to her father to tell him that they were going to elope, but now she is lost and probably in trouble.  Jimmy’s people take Ali captive, and Diana’s father declares he is going to track her down himself and kill her.

This is a bit confusing structurally.  Not Jimmy Shergill being angry and Diana’s father being enraged, but Ali being so decent.  Because, isn’t Diana supposed to end up with Abhay?  Shouldn’t her original guy reveal weaknesses or something, like Kareena’s boyfriend in Jab We Met?  But now Abhay’s fiancee is nice, and Diana’s boyfriend is brave and noble, how are the two main characters going to end up together?

(I hate this man almost as much as I hate Rajkummar Rao in Queen.  Not Shahid, the other one)

Because Ali is captive, Diana can’t reach him on his cell phone, and is stuck waiting in Lahore.  Finally, Abhay decides to travel to India along with a local Pakistani cop/comic relief to track down Ali and personally tell him that Diana is in Lahore and he needs to come there and marry her so they can be sent home together.  Abhay and the cop are almost immediately captured by Jimmy Shergill’s men and brought to the nursery school where they are hanging out with Ali.  Abhay lies that he is a music producer and suggests that they take Ali to Lahore and make him a success there, and then he will never trouble Jimmy again.  At the same time, they manage to convey to Ali that Diana is waiting for him in Lahore, so he agrees to come along (kind of cute bit, Diana sent some food she made for him, so when he is refusing to leave India until he finds Diana again, they force feed him and he immediately realizes where the food came from and agrees to go along).

Again, Ali is doing everything right!  Refusing to leave India without his love, recognizing her cooking immediately (just like she said he would), being generally a good guy.

Abhay goes back to Lahore to spend more time with Diana, while Ali stays in Delhi with the cop to work out his Visa, and also to tell the cop his Diana love story in flashback, while it is implied that Abhay is falling in love with her in the present.  Ali finally goes to Lahore, but moments after he leaves, Jimmy learns the truth from one of his men, that Diana is in Lahore.

(The songs are super chopped up in the film, just like a minute and a half and then over. And the trailers are even worse, smooshing together all sorts of different parts)

This song is very confusing, because it is really the only time we see Diana with either of the guys.  And she barely interacts with either of them.  We get why they love her, she is bright and sparkling and confident, but why does she like either of them?  Although, I do have to call out a really great moment in Ali’s flashback, when she sees him in the crowd at her engagement, goes over to talk to him and tell him it won’t do any good to cry, it’s too late, and then he grabs her hand and asks her if she is willing to “run”.  And she smiles and says “yes, let me go finish the engagement”.  Diana does a really nice job going from angry and frustrated and sad, to just sort of loose and happy.

Ali arrives in Lahore, but before he can meet Diana, she is kidnapped by associates of Jimmy.  Meanwhile, back in Delhi, Diana’s father gets a letter from Ali, telling him that Diana is in Lahore and Ali has done there to marry her and bring her home.  He decides to go to Lahore with Jimmy (who is still insisting that he will marry Diana no matter what, “the cards have been distributed!”).

This bit was a little odd, because if Diana and Ali have this epic love story and have been separated for so long, why is there this strange delay in getting them together?  Diana and Momal and Abhay are having tea together, while Ali is waiting in his hotel.  Why not hurry?  It feels like kind of a hint that Ali and Diana aren’t actually that eager to get together.  Or else, that they are so sure and steadfast in their feelings, there is no rush.

Back in Lahore, everyone is very upset about Diana being kidnapped, and Abhay’s reaction makes both Momal Sheikh and Ali realize that he is in love with Diana.  Abhay and Ali have a nice conversation about it, where Abhay says it doesn’t matter how he feels, because Diana herself wants Ali.  Momal gets a sad song, but keeps it all inside.  Oh, and there is a clever metaphor, Abhay comparing his feelings for Diana about how his father felt about Madhubala.  But it doesn’t matter, because even if we all love Madhubala, because Madhubala only loves one person.  And then I get all distracted thinking “so, in this argument, who would Madhubala love?  Dilip Kumar or Kishore Kumar?”

