Happy Pill movie review: Film's simple yet powerful message is weakened by ordinary writing
The biggest takeaway from Happy Pill is its core message – that happiness is a choice, and no matter how difficult the situation seems to be, you always have the power to be happy and cheerful.
The idea of curing an ailment through a placebo is not new. Nor is the fact that a strong belief in cure – as induced by the use of a pill, potion or therapy that has no medicinal property at all – is often much more effective than an actual cure. The power of suggestion is not one to be underestimated, and director Mainak Bhaumik’s latest film Happy Pill revolves around this simple but powerful idea. But while the fulcrum is strong, the film suffers from some pretty ordinary writing which falls flat during the heavy lifting.
A young med school student named Siddhartha comes under immense financial pressure when his father is diagnosed with cancer. Along with his mother and a younger sister, he's fighting a losing battle with the disease, until a time comes when he has hardly any money left for his father’s treatment. At such a sensitive juncture in life, Siddhartha makes an error of judgment, which changes his life forever. The otherwise bright and promising young man is forced to drop out of med school, and his dreams of becoming a doctor go up in ashes. To make things worse, he loses his father to the disease, and he must now shoulder his family’s burden instead. Without a job or something useful to do, Siddhartha begins to waste his life away, along with a well-meaning but bumbling friend named Pocha-da, when a brilliant idea strikes him suddenly. Seeing all the sorrow and grief around him, Siddhartha decides to invent a cure for sadness. He comes up with a pill which would make people happy. In reality, of course, the pill is nothing but a placebo, but it works because of two reasons. The first, because people consuming the pill are given a strict set of instructions, which are nothing but various ways of keeping one’s mind happy and burden-free. The second, because the very use of the pill suggests to people that they are on the way to a cure. Thanks to word of mouth, the pill soon creates a huge demand, and the promise of a cure to one of humanity’s most ancient ailments soon becomes virtually impossible to ignore. But not everyone is impressed with this new panacea, and Siddhartha soon realizes that making people happy is one thing, and the business of making people happy is entirely another.
One of the most fundamental complaints that I have of the film is that it tends to oversimplify things. For instance, the idea of Siddhartha’s sister Rini being hell bent upon marrying a man who constantly demeans her because of her appearance and complexion is a powerful one, but the way it is handled in the film makes for very poor execution. The film does not seem to be wanting to invest time in the fact that the Happy Pill tends to ‘grow on’ its initial set of consumers, and that the feeling does not come overnight. Then again, in the film’s climax, the way the police deal with the story of the Happy Pill, once they realize that it is just a placebo, is something that is downright illogical. Every single charge that they were using to build a case against Siddhartha so far is promptly forgotten, and because of what? Forget real life, even in the reel one, cops are not so stupid.
Where the film should have focused, it doesn’t. But instead, it seems to make a big pomp and show about some of the more inconsequential elements of the story – Pocha Da’s accent, for instance, which is supposed to be funny. Or the fact that a Senior Inspector of Kolkata Police is named Prodosh Bakshy (an ambitious but ridiculous amalgamation of two of Bengali literature’s most popular sleuths – Prodosh Chandra Mitra, or Feluda, and Byomkesh Bakshy). Jettisoning nuance for spoon-feeding, the director even goes to ensure that people observe and understand the idea behind the name by underscoring it with dialogue.
The dialogues themselves are – for the better part of the film, especially in the romantic exchange of words between Siddhartha and a rookie journalist looking for a big story – very silly, and it tends to break the flow of the film. Although it has to be said that there are some moments in the film which are strongly written; a scene involving a visit by Rini to her prospective in-laws’ residence has a brilliant aura around it; as does a scene when a dejected Siddhartha has a moment of epiphany on seeing a smiling child. But such scenes are rare in a film otherwise doomed by ordinary writing.
Ritwick Chakraborty is fantastic, as always, in a part that seems to have been chiselled out for him. The scenes where his inner frustration threatens to tear through the outer garb of carelessness are done to perfection, and it is he who keeps you constantly engaged in the narrative. Parno Mitra plays Rini with a deep understanding of the fractured psyche of so-called ‘ordinary looking’ middle class girls who live under the constant shadow of inferiority complex because of their complexion or physical appearance. She takes that stifling complex and manages to create a sense of seething anger in the audience, making us almost shout out to her that she need not feel the way she does about herself, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her. The more mistakes she makes, the more we tend to love her, till a point comes when we find ourselves cheering for her as she puts her feet down and takes a stand for herself.
Large sections of the audience are perhaps likely to love Mir Afsar Ali as Pocha-da, who despite the unnecessarily comic and artificial accent, has some of the more brilliant moments in the film. Some of his jokes, despite being corny, are genuinely funny, and I found myself laughing at them with glee. Pocha-da’s bitter-sweet relationship with his mother-in-law, who is never seen throughout the film, is the director at his best with playing to the galleries. And it works. The biggest takeaway from the film, however, is its core message – that happiness is a choice, and no matter how difficult the situation seems to be, you always have the power to be happy and cheerful. This message is simple, but important, and although it might not be new, a repetition does no one any harm.
But despite all the positives and all the negatives, I am afraid the scale does tip to the wrong side. I am going with 2 stars for Happy Pill, and an additional half-a-star for the beautiful message it conveys.
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