Directed by: Devanshu Singh
Written by: Manoj Kalwani
Cinematography: Riju Das
Edited by: Manan Sagar
Starring: Vikrant Massey, Kriti Kharbanda, Yamini Das, Gauahar Khan and Jameel Khan
Streaming on: Zee Premium
14 Phere is a bewildering film. It's set up as a romance but the horror of honour killing looms large. The script has been incubated at First Draft – a writing workshop that used to be run by the now defunct AIB. Tanmay Bhat is a creative producer and the other erstwhile members – Ashish Shakya, Rohan Joshi and Gursimran Khamba – have been thanked in the opening credits. But the writing has little of the gleeful irreverence or wit that we know these comics for. The tonality lurches, as though drunk, from grim to emotional to funny. We get the awfulness of a father colluding with cops to find his runaway daughter so that he can chop her into pieces. This is juxtaposed with the comedy of hiring actors to pose as parents and having two weddings instead of one – hence the title 14 Phere. And in the midst of it all is Vikrant Massey, valiantly trying to infuse vitality into the tedious proceedings.
Director Devanshu Singh begins well. He compresses reams of information into the opening credits – Sanjay, a Rajput from Jehanabad, and Aditi, a Jatt from Jaipur, meet in college. She is his senior but somewhere along the way, the ragging turns to love. They end up working at the same multinational company, where he continues to do much of her work. They also live together. But their casteist, ultra-conservative and belligerent families don't know this and Sanjay continues to go along with awkward arranged-marriage scenarios, meeting family-designated girls on Zoom. When it seems like the two can't hold out much longer, Sanjay concocts an elaborate charade. Since he's a part-time theatre actor, the performing comes naturally.
The story, by Manoj Kalwani, had the potential to be a fun comedy of errors but there is simply too much going on, and as the film shifts gears, the bumps become bigger. The comedy is provided by Jameel Khan and Gauahar Khan, playing theatre artists who are hired to play Sanjay's parents. Her signature line is that she is "Dilli ki Meryl Streep". Both are strong actors but their parts are underwritten and Gauahar, playing an actor given to over-acting, overacts herself. The emotional undercurrents are given to Yamini Das, playing Sanjay's real mother. The actor has a wonderfully compassionate presence. One of the most stirring sequences in the film is when she first meets Aditi after she and Sanjay have wed. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law bond over rituals as the 'Ram-Sita' song, in Rekha Bhardwaj's poignant voice, plays – the lovely number has been composed by Mukund Suryawanshi from Jam 8. The film's soundtrack by Raajeev V. Bhalla is also lilting and breezy, especially the first song, 'Hum Dono Yun Mile'. But Raajeev's background score is too insistent, underlining every laugh.
Right after this emotional high point, the scene cuts to Aditi's father talking to cops about the search for his daughter so he can kill her. The dissonance gives you whiplash. Later, Aditi reasons with her angry father – agar honour bachi hui hai toh kahe ki killing? When her brother instructs someone to throw petrol on Sanjay's parents, the man asks: Asli wale pe ki nakli wale pe? I'm all for dark comedy but honestly, it was hard for me to find humour in this. It doesn't help that Kriti Kharbanda, who plays Aditi, doesn't have the acting chops to match Vikrant's ease or conviction. She works like an overtly glamorous presence in a part that required more authenticity. It's up to Vikrant then to save the day, but some tasks are too Herculean even for an actor as fine as him.
You can watch 14 Phere on Zee Premium.