(I hope Kishore, because I love this song)

Even though she is the topic of this conversation, for the most part, while Diana is gone, she is really gone, like in terms of plot.  Suddenly, we go from worrying about Diana’s broken heart and her relationship with Ali and Abhay, to worrying about Momal’s broken heart and what she’s going to do about Abhay.  This is what I talked about in my spoiler-free review, with the focus strangely shifting midway.

Jimmy and Diana’s father arrive in Lahore, the Pakistani cop is waiting for them at the bus stop and arrests Jimmy and the man who came to meet him, who gives up Diana’s location.  Abhay, Ali, and Momal go to rescue Diana (Momal is actually the one who finds her), and Diana and Ali have an ecstatic reunion.  They are so clearly happy and in love, and so different from how Momal and Abhay are, that Momal finally gets the courage to let Abhay know that she really loves him, it isn’t just that they are childhood friends and their fathers want them to get married.  And that she doesn’t want to marry him if he is in love with someone else, she will be happy if he is happy.

The Momal/Abhay revelation kind of had too much and too little lead-up at the same time.  Momal has been having this slow unpeeling, like I said, we got to see her kindness and good heart under the thick skin exterior in how she treated Diana.  And we’ve had all these little moments were she looked at Abhay and we could see she really cared.  And there was a great speech when Abhay talked about how Diana inspired him, because she didn’t think, she just ran for what she wanted, while he was too afraid, and gave up after his father pulled him out of Cricket Camp when he was 17.  And Momal listens to this whole thing, and then just says “It was at Rawalpindi.  The cricket camp.”  And it’s this wonderful moment of all the history they share, and the understanding she has for his dreams and heartbreaks, while he barely seems to even see her.

And then almost immediately after that Abhay finally starts to really look at her, and see her, and they both flashback to happy moments they have had together, and he confronts her and tells her he wants her with him, he really truly does.

But with Abhay, we really didn’t get enough time seeing him appreciating Momal.  She breaks up with him, and then we see him look at Diana, and Momal, and then Diana and Ali being happy together, and Momal going off to pour herself a drink.  And finally, he goes to Momal and stops her from having a second drink and tells her he can’t do it without her by his side.  It’s not exactly “It’s always been you, Diana was just a distraction, I’ve been a blind fool.”  It’s a little more “Well, I’ve still got a thing for Diana, but in the meantime, I am totally incompetent and I don’t think I can function without your help, so in that way, you make me happy.”

Also, how fascinating in terms of narrative message!  It’s not that Diana and Abhay were “destined” to fall in love, as the structure of the film told us.  No, she was and is and always will be in love with Ali.  Her only purpose was to shake Abhay up enough to make him realize that Momal is in love with him and he can be happy with her, if he lets himself.  Diana is merely a catalyst in his life, not the end all-be all.  Very unusual concept for Indian film, to have all the relationships reset to the status quo at the end of the film.

(It reminded me a lot of Anil and Shefali Shah in Dil Dhadakne Do, only in that movie they reset to the same relationship in the end, only better; but we also had Priyanka and Ranveer with completely new relationship status to balance that)

Wedding time!  Jimmy is in Lahore, Diana’s father is in Lahore, Diana and Ali are hidden in the middle of a mass wedding secretly with a Hindu priest, and of course everyone ends up at the same location, and then start chasing each other.  They all run to the airport, but once they get there, Ali and Diana decide to stop running and just talk to her father.  Who hugs his daughter and tells her she picked a better man than the one he chose.  And then Ali tells Diana that Abhay kind of had a thing for her, and she reacts by hugging Abhay and whispering something in his ear.  Then going back into the airport to go back to India, while Abhay gets in the car and drives off with Momal.  And I think Momal refers to him as “Dilip Kumar” because apparently Ali told everyone about the Madhubala conversation.  Okay, if Abhay is Dilip Kumar, and Diana is Madhubala, why does no one finish the metaphor and call Momal Saira Banu!?!?!  It’s sitting right there, waiting for someone to pick up!!!!  Or maybe it is so obvious they decided it wasn’t worth saying out loud because the audience would pick it up?

Meanwhile, the father thing was fascinating!  It starts out as this standard hardcore traditional father, can’t handle the loss of face when she runs away.  And then in the middle of the first half, after we’ve seen him threaten to kill her, we see Diana in Lahore crying because she is thinking about her father and how she hurt him.  What?  Why does she care?

