Mudassar Aziz’s second comedy after Dulha Mil Gaya (2010) is named after its rebellious heroine, who swaps sandals for running shoes on the day of her wedding and leaps into a fruit-laden truck. The truck is headed from Amritsar to Lahore rather than an Indian city, and when Happy (Diana Penty) gets out of the basket, she finds herself in the mansion of Pakistani diplomat Javed Ahmed (Javed Sheikh).
Javed’s dutiful son Bilal (Abhay Deol) is horrified at the intrusion, but is forced to tolerate Happy when she threatens to drag his family name into the dirt. That simply won’t do, since Bilal is an aspiring politician who is being groomed by his father to be Pakistan’s next Jinnah. Bilal is set to achieve “what hasn’t happened before in the history of Pakistan”, one of many repeated jokes that actually do not wear out their welcome.
Happy is in love with the good-for-nothing Guddu (Ali Fazal), and her flight sets off a series of events back home. Her to-be husband Daman Singh Bagga (Jimmy Shergill) is furious, and he warns his future father-in-law (Kanwaljeet) to make good on his investment. It’s Bilal who springs to the rescue. Accompanied by loyal police officer Afridi (Piyush Mishra), Bilal arrives in Amritsar to resolve the situation. The petulant, foot-stamping Happy has already raised the hackles of Bilal’s fiancé Zoya (Momal Sheikh), and there might have been simpler ways for Bilal to steer us to a happy ending. But since we are in screwball comedy territory, and the climax is a long time away, the plot demands contrivances, coincidences, and chaos.
Set in a world overflowing with characters perpetually on the prowl for a good joke, Happy Bhag Jayegi survives its manufactured premise. The movie bears the stamp of producer Anand L Rai’s Tanu Weds Manu films, and shares with Rai’s creations a love for non-stop banter, frantic pacing, conversations dominated by non-sequiturs and love-addled characters who are guided only by their hearts. Bilal is transformed from a prissy political successor into a man of action by his undeclared attraction for Happy. His feelings for Happy remain a mystery, since neither character nor actress actually seem endearing. Penty’s beauty eclipses her acting skills, and after setting herself up as the catalyst, Aziz wisely puts her out of action.
Even though the film is named after a female character, it’s the men in the room who steal the show – Shergill’s lunkheaded Amritsar municipal representative who is aching to avenge the slight, Deol’s finely observed Bilal, and Ali Fazal’s wide-eyed dreamboat. Each actor has a scene to call his own, and Fazal’s turn comes during a night of drinking and exchanging confidences with Afridi. As with everything else in the movie, a farcical chase follows almost immediately, but Aziz allows the scene to linger just long enough to give Fazal his moment.
Deol has several of these big moments, and he superbly brings out Bilal’s nuances, steering the character expertly through both the quieter and the laugh-out-loud scenes. The regular bursts of cartoonish humour go overboard when Happy’s father lands up in Lahore and is mistaken for an assassin on the prowl. At 126 minutes, Happy Bhag Jayegi has enough momentum to steer it through even its most unmanageable manoeuvres. Every time it threatens to come undone, which is increasingly more often as the film nears closure, Aziz lands an irresistible line or a clever observation.
The wacky humour is of a piece with the cartoon-strip Lahore setting. “Ask me about anything but Kashmir,” Afridi tells Guddu. Mutual tensions, politics and conflict are shoved out of view for a rom-com utopia in which, if only for 126 minutes, Indians and Pakistanis are on the same side. All they want is a barreful of laughs, and at least on that score, the movie doesn’t let them down.