Happy Journey is one of those little gems whose scenes one likes to allow our imagination to revisit again and again... A haunting tale whose value slowly permeates the viewer's consciousness for days, weeks or years to come.
Sachin Kundalkar's film in Marathi explores the life of Niranjan (Atul Kulkarni), whose childhood is filled with a constant outpour of innocent and pure love for his newborn little sister Janaki (Priya Bapat). Time goes by and just as he is growing up and discovering the joys of his first teenage romance, Niranjan's sentimentally rich journey is brutally truncated when his parents suddenly send him off to Dubai to earn money for his family. The result is a growing feeling of abandonment that makes Niranjan a hurt and detached young man who gets easily exasperated with his family obligations. It is this angry man who comes back to his hometown when the family is faced with difficult times. Once in India, his charming sister Janaki (Priya Bapat) will take him on a fantastic trip that will ignite an inner discovery.
Unlike what one might expect at first from the film's title, this is not your run of the mill road movie. It does not even showcase a particular destination. The lens does walk you through gorgeously peaceful areas of a quaint and off-the-beaten-track Goa, but locations progressively become irrelevant, leaving way to a more introspective adventure, namely the protagonist Niranjan's blossoming and coming of age.
You see, so much of that which truly matters, is there in Happy Journey. The film indeed leaves no stone unturned in exploring one of our most important journeys as human beings: that of learning how to love.
But don't take my word for it just like that. Let us explore the story a bit more closely.
Firstly, the "route map" to this Happy Journey is provided by two young female characters: Janaki, Niranjan's sister, and Alice, his love interest. Both are modern day ladies with punch, aspirations and revised values that are fully instrumental to the plot and to the main protagonist's inner growth. With their peppiness and audacity they keep the pace rolling and are there to show viewers (and Niranjan) the path. For let me tell you... where a loving but more traditional and judgmental mother fails in understanding her son, a wise and happy-go-lucky young sister takes on the role of a quirky maternal figure full of spirit and encouragement, capable of making Niranjan pick up his life where he left off so many years back. In a psychologically rich scene, Janaki even becomes the sensible "mother's voice" coaxing her "son" (brother) to plunge into loving a woman outside his family in order to become a healthy and fulfilled man. Similarly, Alice, despite her fears, steps up to the challenge of living carefree and compels Niranjan to face his pain and move beyond it.
However, all this would bear no result without the courage of the main character, Niranjan, who accepts to travel in this journey and discovers through it the magnificent array of love feelings possible in one's brief existence in this planet. Brotherly love, romantic love, love for those who make our loved ones happy and finally fatherly love. He learns to identify with all these variants and to explore and play around with them. He also learns to surrender and let go of any pain associated with love and stands up to defend what his heart craves, creating an inner richness in him that is an absolute delightful experience to watch on screen. Atul Kulkarni is of course utterly impressive and moving to a T, whether he is an angry young man or a "love apprentice". In that sense the film is carried by him, as he fully commands the audience's identification with the main character and with the purpose of the film.
The final scenes in Happy Journey are crucial to understanding the liberation that loving unconditionally can bring to a human being.
While it may seem that the story becomes a bit whimsical from time to time, probably due to the fact that a film with such dense content must have been difficult to edit, none of this keeps the viewer from continuing to enjoy the story's catchy pace and its deep message.
Special mention goes to praiseworthy performances by all members of the cast (Pallavi Subhash, Siddhartha Menon and second roles) with a huge round of applause for Chitra Palekar for giving her brief scenes and dialogues that hefty dose of humor that seasoned veteran actors can! Another brownie point for the film is its music (background score and OST), with a soft spot for Ka Saang Na in the voice of Shreya Ghoshal, having graceful lyrics to go along with an equally sweet melody and voice.
As you can see, there are many powerful reasons to watch Happy Journey. In conversation with Atul Kulkarni and Sachin Kundalkar yesterday at Lightbox theatre in Santacruz after the film ended, we discussed the fact that several viewers had already seen Happy Journey five times in the few days after its release! I am not surprised. It is a successfully told joyful and uplifting story of such profound depth that people can only continue to ponder on it for a very long time. That, as well as its lighthearted tone, is I believe Happy Journey's secret recipe which will continuously keep audiences coming for more.
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Director: Sachin Kundalkar
Producer: Sanjay Chhabria
Writer: Sachin Kundalkar
Cast: Atul Kulkarni, Priya Bapat, Pallavi Subhash, Siddhartha Menon, Chitra Palekar, Shiv Subramanyam, Suhita Thatte, Madhav Abhyankar
Cinematography: Rangarajan Ramabadran
Cinematography: Rangarajan Ramabadran
Music: Karan Kulkarni