Director: Atul Manjrekar

Cast: Anil Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Rajkummar Rao, Pihu Sand

Around thirty minutes into the appallingly awful Fanney Khan, I started to think about soup. I’m not sure what sort of subconscious links my mind made, but it might have been on these lines: My favourite soup is sweet corn. Like from the cornfields in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Interstellar – not just because one minute on Planet Fanney Khan feels like five years on Planet Earth. Interstellar, because a glitch in the time-space continuum seems to have powered a parallel universe where Fanney Khan became an undernourished sequel to Subhash Ghai’s Taal: Vikrant Kapoor (Anil Kapoor) might have gone bankrupt, lost his remix empire, grown old and settled in a humble Maharashtrian chawl as a nostalgic Fanney Khan with dreams of his heydays, while Mansi Shankar (Aishwarya Rai) might have overturned her classical image, dumped a reclusive Manav and evolved into ‘self-made’ superstar Baby Singh after the death of her sanskaari father Tara Babu.

But not even science fiction can explain the presence of a star-struck Rajkummar Rao in a movie so bad that his (supporting) character simply disappears in the third act – likely because Rao, after romancing Rai on screen, may have finally escaped the clutches of the producer who kidnapped and imprisoned him on the sets of this cinematic debacle.

Aishwarya Rai dazzles Rajkummar Rao with an inexplicable accent that couldn’t even fool the Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau

This sounds vaguely like the plot of Atul Manjrekar’s Fanney Khan. The titular hero has an overweight teen-aged daughter named Lata (Pihu Sand), who exists solely to make reality show judges sound like Donald Trump discovered fat jokes on Twitter. To make her singing dreams come true, Fanney, a man who abandoned his orchestral dreams to raise a wretchedly ungrateful Lata, does the most natural thing possible: He drugs and kidnaps Baby Singh (who has earned her fortune doing Anaida-Mehnaz-style indi-pop videos in 2018) after she hails his taxi during an existential crisis.

This is arguably a better situation to be in for Baby, given that her manager is a Nawaz-hungover Girish Kulkarni who, after almost single-handedly ruining Dangal, returns as a sleazy villain that behaves like the illegitimate offspring of Dick Dastardly and Muttley. In return, Fanney doesn’t ask for money, but demands for a record to be cut for his talented daughter. Not once does anyone consider the possibility that Fanney has gone off the deep end, and needs to perhaps be institutionalized for his actions – much like the film he occupies, his intentions are disturbing but hidden under the cloak of nobility. Meanwhile, Rai dazzles Rao with an inexplicable accent that couldn’t even fool the Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau. The climax actually cuts between a talent reality show’s finale and the show’s “special crime correspondent” filming the kidnapper’s lair in Bhandup. This is what the split-screen was invented for, it is suggested.

Nobody seems to have told the makers that the script is daft enough to ensure that Race 3 wasn’t the worst film of Anil Kapoor’s year

Fanney Khan is a classic product of the “yes-man” culture in Bollywood. Nobody seems to have told the makers that the script is daft enough to ensure that Race 3 wasn’t the worst film of Anil Kapoor’s year. The lack of self-awareness is astounding. And it’s not even like they set out to make a ham-handed “massy” caper. This only proves how frightfully wrong the templates of Secret Superstar and Slumdog Millionaire can go, if executed by filmmakers with zero context and zero connect to today’s pop culture.

Kapoor, unfortunately, is the only one convinced this is a legitimate movie – he acts sincerely, sings, dances and at one point seems to be shedding real tears. Who can blame him? He finds himself in a movie about music, and yet the soundtrack is straight out of an Amit Trivedi jingle generator. He is in a movie in which even Irshad Kamil forsakes his pen to design screechy ballads out of B-grade rap lyrics. What else can explain, “Tera jaisa tu hai, mere jaisa main hu”? You are like you. I am like me? Soup is the only healer.

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