Director: Atul Manjrekar
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Rajkummar Rao, Pihu Sand
After 38 years of being a leading man, Anil Kapoor has a likability and a weathered dignity that make you instantly care about him. What's happening around him doesn't matter – he recently survived the Race 3 trainwreck. The AK principle is at work in Fanney Khan. Even when the film becomes a slog, Kapoor saab, as I call him, stands tall.
Fanney Khan is the official remake of the Oscar-nominated Belgian film, Everybody's Famous! The original combined a feel-good underdog story with satire. The amiable comedy and sentimentality was sharpened by commentary on the desperate hunger for fame and how far a person is willing to go to get it. The father kidnaps the reigning singing star but the daughter also loses some of her soul. The Bollywood version prefers not to go there.
Instead what we get is a straightforward drama about a failed orchestra singer who goes to desperate lengths to ensure that his daughter – who he has very hopefully named Lata – succeeds. So he concocts a hare-brained scheme to get her a shot at stardom. Like in Dangal, here too, a father seeks to live his dream vicariously through his daughter. And again, the narrative presents this as heroic rather than problematic.
The story isn't plausible, which is not an issue. For me the stumbling block was the inconsistent tonality. Debutant director Atul Manjrekar is going for an unadorned reality. So Fanney and his family live in a colony. He becomes a taxi driver when his factory shuts down. They live in the sort of genteel poverty which requires that a sequined dress for a performance be bought in monthly installments. At one point, Fanney's wife, played nicely by Divya Dutta, plaintively asks – star banna zaroori hai kya?
Meanwhile the star – Baby Singh played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan – occupies a parallel universe. In the original, the singer was a regular girl who preferred to tinker around with cars. Here Aishwarya is presented as a diva. With artfully arranged red-tinged hair, she certainly looks the part but her artifice throws the film off. Her manager, who orchestrates much of the drama, is played as an oily impresario. These are clichés rather than characters. Which also gets in the way of Rajkummar Rao, who plays Adhir, Fanney's co-kidnapper. Rajkummar tries valiantly to bring meat to a sketchy role but he is miscast as a Kashmiri. Newcomer Pihu Sand plays Fanney's beleaguered daughter. She comes into her own in the emotional climax in which she sings a powerful ballad, 'Tere jaisa tu hai' – sung by Monali Thakur – but until then it's hard to get a read on why Lata is so hostile toward her loving father.
Sadly, most of the other songs are largely forgettable remixes – Mohabbat, Badan Pe Sitare and Halka Halka Suroor. In a film about music, the music by Amit Trivedi, is underwhelming. Trivedi delivered a far better soundtrack for another story about an aspiring teenage singer – Secret Superstar.
But despite the bumps, there are scenes in Fanney Khan that will move you. This film is liberally sprinkled with Chicken Soup for the Soul-style life lessons – we are urged to believe in the power of dreams, the value of inner beauty, the power of talent and rigor and the importance of staying true to yourself. Some of these land and some don't.
What stayed with me was the visual of Fanney Khan wiping away tears and pretending to be casual when Lata gets a call for an audition. It's a heartfelt performance that goes a long way in making this bland film somewhat watchable.