I did not like the promos of Hasee toh Phasee. They looked painfully generic and disappointing despite the mention of Anurag Kashyap, Vikram Motwane and Karan Johar in the credits. I sincerely believe the marketing guy who came up with the phrase Cucking Frazy is a Mucking Foron.
I’m happy to report that Hasee toh Phasee is very unlike its promos. For what it is, which is a bittersweet romcom triangle with a dash of dysfunctional family drama, it is actually pretty entertaining. And for all its periodic lapses in logic it is a well-made commercial film that actually does have a little something for everyone.
The plot is as simple as the recipe for a jam sandwich. Guy (Sidharth Malhotra) is a smart but wayward bloke. Girl is a smart but wayward neurotic dame, and a female version of Rain Man. Guy and Rain Woman meet briefly, and separate, but meet years later and are drawn towards each other when Guy is about to get married to Rain Woman’s sister (Adah Sharma).
With this familiar (and obviously old school) concept laid out, director Vinil Matthew and his writer Harshavardhan Kulkarni try to infuse a few layers of creativity into their project. Rain Woman has some sinister Chinese connection, and seems to be an addict and a thief. And there is a lot of dysfunctional baggage between her and her family. It makes me realize that director Matthew is trying to change the commercial Bollywood space, and Hasee toh Phasee clearly indicates that. Matthew tackles comedic scenes with refreshing restraint, playing them out without the familiar ‘comedy sounds’ and reaction shots. He tackles the drama by neatly tying all the strands up in the end. The love story and the offbeat banter between the two leads are reminiscent of Garden State in both tone and treatment.
For a first time filmmaker it must be a staggeringly difficult task to balance the commercial elements of Dharma’s target audience and the subversions of those very elements to create something new. Everything about this film’s script is formulaic but Matthew finds a new way to present it, finding a unique humerous tone in the formula. In an effort to become more ‘commercial’ Matthew seems to be stuck with some agonizingly uninteresting songs that stop the flow of the film, and he pushes most of them to the backdrop of a montage. He also seems to be stuck with the frightfully untalented Siddharth Malhotra who exudes very little charm and maintains precisely one expression throughout the film. Matthew somehow manages to make him tolerable rather than infuriating.
The dull songs and the unexciting lead actor are massive drawbacks and they make the film merely entertaining but never special, and that’s frustrating for a film lover like me. But it sure is a great demo for how good a filmmaker Matthew is. That he made a seamless shift from ads to cinema is not a huge surprise, that I'm now really excited for his future projects sort of is.
Plus there’s the Parineeti Chopra factor. Her performances in Ishaqzaade and Shuddh Desi Romance set the bar pretty damn high, and she hits a new high point in this film. She had a tough role that could have easily wandered into the ham territory but she somehow pulls it off. The film needed her comic timing, and it was spot on. She’d to wear a wig without looking ridiculous, and she did it. She’d to make bizarre hypochondriac facial expressions without overdoing it, and she accomplishes that too. She’s perfectly natural when she laughs and pretty convincing when she cries, and not annoying when she breaks the fourth wall. Clearly her performance elevates Hasee toh Phasee from something lightweight and disposable to a very watchable feature. About time someone cast Parineeti and Ranbir Kapoor in the same movie. You don’t even need to give them a script, they’ll just naturally set the screen on fire.
You could point out the overwrought melodramatic turn in the finale and the dash of Gori Tere Pyaar Me thrown in Hasee toh Phasee. The film clearly dumbed down Rain Girl’s addiction to anti-depressant pills – a braver film would’ve shown her as a drug abuser. Things get quite ridiculous and some of the decisions the characters take don’t make much sense and are contrived to lay the foundation for a happy ending. The film also gets a little repetitive in the third act. But the goodies outweigh the gaffes here.
Wedged into the movie is a band of wonderful supporting actors including Manoj Joshi as Rain Girl’s empathetic dad, Sharad Saxena as a hilariously investigative retired cop, Sameer Khakhar (Khopdi from Nukkad) as a cantankerous uncle, Anil Mange as an amusing Bhojpuri Idol wannabe. Adah Sharma delivers a surprisingly solid performance as a girl stuck in a loveless impending marriage – it makes you wonder why she was wasting time in Vikram Bhatt’s horror films all these years. There’s even a really funny bit character who keeps bumping into everyone and tries to strike a conversation. The casting director has a good eye for little details and it makes the characters relatively fresh on the surface despite being resoundingly familiar beneath. It helps Hasee toh Phasee render an original spin on an old concept that is just enough for film lovers to get behind for two and a half hours.
(First published in Firstpost on 7/2/2014)