Interview Hindi

Don’t know why Gulzar saheb has stopped writing comedies, says director Mudassar Aziz

The Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi director calls Gulzar's Chupke Chupke (1975) and Angoor (1982) two of the pillars of Indian comedy.

Photo:Shutterbugs Images

Mayur Lookhar

Writer-director Mudassar Aziz enjoyed his hour when his cross-border comedy Happy Bhag Jayegi (2016) received critical acclaim and was appreciated by the target audience.

Two years later, Aziz is inviting all to enjoy ‘Happy hour’ again. This time, the comedy of errors sees not one but two Happys in Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi. Sonakshi Sinha joins Diana Penty in the sequel as the other Happy.

Aziz and his cast got together to promote the film a week ahead of its release. In a group interview, Aziz shared his Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi journey, explained how the film emerged from a casual conversation one night and spoke of how his own failed marriage inspired him to write the Happy story. Excerpts:

I guess one Happy was not enough and so you decided to create another.

I was fortunate that Happy Bhag Jayegi (2016) had a 5-6 week run. When the whole thing wore off, with [Aanand L] Rai sir as producer and me as director, we reached a state where we knew we had to work together [again].

I started writing a script which is very dear to my heart, a love story. I spent four months writing that script. Then I gave the narration to Rai sir. He liked it.

One fine evening, Rai sir, [screenwriter] Himanshu Sharma and I sat together. The evening turned to night. We were celebrating the fact that my next film's screenplay was ready. Everyone had liked it. We were talking about whom to cast. I don’t know what happened to me in the night. I randomly told Rai sir, if this and that happened, then this could be the sequel to Happy Bhag Jayegi. We had a hearty laugh over it.

The next day I was in the office and thinking about the casting options for the screenplay I had completed. Rai sir called me into his cabin and said, “Why don’t you tell me that story which you were mentioning last night?”

I replied that I just said that casually. He asked me to narrate it. Whatever I could remember I told him. He said leave your script aside, we will first make this. As a writer, I didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad. I had spent four months on a script and suddenly Rai sir was asking me to make a sequel. It was just a thought then. [But] he was very confident.

That afternoon I met Jimmy Sheirgill and told him what Rai sir is doing. I spent four months on that script, but now he wants me to do this. Sheirgill asked me to tell him the [sequel] story in five minutes. He heard it and remarked, ‘This is what you should be making!’

It took another five months to write this script. That’s how Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi began.

Did you ever worry what Diana Penty would think of having another Happy take centre stage?

Not at all. That is because this is a plot of mistaken identity. Now that can’t happen until you have two people. If you are mistaking some other Mudassar for me, then you need another Mudassar.

This was gradual. You would face this situation if you had the same Bagga (Sheirgill), Afridi (Piyush Mishra), Guddu (Ali Fazal) but changed Happy (Penty). This happens in our films [like when Akshay Kumar replaced Arshad Warsi in Jolly LLB 2 (2017)]. That is the choice of the filmmaker, we can’t comment on it. In our film, Happy 1 [played by Diana Penty] is Happy 1. She is the wife of Guddu. She is part of the film, she is there on the posters too.

There was no scope for Diana [to feel sidelined]. In fact, she was more happy with this script. That is because in the first one, she was in a problem. As an actor, she felt she did not have much opportunity to do comedy as the other people were doing. With Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi, because the problem is Sonakshi’s, Diana is able to do comedy.

This time your story travels to China. How important was it to ensure that their sentiments don’t get hurt? 

The Chinese get offended easily. I don’t want to create any controversy. Governments today have become tang nazar [narrow-minded]. China gets the crown here. When I went to China, I realized they don't have Google, Facebook, Twitter, nor Instagram. They have their own versions of these social media applications. You can find research material for other countries on Google, but not so much for China.

You might have seen a pattern in Happy Bhag Jayegi. You enjoy laughing at your neighbour only if you allow them to laugh at you, too. There is an Afridi [Pakistani cop] for every Bagga. If Bagga cracks a line that celebrates Indian sentiments, then Afridi has a counter that celebrates Pakistani sentiment.

