Happi Review: Saluting Chaplin, It Is Pankaj Kapoor’s Finest Performance


Starring Pankaj Kapoor , and  Chotu

Directed by Bhavna Talwar

Rating: *** ½ (three and a  half  stars)

 Okay, we forgive Zee5 all  its trespasses of excesses.By rescuing  director Bhavna Talwar’s  exquisite  black-and-white homage to  the  great Charlie Chaplin,  Zee5 has shown us what the  streaming platform should actually be used for.

A  film like Happi comes once in a  bluemoon. It is a daringly unconventional film and  not the least unexpected  from the very talented director Bhavna Talvar  whose Dharm  in 2007 featured  Pankaj Kapoor in yet another career-defining role.

Happi is a film that will go down in history as  India’s only genuine tribute to the genius  of Charlie Chaplin. Doing the homage(never an  impersonation) the  great Pankaj Kapoor immerses himself in the  character  of the capricious  naïve pure-hearted  Happi , a chawl dweller who is the brunt of ridicule in  an  Iranian  club where he  sings and does stand-up comedy to eke   out a living.He is fairly ridiculous. But happy when humoured.

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The sequences in the smoky  club find  Pankaj Kapoor at the peak of puckishness.That’s where Happi comes alive. But unknown to him, Happi’s career  is dead. In a generation-driven   conflict that  we recently saw in Tumhari Sallu, the kindly club owner’s  brash  son(Nakul Vaid, in  a credible performance) gatecrashes  into  the club’s serene status quo, and overnight  changes the  rules, hiring a  crooning siren(Hrishita Bhatt) to replace  Happi and then  promptly having an  affair with her.

As  socio-cultural changes overpower Happi’s life,  he looks around in utter bewilderment at a world he no longer knows. It is a heartbreaking situation to be in.  Pankaj Kapoor  constructs a Chaplineque pathos  in  Mumbai’s bustling chawls where callousness is a way of life. If you can’t cope, you perish. Or  otherwise  you become the Joker.

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More than a portrait of  a rapidly mutating metropolitan  environment  Happi shows us how cruel  humanbeings can be to someone  who is not   uncorrupted enough to understand when he is being mocked.

The  sequence where  the club gets Happi  drunk and watches him perform a silly dance is  heartbreaking.This is a world where  Raj Kapoor’s Awara is  blinded by  Chaplin’s City Lights.This is a world where a ‘Happi’ is way too emotionally fragile to survive. His friendship with a  street dog Chotu  who follows him home will linger in your memory as a showcase  of  loneliness and  companionship in a city that  grows  rapidly uncaring.

Pankaj Kapoor’s Happi  is what Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker becomes when left to be annihilated  by his own desolation. There are some interesting cameos,particularly  Supriya Pathak(Mrs PankajKapoor) as the street vendor Rukmani whose initial kindness  towards Happi turns  into a sneering contempt for a man too naïve to survive in the  concrete  jungle.

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 Shot in lucid black and white by  Martin Grosup , Happi  could have done better in the music department. The mighty Ilaiayaraja disappoints big time. That’s what life does. Like Happi who believes a  smile can overcome any crisis, the surge of  disappointments tend  to cut away  into your faith in mankind to rise to  any occasion.Sometimes, the dream just dissolves. This is  not a safe place  for Happi to be.Farewell,my hapless warrior.


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