Watching any movie requires some suspension of disbelief. Mainstream Hindi movies usually require even more. And in that way, I’m pretty tolerant when watching my Bombay-made fillums. Whereas others would groan and roll their eyes, I soldier on, happily. The second half of Fanaa pushes that envelope to the limit.
Visually, Fanaa could be a bookend to Hum Tum, also directed by Kunal Kohli. The interiors are lovingly appointed. The costumes are gorgeous. Army boots in Srinagar give way to pastel salwars and girly shoes. Zooni (Kajol) and her attractive gal pals are magazine perfect in their color-coordinated, Kashmiri tinged outfits against the sandy, ochre tones and Mughal arches of Delhi’s famous tourist sights.
Aamir Khan as the incorrigible cad Rehan is decked out – fittingly – in various hues of peacock greens and blues in the first half of the movie, always topped off by a matching scarf flung jauntily around his neck (one even looked like a Missoni). In Fanaa, Rehan is the 40-year-old grup that Aamir Khan’s previous tapori incarnations in Rangeela and Ghulam would have become, had they gotten a few rough edges smoothed out and learned an awful lot of poetry. One metrosexual touch perhaps too much was the thumb ring and the six bracelets. (The New York Times’ Nathan Lee declared the actor “over-accessorized.”)
Fanaa is a pretty meringue to consume, until the Interval passes and the movie turns all Rang De Basanti on us and gets heavy. The stunts were maybe not quite Hollywood or Hong Kong at their slickest best, but were, for the most part, o.k.
But in the emotionally wrenching moments, when one should have been in tears, or at least feeling a catch in the throat, I was as dry-eyed as if standing online at the supermarket. Never mind shedding tears, there wasn’t even any welling (and this is from someone who can even get teary over TV ads at Christmas).
The story is centred around Zooni, the beautiful blind daughter of a loving Kashmiri couple (played by Kiron Kher and Rishi Kapoor), who has led a happy and protected life with them, just as she sets off on her first trip ever away from home. She is going to New Delhi to perform with a dance troupe on Republic Day at the Rashtrapati Bhavan (Dil Se anyone?). Their chaperone, the foxy Lilette Dubey, arranges for a guided bus tour of the city before they get deep into rehearsals, and arre vah, here appears hamara Aamir, stretched out on the roof of the bus and spouting poetry as if he were reprising his role of Dil Nawaz in Earth / 1947.
We and the girls soon learn that Rehan is quite the studmuffin. He and Zooni are drawn to each other, and after some intense days together, they fall in love and decide to get married. When Zooni telephones her parents to tell them the good news, they step out of filmi stereotype and say “That’s great! You have our blessings and we’re heading to Delhi right away to get you two married!”
(The Amitabh-Hema pairing in Baghban had a similar reaction, leading me to wonder if the increase of love marriages, and/or unions that are some mix of arranged and love matches in real life, have given some filmmakers pause before they script in the hitherto required blind parental opposition.)
The movie, especially the first half, will appeal to people who like hyper-romantic, airbrushed stories of films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but anyone who has relished the closer lean toward realism in some 21st century Bollywood releases – like Satya and Company – will probably gag on this one.
Poland serves as a stand-in for the troubled northern territory, and seems realistic enough. So Pavlovian is our response that the minute we see a man paddling a shikara across a body of water with mountains in the distance, we do as the girl next to me at the theater last night who said to her boyfriend during the opening credits: “Dal Lake.”
After a tragic and bittersweet denouement just before the Interval, the movie’s flight from reality really takes off. We flash forward seven years, and see Zooni settled in rural Kashmir with her widowed father. The picturesque wooden house where Zooni and Zulfi live actually looks so much like the dacha from Dr. Zhivago that I half expected to see Yuri and Lara appear at any moment.
And speaking of which, what in God’s name was Lara Dutta supposed to be? A hooker? A slutty girl? A flirt?
The biggest complaint people will have with the second half of Fanaa has to do with one central plot twist, where you keep asking yourself “How can she not know?!?” It’s hard not to do a spit take when she says to Captain Ranjeev Singh “Sometimes you seem very familiar to me”, though there are some sweet scenes where the two meet cute and frolic in the snow, looking like they’re doing a photo shoot for an Esprit catalogue. Equally frustrating is how, even when the partial truth is revealed to Zooni and her father, no real clear explanation is given for what happened seven years before.
The film does offer some sublime sensual moments that are real and go just far enough before crossing over into Clintonian lip-biting set pieces. As they tour Delhi alone, Rehan leans in toward Zooni and, almost brushing her cheek with his lips, asks “What is my voice like? And my fragrance?” He takes her to a mosque and daubs her eyes with dripping rose petals that have been soaking in water that is believed to have healing powers.
As the couple enjoys their last few hours together in Delhi over dinner on the terrace of Rehan’s apartment, it suddenly pours rain and, of course, Zooni chooses to stay outside and enjoy it. It’s funny to see how Aamir Khan’s ears, no longer hidden by his collar-length hair, stick out. The song picturization comprises prolonged extreme close-ups of the couple as the water beads on their skin. They spend the night together before Zooni has to catch the train home, and amazingly enough for a mainstream Bollywood movie, when she meets up with her girlfriends and chaperone at the station, there are no recriminations, just support. The girls cradle Zooni in their arms as she cries inconsolably over leaving the man she loves behind.
Kajol, back on screen after several years’ absence playing the role of wife and mother, looks lovely and the camera lingers on her, over and over. Thankfully the spastic mannerisms she brought to Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham are nowhere to be seen. The only thing I don’t understand is, how can a girl from a country known for its threading still go around with that unibrow she’s had all these years? Is this like Enrique Iglesias and his over-sized beauty spot? Is she afraid to remove it lest it affect her talent?
Kiron Kher has become the Nirupa Roy of our times, having done three splendid recent turns as a warm and loving Maa in Veer-Zaara, Rang De Basanti and now Fanaa. She and Rishi Kapoor play a devoted couple who are such supportive and caring parents that you can actually believe their daughter just might say, as Zooni did when debating whether or not to go to Delhi, “I’ll do whatever you say.”
The music is entertaining, but just alright. It lacks a melody or a hook that you’ll hear in your head for days after you leave the theater. Mere Haath Mein is swoony and romantic, and Chanda Chamke is catchy, the first time I’ve heard a song that is nothing but tongue-twisters, but there’s no Chayya Chayya moment on the soundtrack.
See it or skip it?
See it, but be prepared to surrender and go along for the ride, or be prepared to be frustrated.