A young man who is married to a tree to ward off a supposed curse gets more than he bargained for when the ghost who lives on the tree shows up at his home. The trailer of Phillauri, an upcoming Hindi comedy starring Suraj Sharma, Anushka Sharma and Diljit Dosanjh, has raked up numerous online views. Directed by Anshai Lal, Phillauri has been co-produced by Clean Slate Films, the company run by Anushka Sharma and her brother Karnesh, and Fox Star Studios. The March 24 release has been in the making for three years, Lal, a first-time director and former model told Scroll.in in an interview.
Going by the trailer, Phillauri is a comedy with shades of magic realism – but hold off on the genre classification. “I genuinely don’t know how to slot the film, because we don’t have a reference point for it,” Lal said. The movie will eventually be slotted as a supernatural film – a category that has been a challenging space to crack for Indian filmmakers, but Lal is confident that audiences will look beyond the ghost story angle.
“Honestly, I don’t know what a gamble is,” he said. “There are great scripts that need to be made. Will they do well or not is another issue altogether. You write something, you back it and make it with utmost conviction. That is all you can do.”
The 32-year-old director discussed the concept in 2009 with Karnesh Sharma, but both got busy with their individual projects. A few years later, they revisited the idea and ran it by Anushka Sharma. “I wrote a two-pager, Anushka liked it and got on board,” Lal said. “After that it took us two years – one-and-a-half years of writing and then six months of pre-production to get started. It was a slightly difficult film to write because it was technically challenging as well.”
Was the two-year wait challenging for the first-time director? “Writing is fun; you are also desperate to make your film at the same time,” Lal said. “We held on to the motto of ‘let’s get it right’, which was the right call to take. It was slow but we are happy with the end result.”
Lal’s foray into filmmaking was a happy accident. He was a ramp and print model during his college days, but rather than following up modelling with acting, Lal chose to move to Mumbai to direct commercials and work in the movie industry.
After assisting on the films Pyaar Ke Side Effects, Chak De! India and Dostana, Lal took the plunge with Phillauri, which has been written by Anvita Dutt. While Anushka Sharma was on board from the start – the character was written with her in mind – the other actors were enlisted gradually. Lal had admired Suraj Sharma’s work in the American television series Homeland, and the 23-year-old actor, who made his debut in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi in 2012, was the next addition to the cast.
“The only apprehension was that we hadn’t seen him speak Hindi,” Lal said. “The film is set in Punjab and that needed fluidity. Once we met Suraj and realised he is a Delhi boy like me, we hit it off.”
The character of the ghost’s lover is played by Punjabi star Diljit Dosanjh, who made his Hindi debut in Udta Punjab in 2016. “We met Diljiit at short notice, he gave us a nod in five hours and it was on,” Lal said.
All three actors are from dissimilar backgrounds and work experience – and their professional methods are different as well. “Anushka works really hard on the script, she does workshops before going into a film,” Lal revealed. “Suraj is similar to Anushka. Diljit is a spontaneous actor, he doesn’t believe in workshops. We did one reading with Diljit and we knew where he was headed. What he does on the set, he doesn’t do before or after.”
Phillauri is currently in its final stage of post production. The finishing touches are being given to the visual effects in the scenes involving Anushka Sharma’s character. Lal said he is too busy to be anxious about the film’s fate. “I’m going to be very nervous once the work is done, but right now we are set on finishing it well,” he said.