September 12, 2014
Deepika Padukone, Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Pankaj Kapur, Arjun Kapoor, Anjali Patil, Anand Tiwari, Cameo: Ranveer Singh
English (A Hindi version has also been released.)
After a sparkling debut with Being Cyrus, director Homi Adajania unexpectedly betrayed a penchant for stereotyping with his disappointing take on the Christian woman and neurotic spinsterhood in his second film Cocktail. It was with trepidation then that I entered the hall to watch his latest film, Finding Fanny. Would it continue Bollywood’s notorious typecasting of Goan Christians as a semi-foreign bunch of male drunkards and female cabaret dancers speaking the “hum God se pray karta hai” kind of Hinglish?
As it turns out, whatever else it may or may not be faulted for, Finding Fanny cannot be accused of a reductive portrayal of Goans. For the moment, let’s forget the fact that Hindi cinema as a whole is yet to acknowledge the existence of Goan Hindus or of sari-wearing Goan Christian women. Before that stage of evolution can be reached, here comes Finding Fanny, a film that thankfully does not follow the Bollywood tradition of caricaturing this community.
Sadly, that’s not enough. Finding Fanny is quirky in parts, funny some of the time, and has a wonderful cast. But by the end of it all, the film feels too lightweight and too flimsy to matter.
Welcome though to sleepy Pocolim in Goa. On the surface, this fictional village appears to epitomise the fabled susegad, the contentment that lies at the heart of the state’s culture. We discover along the way though, that there are unfulfilled dreams and desires and long-held secrets simmering below the surface.
We are introduced to the film’s five leading characters in the voice of young Angie (Deepika Padukone), a beautiful widow of six years who shares a warm equation with her gorgeous and curiously husbandless mother-in-law Rosie (Dimple Kapadia), the local queen bee. Angie’s best friend is the elderly postmaster, choirboy and child-man Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah). Their lives take off in a whole new direction when a letter Ferdie sent to the love of his life – Stefanie Fernandes a.k.a. Fanny – is returned to him after 46 years. Angie urges him to find Fanny, and reveal his unrevealed feelings to her. For their mission, she is compelled to rope in ma-in-law, the artist Don Pedro (Pankaj Kapur) and her childhood friend Savio (Arjun Kapoor); because Savio is the only one among them who can drive, Pedro owns a car, and the unwitting Rosie’s company on the road trip is essential as bait to coax him into lending them that vehicle.
Clearly the film is aiming at whimsy, a quality so smoothly achieved in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel that was recently in Indian theatres. Finding Fanny doesn’t have enough substance to achieve its goal though. It is not entirely consistent in its characterisation either. That outburst by Rosie against Savio, for instance – did it not imply animosity towards Angie, who she clearly loves? Is it fathomable that sweet, protective Angie would pimp Rosie to the discomfortingly lustful Pedro? And why are we expected to be amused by that lecherous chap?
Pankaj as Pedro over-acts to the point of making you wonder why he is routinely described by critics as “one of Bollywood’s most under-rated actors”. When he is good, he can be lovely – as he was in last year’s Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola and in Bhavna Talwar’s brilliant 2007 film Dharm – but when he is not, he can be painfully repetitive and/or OTT, which is how he is here. The forever-stunning Dimple too has a couple of overdone moments in the film, but it’s hard to hold that against her when she’s clearly enjoying the role. Besides, overall she shows more depth in Finding Fanny than she has got a chance to display through most of her career so far. She immerses herself in her character, as does Naseer whose loveable babe-in-the-woods turn here has more conviction than we see from him in most commercial films these days.
Notwithstanding how Finding Fanny has turned out, it’s a sign of our interesting times that hard-core commercial stars Deepika and Arjun signed up for this evidently experimental venture. Arjun has been growing with each film and proves, especially in that scene in which he ticks off Rosie, that he has what it takes to lose himself in a role. Deepika looks angelic, is attractively but simply turned out, and is completely natural before the camera. She does laidback very well, although Angie’s internal conflicts are not conveyed quite as effectively either by her acting or the writing. Still, the actress reminds us why she is widely considered one of mainstream Bollywood’s best talents in a late-night scene in a field, during a conversation with Savio that is far more casual than you would expect considering the circumstances – so casual, in fact, that it’s a hoot. It’s the best-written scene in the film and both stars shine in it.
The delightful music of Finding Fanny is a perfect fit. Composed by Mathias Duplessy, it is woven seamlessly into the narrative to complement the mood of the film and cinematographer Anil Mehta’s picture-postcard images of the pretty Goan countryside.
“Fanny” is used by Indian English speakers as slang for the bottom. In some places though, it mean a woman’s genitals. Adajania’s overt reason for using the word in the title is the search for Ferdie’s lady love. However, he seems to be having a chuckle with this naming game, playing simultaneously on Angie’s and possibly Freddie’s virginity, Rosie’s expansive buttocks and Pedro’s paintings of grotesquely voluptuous women reminiscent of the legendary Goan painter Francis Newton Souza’s canvases and to a lesser extent, Goan cartoonist Mario Miranda’s buxom ladies. Errr… So who exactly is “finding fanny” in this story? Now if only the film was as substantial as Rosie’s derriere or had as much depth as the connotations of its name...
Rating (out of five stars): **
CBFC Rating (India):
Photograph courtesy: Effective Communication