In this weekly series, Rahul Desai lists 50 of Hindi cinema’s favourite “third wheels” – that is, memorable characters whose roles are little more than fleeting cameos and little less than supporting turns – since 1990. There will be no particular order: just a colourful recollection of emblematic faces who’ve left us craving for more.
Perhaps the most eccentric aspect of Homi Adajania’s delightfully eccentric Finding Fanny – Mathias Duplessy’s deadpan Anglo-Goan score aside – is the casting of Pankaj Kapur as a pretentious, arrogant artist named Don Pedro Cleto Colaco. The veteran actor plays the cynical celebrity with such gusto that it’s impossible not to be amused at Don Pedro’s inanities. It may all about be simpleton Ferdinand (Naseeruddin Shah, as the man-child) trying to find his long-lost love Fanny across the little rural pockets of Konkani villages, but the wildly indulgent (and superbly acted) track between the voluptuous aunty Rosy (Dimple Kapadia at her best) and the smitten artist remains the highlight of the senile road movie.
The unusual English-language film predictably divided critics and viewers, but there is no denying the life of its idiosyncratic characters. What’s most interesting about Don Pedro is the director’s understanding of his toxic masculinity – and, by extension, the inherently flawed and inhumane equation between an artist and a muse. Artists make for cinema’s most intriguing and tortured protagonists – Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is emblematic of the pompous egotism that artists believe is required of them to achieve a degree of immortality.
Under the tomfoolery of Don Pedro’s personality, too, lies the dark heart of a man who seems to be confounded that the movie isn’t all about him. Adajania infuses into his lecherous ways the familiar graph of an artist who is willing to embrace the idea of lust in order to squeeze the art out of his muse. For him, the vain and delusional Rosy is simply an instrument – she is a guinea pig that he uses to capture the “empty ugliness of beauty” on his beloved canvas.
For the first hour, it’s natural to wonder if Don Pedro is simply comic relief in a journey filled with straight-shooting faces. He has this dazed look on his face when he sees Rosy. He stares at various parts of her body. He makes orgasmic sounds. He is emblematic of the entitled male gaze, but remains at most a passing set of eyes that will have no effect on the soul of the film. At one point he even begins to resemble a disillusioned man who discovers that the woman he is enthralled by is actually a crabby, rude widow with zero self-awareness. You almost feel sorry for him.
But soon it becomes clear that Don Pedro, just like the great old monsters of his ilk, is no different from the villain who dumps the heroine after assaulting her – his version of “assault” being the ghastly but brilliant painting he derives out of her. He is simultaneously repulsive and enigmatic, so much so that when a stray bullet pierces his head in a nutty scramble it’s difficult not to admire the accidental ‘art’ of the chaotic situation.
“I’m done with you,” he growls dismissively, after making her pose in the heat for a startlingly naked portrait of expressionism – finally baring the Picasso-ish fangs he had so systematically hidden under the guise of caricatured angst. He is showing her what he thinks is a mirror. But it’s the way he does it that brings to mind some of the most vile and problematic geniuses of human civilization. Till this moment, he was a funny, entertaining and hopelessly filthy old man. In one click, he becomes the predatory asshole that Rosy had failed to anticipate amidst the fumes of flattery.
Only someone like Kapur is capable of altering the mood so suddenly. And Kapadia’s shattered face does the rest in this oddly moving moment of twisted epiphanies. That he dies like someone in a Pink Panther movie only adds to the conflicted aura of Don Pedro Cleto Colaco.