But then in the second half, essentially as soon as he arrives in Lahore, her father turns into a real sweetheart!  He talks to a random chaiwallah about how he is looking for his daughter, she is in trouble and it is all his fault and he doesn’t know what to do.  And then he is just some nice old guy wandering around the city looking for his daughter, no big scary speeches or anything (also, there is a misunderstanding that leads the police to think he is trying to assassinate Abhay’s father).  The only way it makes sense is if you assume the first half behavior was just an act, because he needed to keep Jimmy on his side.  Which kind of works, it explains why Diana was so worried about hurting him, that he is usually a big old softy.

Actually, all the fathers are total sweethearts!  We start out with this idea that fathers all over are forcing their children into things they don’t want, Abhay’s father (played by Javed Sheikh, who is Momal Sheikh’s father in real life!  My mind is BLOWN!) making him go into politics instead of Cricket and marry a girl he doesn’t like, Momal’s father making her marry Abhay, and Diana’s father making her marry Jimmy.  But then as the film goes on, the fathers are softened and shown to be really nice human people who just want their kids to be happy and think they know the best way to go about that.  Momal and Abhay really are a good match, their fathers are right to push for the marriage.  Diana’s father made a mistake, but he is happy to acknowledge it.  It doesn’t even end with Abhay playing Cricket!  He is actually turning into a politician and a leader, just like his father said he would.

(The cricket thing also made me keep thinking of Patiala House, were similar father-son conflict was handled very differently.  Also, another female character as catalyst!  Although, in this case, she was also a romantic interest in addition to a catalyst)

Really, the “twist” at the end is that there are no bad people in the whole film.  The fathers are reasonable, the criminals and goons are incompetent, the mixed up lovers eventually find their way to the right person (just now realized that this whole thing is A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream), and it all works out.  Even Jimmy, in the tag, is hosting a political meeting where he takes full credit for getting Ali and Diana married and “rescuing” them from Pakistan.

So, like I said, interesting narrative!  The romance you think is being set up never happens, the original romances are instead confirmed, all the bad guys turn into good guys, and it all works out for the best in all possible worlds.

The whole film would be almost boring, if it weren’t for all the clever little jokes and touches scattered through out.  For instance, Ali arrives in Lahore and says it is familiar to him because “It’s just like Yashji showed us in Veer-Zaara!”.  Or, Abhay’s inspired explanation when Momal’s father tells his father about Diana, that Momal’s father is insane, and the family is keeping it a secret, and in fact Abhay is so willing to sacrifice himself for the good of Pakistan, that he didn’t even tell his own father because he didn’t want to risk damaging the engagement that is so important politically.  Or Diana’s father giving up and just grabbing a gun from a cop and shooting it in the air, because it’s the only way he can get anyone in Pakistan to listen to him!

The film was produced by Anand L Rai, who did Tanu Weds Manu and Raanjhana and is going to do that dwarf movie with Shahrukh.  But it was directed by Mudassar Aziz, who has only done Dulha Mil Gaya before (I can’t decide if I need to watch that movie as part of my Shahrukh efforts, or if it is more of a cameo role and doesn’t count).  It kind of felt like Anand L Rai, but watered down through someone else.  Not quite as clever, not quite as biting, not quite as gritty.  “Gritty” is an odd thing to call a rom-com, but Tanu Weds Manu really can’t be described any other way.  And this film, not so much.  More just sort of a little dusty.

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21 thoughts on “Happy Bhaag Jayegi Review (SPOILERS!!!): Kind of Midsummer Night’s Dream in Lahore

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  4. Watched it last night – it is a sweet film. Light and easy to watch. I think I like Diana Penty – the right amount of feistiness in Happy.
    But I was wondering – they seemed to have no problem passing from India to Pakistan and back again etc… – regarding visas. But in reality I believe it can take months for a visa application to be processed and then declined without explanation. The advantage of film-land, I guess.

    Like

    • That part I kind of found the most realistic, the ease of the Visas. My understanding is that these kinds of upper class 3rd generation politician types in Pakistan have basically unlimited powers, could definitely swing as many Visas as anyone wanted.

      Like

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