By this time we all know about the controversy Fanaa – rather Aamir Khan - has generated in Gujarat; and we also know that the film is breaking all box office records in the rest of the country (collections of Rs. 320 million in the first week). I have always believed that the box-office is not a measure of the quality of a film. Some of the best films I've seen have been box-office disasters, and I have simply hated some of the biggest blockbusters (Gadar, the biggest Bollywood hit of all time, for one).
It's been two days since I watched Fanaa, but I’m yet to make up my mind whether I liked the film or not. It's certainly not a film I regret watching; yet it is also true that I was disappointed big time. A Yashraj Film starring two of my favourite actors – Aamir and Kajol – was certainly a big movie event, and I had high hopes. But the film just did not live up to its promise. I must, however, admit that while I was watching the movie (and also now while I write this piece) my personal biases came in the way of me being completely objective.
If this piece seems like unnecessary nitpicking, it has a reason. I have a fundamental problem with the film's director, Kunal Kohli. This goes back a long way, almost 9-10 years back, when he used to host a film programme on TV (I think it was called Chalo Cinema). I never agreed with his reviews. What I despised about his reviews was that he reviewed films as an expert in film making, and obviously he had no credentials to support the claim (he hadn't started making films then). I distinctly remember that in 1997, he completely debunked Yash Chopra's Dil To Pagal Hai. Not that it was a great film, but I felt Kunal Kohli was being unnecessarily critical because he was supposed to be a 'critic'. Well, there's nothing wrong with that for everyone is entitled to his or her views – it's a free country after all, but I was quite shocked a few months later when in the very same programme, while looking back on the films of 1997, Kunal Kohli counted it as one of the year’s best! How could a film that was dubbed as a 'mistake' in an illustrious director’s oeuvre, could become a 'good' film in a matter of just a few months? You guessed it - because it went on to become the biggest hit of the year! By that logic, Mr. Kunal Kohli, you've probably made the best film of 2006.
But I don't go by that logic. Box office success means nothing to me; for me a good film is something that I enjoy watching - it must make me laugh, cry, think, ponder; it should keep me engrossed. I have mixed opinions about Fanaa for this very reason. I never felt bored despite its inordinate length and, to be fair, it had some good points, yet there were so many things that irritated me. And yes, the film did set me thinking, but all I've been thinking about are the negative aspects of the film. Let me first quickly get done with the good points before I take Mr. Kunal Kohli to task.
Kajol and Aamir are the highlights of the movie. They share a crackling chemistry and do a great job with their roles, terribly under-written they might be. Kajol, for one, lends an infectious and intoxicating charm to an otherwise dull fare. Aamir is absolutely brilliant, especially in the second half. Then there’s the music - good poetry (Prasoon Joshi) and simple melodies (Jatin-Lalit). And, of course, the pristine beauty of Poland (masquerading as Kashmir).
The biggest problem with the film is inconsistent writing. The script is patchy to say the least, the characters unpardonably under-written, and the dialogue cheesy, corny, contrived, convoluted… I'm running short of adjectives. I have a few questions for Mr. Kohli.
- Do you think it's believable that a tourist guide (even if he's played by the oh-so-charming Aamir Khan) can flirt shamelessly with a few girls on a visit from another state, and neither the girls nor their chaperon would do anything to stop him? If anything, they only egg him on in this film.
- Can the mother of a blind girl who has had a sheltered life (so we presume), encourage her daughter to get married (!!) to her newly found shehzada even though the parents knows nothing about him?
- What was that nuclear missile/ trigger mumbo-jumbo all about? Couldn't you come up with something more original and, if I may say, believable?
- Why was Shiney Ahuja, a powerhouse of talent, wasted in a two-bit role?
- Why did you have to make that sweet kid mouth such heavy duty dialogues? It almost seemed that we were back in the good old black and white era when children in film were more philosophical than adults.
- Why on earth did you have to come up with such moth-ridden dialogues? Every time the characters tried to say something profound, it made me wince. The dialogues were so highly contrived that I squirmed in my seat.
- If you had to use poetry in the first half, why couldn't you get a good poet to do that job for you? Why not Prasoon Joshi, who wrote such good poetry for the songs? Poetry can be a great device to convey romance (remember, Sahir's great words in Yash Chopra's own Kabhi Kabhie), but I refuse to accept an attempt at amateurish tukbandi as poetry. I might be an amateur poet, but I can certainly come up with better lines that what Kajol and Aamir have been forced to mouth. I'm putting the blame on you, Mr. Kohli, because you have been credited with the dialogue. If it was Prasoon Joshi who wrote the shayari, I'm amazed at his inconsistency. That adds to my point of 'inconsistent writing'
- And when will you learn to eschew cliché? Take the scene where Rishi Kapoor and Aamir Khan are about the leave the house, the kid comes, hugs Rishi Kapoor and says, "Nana, I love you". You know precisely what's going to happen next.
Mr. Kohli's lack of attention to detail is shocking! Had it been any other director, I would've ignored this aspect. But not for Kunal Kohli – this is where my personal bias comes in and I can't help but indulge in shameless nitpicking:
- Kajol visits Delhi in the week of January 26th, but have one look at Rajpath (as shown in the movie) and it's obvious that it's not January 26th. Where are the barricades and the temporary structures that come up on Rajpath around that time?
- It's raining in Delhi on January 28th….very unusual, but not impossible. But why does the song have to refer to it as saawan which refers more to the monsoon month than rain per se. The director could've changed the date in the film to August 15th, without compromising on an important plot detail.
- Kajol has to catch a train at 10 AM in the morning. She's already a little late and wants to quickly buy a chess set for her dad on her way to the railway station. She manages to do so, as we see her clutching on to the chess set at the station. Now, I would love to know of a shop in Delhi that is open at around 9 AM in the morning.
- When Aamir and Kajol get down from the train, it is fairly evident from the mountains in the backdrop that it's nowhere near Delhi.
- How come there are no other fellow travelers on the train with Kajol and friends? Not entirely improbable, but not very probable either.
- The storm is supposed to be so bad that it is difficult to Aamir to leave Kajol's house and for the Indian army to come there looking for him. Yet, the weather is remarkably clear when there's time to sing a song outdoors (it starts snowing again as soon as as the song ends!).
- If Poland had to be passed off as Kashmir, a little bit of conscious art direction could have lent more authenticity to it. The house, and all the props that we see, are clearly not Indian, least of all Kashmiri.
I think I've already written enough…there're still many more faults in the script, but you get the gist.
In short, Fanaa suffers primarily because of the filmmakers who thought that once they had roped in Kajol and Aamir, that was all they needed. It is obvious that the script came just as an afterthought. And that is the film's weakest link.
There's another thing that bothers me - how could Aamir Khan, who is rumoured to be extremely finicky about the scripts he chooses, agree to such a half-baked, inconsistent, and criminally under-developed script?
Disclaimer: This review, if you can call it that, is written in the very style Kunal Kohli used in his TV programme. I'm not responsible if it sounds unreasonable or unfair.