- BOTTOM LINE: A Bitter-Sweet Ode to an Ever-Changing Metropolis
|Platform: ZEE5||Genre: Drama|
What Is the Story About?
Happi, an oldtimer in his late 50s, is a part-time comedian and singer in an ancient ‘Bombay Cafe’ that is in the cusp of change. Biding his time alone in a rented room amid a chirpy, crowded community, the ‘veteran’ bachelor is a Chaplin-esque character who has an unbelievable zest for life, unaffected by the trials and tribulations of the world around him. However, he’s rendered irrelevant when the cafe (at which he’s worked for 3 decades) is remodelled as a club and a female singer is set to take his place in the evening concert sessions. Repeated insistence from the erstwhile owner helps him secure his job. Soon, he finds solace through a new guest in his house, in the form of Chotu, a streetside pet dog that takes a liking for him. A reality check can be brutal in an era of constant evolution and that’s what turns Happi’s life upside down. Will he ever bounce back?
Pankaj Kapoor is so effective as an actor on many levels here – how he lets his facial expressions, body and dialogue delivery contribute to a holistic performance is an acting masterclass that film aficionados wouldn’t want to miss out on. He wonderfully makes us see the happy-go-lucky side of the character without losing track of the emotional void in his life (which he later fulfils through the pet dog).
Supriya Pathak shines in a brief and effective cameo, presenting Mumbai through the eyes of a streetside paan-shop owner. Hrishitaa Bhatt is roped in to portray the modern side to Bombay in a character that’s precise and to-the-point. Nakul Vaid as the typical aggressive, ambitious Mumbaikar presents all the facets that his role demands, while Akshat R Saluja shines in a crucial part. The child actors and their on-screen camaraderie with Pankaj Kapoor is indeed memorable.
What if the nobleman Raj Kapoor that we saw in Shree 420 is no longer with Nargis, and his jokes are no longer funny and yet he celebrates life the way he knows – through the music he grew up amidst? Happi is stuck in an inescapable time warp and ridiculed by those around him for his unconventional behaviour. His character is a vehicle through which we’re reminded about the constantness of change. What if someone is not adaptive to change? Would they be swept away or would nostalgia still find a place?
Taking a remodelled cafe as a metaphorical device, writer, actor Pankaj Kapoor pays a heartfelt ode to the ever-changing nature of a metropolis and charts the transformation of Bombay to Mumbai on the small screen. The cafe is now a luxurious club, the cooks are now multi-cuisine chefs, the openness of the surroundings make way for a closeted, plush ambience and Happi’s heart is neither here nor there. The ownership of the cafe has undergone a change. The conflict is simple, universal and still extremely personal.
The film feels like a conversation with an ignored grandparent – they are lonely, perennially going through a financial crunch, people ridicule them, no one cares two hoots for their age and yet they mask all their wisdom with wit. Happi is a spirited film that takes a lot of time to grow on us. The introductory sequences are genuinely underwhelming though. But once we come to terms with the unusual pitch of Happi, we are on the same page as him. Despite the unfunny jokes, poorly matched steps and loudly sung old-time numbers, we know what he’s going through.
The writer Pankaj Kapoor and director Bhavna Talwar paint a haunting portrait of the city discussing urban isolation, of the people who are always in a hurry to get on with life, angry, trying to escape the sight of their owners, cribbing about the unpredictable rains and getting back to bed. There are no sermons delivered nor there’s a speck of preachiness. Pankaj Kapur even hides in a box to (escape himself from paying the rent) subtly depict the life of a Mumbaikar and the situational use of old-time numbers benefits the storytelling.
Happi may not work for everyone, but it is made with a sweetness and innocence that we hardly see in the films of today. The portions where the protagonist is in the company of his pet dog and shares warm conversations with kids are heart-tugging. The ending leaves us with a lump in our throats. It’s a soft sucker-punch that taps the human in us before we get back to work tomorrow.
Music and Other Departments?
Ilaiyaraaja is a lovely choice as a composer for a film that’s essentially about the dawn of a new era in a city. For many, the composer means nostalgia and who better than him to build a bridge between the good old times and modernity? The black and white colour tone reflects the old-school ideas of the protagonist aptly and keeps us away from distractions that a wide spectrum of colours could have brought along. The dialogue is simple, straight from the heart and does well to not sound like an old-fashioned man’s rant.
Pankaj Kapoor’s story and performance
The use of the black and white tone as a visual backdrop
Takes a lot of time to find its feet
Overtly simple screenplay
No well-etched character beyond Pankaj Kapoor
Did I Enjoy It?
Will You Recommend It?
Yes, with reservations
Happi Review by Srivathsan Nadadhur
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