Prashant Sharma (Anil Kapoor), a factory worker, deals with metal all day long, but his real passion is music. He was an orchestra player in the 1990s, but then life happened: job, marriage and a daughter called Lata. Like many parents living their dreams through their children, Prashant wants Lata to be a singer. But in a chawl like his, where day-to-day living can be a challenge, wanting to become a singer – or to want anything at all – seems brave.
Fanney Khan, starring Anil Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, could have been a simple heartfelt story about the power of dreams. But like many mainstream Hindi films juggling the nuances of real life and the tropes of a melodrama, Fanney Khan keeps interrupting its own story. The challenges, joys and heartbreak of life isn’t enough for this movie, so it plants situations and subplots to inject pathos – contrived efforts that prevent the film from reaching its audience.
Lata, for instance, is saddled with a ‘problem’: people make fun of her because of her weight. Whenever she comes on stage to sing and perform, the audiences hurl body-shaming insults at her. This is a pattern that is repeated throughout the film – whether she’s performing locally or in a talent show – casting her as a victim who is defined less by her singing and more by her bodily inadequacy.
Her father, on the other hand, is a straight-laced blue collared worker who starts driving a taxi after the factory shut down. But his decision to kidnap a famous star, Baby Singh (Bachchan), is so out of sync with his character that it feels unconvincing, hurting the film’s credibility, a major flaw in a story that aims to be rooted and real.
The characters of Fanney Khan are broadly sketched figures. We know what they want, but we never get a fair sense of who they are. In fact, there’s just one scene in the movie, between Rao and Rai, where they open up about their histories and vulnerabilities, helping us understand them, and their actions, in some depth. In the absence of insight about its characters, Fanney Khan resembles a narrative, and not a story.
The film comes alive in a short comedic segment, where Baby is kidnapped by Prashant and Adheer (Rao), two friends with no history of, or interest in, violence. Rao is excellent here, channelising his character’s innocence to hilarious results. Rai, in contrast, is quite impassive, exacerbating the film’s mediocrity. Kapoor, however, is impressive; the film doesn’t give him a lot to play with, but he makes even the small scenes count.
Fanney Khan, otherwise, keeps trying hard – a little too hard – to make us feel for the characters and the stakes involved. Lata is continuously rude to her father, most of the time without a reason, and you fail to understand why. Sure, she’s embarrassed of him, but it doesn’t add up beyond a point. Rao’s girlfriend, likewise, is so domineering and controlling that she looks like an imagined construct – again, a desperate attempt to elicit pathos from the audience. Even the different subplots – centred on kidnapping and a talent show – meet each other and the main story inelegantly, making the film a mishmash of sorts. It’s a little ironic that the biggest dream machine in the country, Bollywood, struggles to understand the aspirations of everymen.