‘Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi’ has a China problem
Thank heaven for Daman Singh Bagga. Without him and his sidekick, erstwhile Pakistani police officer Usman Afridi, Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi would be this year’s Fukrey Returns: a tiresome sequel to a silly but enjoyable comedy sleeper hit. There’s little reason for Amritsari politician Bagga (Jimmy Sheirgill) to be in this China-set film, but there he is, doing what he does best: being a belligerent fish out of water, mangling the English language, always just missing the girl, and calling Afridi ‘Qailulle’ (a running gag from the first film).
There’s a scene in Happy Bhag Jayegi (2016) where Afridi (Piyush Mishra), in Indian Punjab for the first time, is told: “These people aren’t Chinese, they understand Urdu.” Now, Mudassar Aziz has returned with a sequel set in China, in which a character named Adnan Chow (Denzil Smith) actually does speak Urdu. Though the Happy, or Harpreet Kaur, of the first film (Diana Penty) shows up again, it’s more of an extended cameo. This time, there’s another Happy (Sonakshi Sinha), a horticulture professor who’s picked up on arrival in Shanghai by gangsters intending to abduct her namesake for reasons so tenuous that the film, wisely, mumbles them and quickly moves on.
Happy has her own wildly impractical reasons for being in China – in keeping with the first film, it involves a wedding skipped out on. She’s helped by Khushwant Singh Gill (Jassi Gill), an embassy official who takes a shine to her. Neither Sinha, with her perpetually furrowed brow, nor Gill is a particularly deft comic performer, which is why it’s a relief whenever Mishra and Sheirgill are part of the scene, the former with his arsenal of snorts and mutterings, the latter casually tossing out lines like “What an adult toy is called in Urdu is something even the inventor of Urdu won’t know.”
Though both the Happy films are outlandish and busy, the big difference seems to me their maker’s attitude towards the setting. The first film painted an affectionate portrait of Pakistan and Pakistanis, whereas Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi has no respect, let alone love, for China. Not a single Chinese character in the film has any purpose other than to be yelled at, misunderstood or made fun of (pathetically, some of their names – Makiju, Fuh Qu – function as double entendre). There are Bruce Lee jokes, hakka noodle jokes, they-all-look-alike jokes. There’s even a reprisal of “Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu” – the gold standard for catchy ‘50s racism.
Aziz is writer and director here, as he was on the first film. He has a knack for one-liners (my favourite is Bagga asking Afridi not to sprinkle Urdu on his wounds) and if he can rein in his tendency to over-plot in the future, he might have a great screenplay in him. Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi isn’t a total bust: there are intermittent laughs, and the Indian and Pakistani characters are treated with generosity. But to set a film in China and then spend 135 minutes sneering at the Chinese is, to put it plainly, opportunistic and childish.