Phillauri is a sweet, soaring love story that covers its inconsistent storytelling with earnestness and heart. The film has many soft spots but you walk away with a smile. Because above all, Phillauri is a celebration of love.
Debutant director Anshai Lal and writer Anvita Dutt tell us that over centuries, clothes, culture, music, expressions change. But that exquisite emotion remains the same.
The narrative moves back and forth between 1919 and 2017, between living beings and dead ones, between a couple who yearn for each other but are torn apart by circumstances and a couple who are about to be married but find themselves torn apart by fear and doubt. At one point, Kanan, the Canada returned groom says plaintively: I just need to find myself. Meanwhile his bride-to-be Anu weeps and wonders why a man she's loved since school is now having nightmares about spending the rest of his life with her.
It's a lot of juggling and Anshai doesn't manage to keep all the balls in the air. The first half of the film is too much set-up and not enough reveal so that when interval arrives we still haven't got enough to chew on. But thankfully, the second half has more meat. Newbie composer Shashwat Sachdev has created two magical songs – 'Dum Dum' and 'Sahiba' – which Anshai skillfully uses to create a moving romance.
It is here that leads Anushka Sharma and Diljit Dosanjh come into their own. Their love story, built around poetry, has an old-world charm. The present day relationship, enacted nicely by Suraj Sharma and Mehreen Pirzada, also has emotional depth. Diljit has the least to do but all four actors deliver strong performances, which helps to camouflage the slow and undercooked portions of the film – like the climax, in which historical facts are tacked on as a narrative convenience rather than something that the script organically leads to.
In the last act, Anshai strains too hard to position Shashi and Roop Lal as iconic lovers. The special effects, which are done well, go into overdrive as does the background music by Sameer Uddin.
But I'm a sucker for romance. If you're like me, you will be able to overlook the bumps and enjoy Phillauri. The film feels, at once, fresh and old fashioned.