Fanney Khan review: Anil Kapoor is the man!

A fortnight ago, an Uber driver poured his heart out to me.

He had worked for several big establishments, including a popular pizza joint, but was forced to take up a cabbie’s job following the company’s policy to hire younger people.

He told me about his plans to save enough money to start his own small business. He told me about his college-going daughter, wife’s beauty parlour services and son’s refusal to study engineering causing a huge financial blow while admitting his own lack of education as the root of his woes.

Somewhere in that incessant chatter were the hopes of a common man dreaming of Acche Din for his family.

I saw a reflection of him in Anil Kapoor’s misty eyes and silent disenchantment as he dares to dream and work doubly hard to rise above his station for his daughter’ sake.

Kapoor, always so compelling and upbeat, creates such a sweetheart in Prashant aka Fanney Khan, you want to overlook the foolhardiness of his methods and melt at the sight of his sparkling affection.

Fanney Khan is in the same space as Tumhari Sulu and Secret Superstar where starry-eyed aspiration and gullible hearts of gold go but nowhere as grounded in reality.

Directed by first-timer Atul Manjrekar, it almost deceives you into believing it is a touching fairy tale of a failed musician pulling out all stops to make his daughter’s dreams come true. Except the onus of those dreams should not be on Lata (Pihu Sand) anyway. Named after the legendary singer, it is Prashant who decides the course of her ambition the moment she is born. 

Although the movie does not allow it to become an issue for confrontation, the irrational irritation in Lata’s behaviour towards her well-meaning father suggests an unresolved ill feeling. If there is something telling about stories stemming from children forced to realise their parents vision of who and what they should be, Fanney Khan doesn’t dwell.

An adaptation of the Belgian movie Everybody’s Famous, it hinges on an elaborate farce involving a popular singer’s (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) kidnapping by a pair of buffoons, lucky enough to bag a willing hostage yet too naive to realise it could easily blow up in their face.

A shutdown in the factory and a strip of sleeping pills inspire Shammi Kapoor fanboy Prashant to take a break from driving a taxi and playing the trumpet to capture Ash with a little help from his young co-worker and chum (Rajkummar Rao), as they devise a stupid scheme to launch Lata into reality show stardom.

Exhausted by her public image as Baby Singh, Ash’s character sees through their harmless threats and happily plays along.

The actress uses her knowledge of what effect she has on the beholder whilst unleashing her heady glamour and streaked red locks to seduce the screen and beguile her captors.

Rajkummar Rao, as the unsurprisingly compliant puppy, lends amusement and authenticity to their flirtations.

And for a little while, the screen bursts with bourgeoisie cheer, wish fulfilment and sharp digs at the sorry state of talent hunt shows. ‘Feeling ka software daalo,’ barks a self-seeking manager (Girish Kulkarni, confusing creepy for crooked) to his minion in relation to Lata’s recording.

Meanwhile, Lata’s episodes of fat shaming — a subject so spunkily handled in last year’s Sundance favourite Patti Cake$ — are documented in such a heavy-handed manner as though it is some disease is counterproductive to the empathy Fanney Khan is striving for. 

It would be nicer if the film was as comfortable as Sand is with her body and brashness. The youngster ably conveys the struggle of a nobody seeking fame in an industry of entitlement and nepotism. She deserved something better than a Secret Superstar hand-me-down to dazzle in its contrived climax.

It’s when Fanney Khan begins to justify and applaud its irresponsible, reckless behaviour as poignant parenting that the sham gets completely out of hand.

It made me think of what Divya Dutta, as Kapoor’s patient, persisting wife and a encouraging mother, asked quite early in the movie, ‘Star banna zaroori hai kya?

Rating: 2.5

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