Well that was a short movie! Strolled out of the theater a few minutes after 10, with a 7:45 start time and a 10 minute intermission. But a nice movie. A nice concise small movie. It felt kind of like a fairy tale, or a fable. A story for children, nice and simple and easy to remember and understand.
In an interview ages ago, Karan talked about the 6 act structure of Indian film like this would be something we should all know about it. I didn’t know about it, but ever since I read that, I’ve been very “ah yes, the natural rhythm of the 6 act structure”. And it really is obvious once you know to look for it!
Most Indian films have a natural build towards an intermission. There is the intro, the initial goal, the resolution, and then the twist and INTERVAL. Then we come back, watch the twist play out and turn into a new situation, then a new goal, and finally a new resolution. DDLJ is a classic example, we meet “Raj” and “Simran”, watch them go from hatred to love (the goal), and Simran tells her mother and Raj his father (the resolution) and then there is the twist when we learn that Simran is being taken away to the Punjab. And the second half picks up in the Punjab, introducing us to this new situation, and then the new goal of Shahrukh winning over the family, and finally the resolution. Anyway, this movie does not have that structure. This movie barely has enough plot for 3 acts, let alone 6.
(And it’s even shorter since they cut the end credits song! Also, I KNEW there should be an end credits song! The movie ended and it was just crying out for a nice little epilogue)
But that’s kind of what makes it interesting. This isn’t a film about plot, it’s more about mood and character and internal transformations. There are no “goals” and no “resolutions” to be found. It’s just an emotion that carries through.
Anushka is a ghost and also the representation of that emotion. We all know she’s a ghost, right? Like, that’s spoiled on the poster? I can talk about it without spoiling you? But it’s a thematic thing as well. She’s the ghost of a particular person with particular problems and so on, but she is also the ghost of a feeling, of love and bravery and poetry and the Punjab essentially. And that is what is haunting the present, more than any particular floaty lady, this sense of heritage that they have somehow stopped being able to see.
And it’s remarkable that Anushka is the one to be that spirit! A young woman, I mean. And as we see in flashbacks, it’s not just in the present that she is the embodiment of all those feelings. In life, she was as well. She, in her own way, inspires people. She is all that is wholesome and loyal and good. And also wise and rebellious and passionate. But mostly, she is strong. This is not a woman who will bend and change with time, she will find her goal and pursue it no matter what happens.
Which I guess goes back to why this is a film without a 6 act structure. There can be no first half and second half change of purpose, because Anushka’s purpose cannot and will not change. That is her defining characteristic.
And, in a larger sense, that also means no one else’s personality can change either. The title of the movie, “Phillauri”, refers to people from the same village outside Amritsar. Anushka is a Phillauri and so is Diljit, back in the past. And in the present, our new hero Suraj Sharma and Mehreen Pirzada are also Phillauris. And so, at heart, they all have certain things in common, weaknesses and strengths.
Only, in modern times, the essential Phillauri-ness has become a little overshadowed. It’s interesting that while for the past characters two extremely Punjabi-identified actors were used, the modern day actors aren’t primarily identified as Punjabi. Suraj Sharma grew up in Delhi and went to college in Delhi (although his parents are from Kerala, Malayalam shout-out!), but he is best known for his performance in the lead role in Life of Pi. Mehreen Pirzada is Sikh and grew up in Bhatinda. But she is best known for her work in the Telugu industry. Kind of neat how in real life they are from the right region more or less, but not known for it. And in the same way, their characters at first don’t seem to have much in common with the “Phillauri”identity from the past. Until, eventually, those similarities appear.
The similarities appear more with Mehreen than with Suraj. But that kind of makes sense because the whole film is carried by Anushka, and she is the one who brings the spirit of the past into the present. And it would make sense that her strength and love and sacrifice would be echoed by another woman in the present, not a man. I do wish Suraj had come off just a little bit stronger, but he was all right too, for the small arch he had.
Now, I don’t want to “spoil” the ending, but I also can’t not talk about it. I guess what I can say is that this whole simple story kind of clicks into place in the last ten minutes. And it almost feels like the author came up with the ending she wanted, and then wrote the rest of the movie just to give it a greater context. But it’s the last ten minutes that really matter. And they are beautifully done, pulling together all the ideas about spirit and strength and love and being there forever, and most of all a sense of place and what it means to be a “Phillauri”. Well, everything is beautifully done except for the CGI which goes on a bit too long just at the end. But mostly, it’s beautiful.
If this movie is a fairy tale, a fable, a simple story for children, then the ending is the moral. The little nugget of knowledge and memory that you are supposed to take away with you and tuck away to be remembered always.