We have fought for 70 years; that hasn’t yielded anything. Let us laugh together; maybe something good comes out of it? Unfortunately, very few people in the country have thought about cross-cultural comedies. This genre became my identity because no one else was tapping into it. This is common in Hollywood. America is either laughing at Canada or Mexico or other South American countries.

I guess you haven’t shot much in China. 

We shot for just six days, that too with very few artistes. China has a very strict production policy. Either you get into Indo-Chinese co-production. Or, if you are doing a solo production, then they make things awfully difficult for you. Now, if you have a co-production, shooting at a particular location in China will be available for a day at a particular cost. But if you go solo, they will charge you by the hour at a higher rate.

Also, you must remember that we were not allowed to shoot in Pakistan for the first film. I went alone to Lahore. The shots that you see were captured by me. I wanted the audience to get a feel of Lahore.

Whenever we talk of India-Pakistan relations, despite the many terrorist attacks on India, the Indian entertainment industry has tried to reach out to Pakistan. But the Indian news media slams Pakistani artistes for not speaking up on key issues that afflict India.

Javed Sheikh in Happy Bhag Jayegi (2016)

I may not be able to answer [that question] on behalf of Pakistani artistes. I went to Karachi and Lahore. I have a bad habit of smoking. I went to a local paan shop to buy cigarettes. When I opened my wallet to pay, the paanwallah saw that I was carrying Indian currency notes. He asked me whether I was from Hindustan [India]. I felt more violated. There were 15-20 local men around. I feared the worst. Then the paanwallah said don’t give me money. He looked me in the eye and said, “Aap log aate hi kitna hain! [You Indians don’t come often enough]." So, I can tell you about the public sentiment about Indians. Now what else is left to say?

First Pakistan, then China. I wonder if there is a Happy Bhag Jayegi 3. Does poor Bagga remain a bachelor?

(Laughs.) I feel any director who thinks of a sequel before the release of a film is being proud, boisterous. I am not that. Happy Bhag Jayegi received a certain level of love and respect from the audience. It is because of that that a Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi has been made.

Now, Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi needs to pass that test. If the audience and the media help it to pass the test, then it automatically becomes a mandate. Once that happens, then as director you think whether you want to make yet another film.

Looking at your earlier film Dulha Mil Gaya (2010), your grooms and brides keep running away. Why is that?

My friend, my own marriage failed. Now I can look at it positively or make a hue and cry about it. I was one of those boys who was very excited about getting married. So, I was heartbroken when my marriage broke down. So, perhaps, I am venting my frustration through these films.

The Happy franchise is based on The Comedy of Errors. Which were the films that inspired you to make the Happy franchise?

Chupke Chupke (1975)

For me Chupke Chupke (1975), Angoor (1982), Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), they the three pillars of comedy in Indian cinema. Unfortunately, for a long time, Indian cinema had to witness a whole host of films which were not comedy. Slapstick or a guy staring at a girl’s butt is an easy way out.

Comedy is serious business. Chupke Chupke, Angoor are my go-to films. I don’t know why Gulzar saheb has stopped writing comedies. No one can write comedy better than him.

The Urdu language has not been used much in our films for comedy. In the 1990s and 2000s, we had the underrated Razzak Khan who amused us with his brand of humour. What did you make of him? 

Unfortunately, Razzak Khan came on the scene at a time when the meaning of comedy was changing, the writing of comedy was slightly weak. I wish he had got more opportunities to play genuinely humorous characters.

When I wrote Usman Afridi [Piyush Mishra’s character in the Happy films], I already had two Pakistani actors — Javed Sheikh and his daughter Momul. I wanted Umer Shareef to play this ASP Usman Afridi. He had liked the script, but his health wasn’t good, so he couldn’t take it up.

Finally, the script that you wrote before Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi, when will that film be made?

Rai sir and I share a strange relationship. Maybe we will have to sit down for another evening. When I came to the office after the second schedule of Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi, there was a lot of hubbub. I asked what was happening. A girl came to me with a document and said please sign this. I asked what it was and she said, “Rai sir only found out today that you haven’t signed a contract yet for Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi."

So, that’s the kind of equation we share. Maybe one day he will decide to film that script. I am working on two other scripts right now, they are not part of the Happy series. My next script is not with Colour Yellow Productions.