The promos of Hasee Toh Phasee looked painfully generic. Despite the mention of Anurag Kashyap, Vikram Motwane and Karan Johar in the credits, the film looked completely unremarkable. Which is good reason to fire the guy responsible for the publicity campaign because Hasee Toh Phasee is nothing like its promos.
This bittersweet romantic comedy has a love triangle as well as some dysfunctional family drama, and it all comes together to be pretty entertaining actually, despite periodic lapses in the film’s logic.
The plot of Hasee Toh Phasee is as simple as a recipe for jam sandwich. Guy (Sidharth Malhotra) is a smart but wayward bloke. Girl (Parineeti Chopra) is a smart but wayward neurotic dame, like a female version of Rain Man. Guy and Rain Woman meet briefly, separate, 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 it with creativity. Rain Woman has some sinister Chinese connection, and seems to be an addict and a thief. There is also a lot of dysfunctional baggage between her and her family, all of which made me realize Matthew is trying to change how the conventional idea are played out in commercial Bollywood space.
Matthew tackles comedic scenes with refreshing restraint, steering clear of the familiar ‘comedy sounds’ and reaction shots commonly used to provoke laughter in audiences. 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.
But it’s not all smooth sailing. In an effort to be more ‘commercial’, Matthew seems to be stuck with some agonizingly uninteresting songs that interrupt the flow of the film (he pushes most of them to the backdrop of a montage). He also seems to be stuck with the frightfully untalented Sidharth Malhotra, who exudes very little charm and maintains precisely one expression throughout the film. Credit goes to Matthew for somehow managing to make him tolerable rather than infuriating.
In the finale, Hasee Toh Phasee does take an arguably overwrought, melodramatic turn. Some might point out there’s a dash of Gori Tere Pyaar Me thrown in Hasee Toh Phasee. The film clearly dumbed down Rain Woman’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 obviously contrived to enable a happy ending. The film also gets a little repetitive in the third act.
The dull songs and the unexciting lead actor in particular make Hasee Toh Phasee merely entertaining and it stops well short of being special, which is frustrating for film lovers like me. But balancing some of this out is the Parineeti Chopra factor.
Chopra’s performances in Ishaqzaade and Shuddh Desi Romance set the bar pretty high and with Hasee Toh Phasee, she’s outdone herself. The role is a tough one because it could so easily have been hammed or overdone, but with her fine coming timing, Chopra is able to pull of everything from bizarre expressions to wearing an odd wig without seeming caricaturish. Chopra is perfectly natural when she laughs and pretty convincing when she cries, and not annoying when she breaks the fourth wall. It’s Chopra performance that elevates Hasee toh Phasee from something lightweight and disposable to a very watchable feature.
Wedged into the film is a band of wonderful supporting actors including Manoj Joshi as Rain Woman’s empathetic dad, Sharad Saxena as a hilarious retired cop who hasn’t given up his investigative zeal, 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 details and it makes the characters seem engaging even though they’re resoundingly familiar and stereotypical underneath the superficial gloss.
For a first time filmmaker, it must be a staggeringly difficult task to balance the commercial elements of Dharma Productions’ target audience and with one’s own inclination to topple them over. Everything about Hasee Toh Phasee’s script is formulaic, but Matthew manages to find a new way to tell his story, finding a uniquely humorous tone in the formula. As demos go, Hasee Toh Phasee is a superb one for Matthew, who can now join the tribe of directors who have made seamless shifts from advertising to Bollywood.