Goa – a bunch of dysfunctional characters put together – an old love letter – unrequited love and unfulfilled desires – a road trip. That is what you have in just under two hours of Finding Fanny, apart from the whole range of wit, quirkiness, satire and dark humour.
Ferdie the old retired postmaster is just like his Pocolim town – both are stuck in a time warp, until he finds his letter to the love of his life, undelivered. He has spent a good portion of his life waiting until this letter kindles that fire to go look for his beloved. And what better friend would he have than Angie, the virgin widow of the village whose husband died five minutes into their marriage, choking on their wedding cake. She lives an otherwise happy life with her mother-in-law who is uncontested as the Lady of the village. She becomes the muse for Pedro, the painter who comes to the village looking for inspiration. And finally, Savio, for in a road trip you need a car and someone who knows how to drive a car.
For the first time, a mainstream commercial film on Goa has done full justice to the place and its ethos. There is nothing new about the fact that Goa in itself is essentially not India – and by this I mean the Goa that is not frequented by holidaying tourists with large families and honeymooners. As in the beginning of the film the narrator states that it will be a futile effort to go looking for the village which is being shown in the story because it is so quaint that it is impossible to find. One may say this is another way of saying that the setting, along with the story, is as much fictitious as its characters, though the official disclaimer did state the aberration and pointed out the truth lay in the strangest of incidents. While the road trip gives the film its breezy feel, it is difficult to not notice the absence of any other character, human and non human, that does not fit into the main narrative of the film. So in a road trip all we see are cows, two processions, a kid, a bus full of incomprehensible passengers – a very difficult proposition in India, even if you are in Goa.
One look at the Naseeruddin Shah as Ferdie (or Ferdinand to his friends and Fernando to his beloved) and for the entire duration of the film I simply could not get Marquez’s Florentino Ariza from Love in the Time of Cholera out of my mind. However, Ferdinand in this case has been drawn as a character less dramatic in colour – probably to suit the Indian taste of the lover and his unrequited love. Unlike Florentino, Ferdinand never manages to quite make a proposition of his love to his beloved “Fanny” (Stephanie) and the only letter that he writes to her gets lost in time, only to return to 46 years later. How and why, I am not to tell; it is revealed through the course of the film at various points in the story and I must say it is worth knowing at those very points of narrative time. This is not the first time Naseeruddin Shah delivers an immaculate performance; but this time he had others too sharing the screen space and demanding as much off of the audience as Naseer does. Pankaj Kapur. We tend to forget what a storehouse of talent he is as an actor and Finding Fanny reminds us just of that. Dimple Kapadia with her 20-kg prosthetic posterior gives the final touché to the ensemble that brings the entire character of the film to completion.
Arjun Kapoor and Deepika Padukone could not have asked for a better luck of working in a film that has Dimple Kapadia, Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Kapoor all at the same time and who never manages to make a slip in a single shot. While Arjun Kapoor was just himself, in Deepika there was a sense of her trying to be in the skin of this character, whose essence lay in the very carefree attitude. I am yet to make up my mind whether to give full credit her effort or to simply draw the conclusion that she has been too sucked up into the whole Bollywood ethos that when it comes to portraying a character where she has to just let go, she can’t seem to be able to go the whole hog. That is where you feel that Hindi cinema is yet to cultivate itself. She is otherwise extremely comfortable in playing the role, though there are certain shots in the movie where a careful audience will notice that she seems to be physically present in the moment and yet she is not. This is not being said to add any amount of enigma to her or to the character that she was playing.
If Imtiaz Ali’s Highway whets our appetite for road movies at the beginning of this year, Finding Fanny keeps the hunger alive just when it was dying a natural death. Breathing a fresh breath of life to the cine-goers experience, Finding Fanny once again reminds us that a film can be enjoyed for its journey itself rather than a happy ending. If one is waiting for that at the end of the film, let me warn you beforehand that you will be mightily disappointed, ‘coz this film is definitely not about its culmination but about the entire process of characters coming together, serving their purpose, each experiencing their individual moments of anagnorisis to continue to live life with or without changes, as they choose.