Cast: Anil Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Rajkummar Rao, Pihu Sand and Divya Dutta
Stars: 2.5 (out of 5)
A 1990s orchestra singer, now on the wrong side of 50, seeks recompense for his failure to make it big. He is willing to go to any length to help his only daughter attain stardom. The girl has a fine voice but she doesn't possess the body type of a pop diva. "Dekha hai apne ko mirror mein kabhi," she is frequently asked. So much so that she herself begins to believe that popular music these days is more about seeing than hearing and that "it is all about styling".
So, for both the fat-shamed girl and her out-of-work father, a life-changing opening is a castle in the air. That is the narrative kernel of Fanney Khan, officially adapted from the Belgian hit Everybody's Famous! (2000) and given the spin of a Bollywood musical that upends the established notions of showbiz success.
Portions of Fanney Khan are a bit of a stretch: they are a touch flabby and far-fetched. But first-time director Atul Manjrekar not only keeps the dramatic core of the story intact, he also ramps it up appreciably to serve up an indigenized version that more than serves its purpose.
Of course, the film's flights of fancy do demand a willing suspension of disbelief. What undermines Fanney Khan is its inability to tap to the fullest the universal emotions inherent in the father-daughter relationship. The worldviews of the two clash frequently and the daughter sees her dad's earnest enthusiasm as more irritating than encouraging. How the reconciliation happens is the crux of the story but it does not hit home hard enough when it is time for the film to wind down.
Fanney Khan pivots around the infectious energy that Anil Kapoor brings to bear upon the character of the failed musician Prashant Sharma. The film kicks off with a rendition of Badan pe sitare lapete huye: a rousing curtain-raiser. But the man's joys are short-lived. One fine morning, he loses his factory job. Prashant hides the crisis from his wife Kavita (Divya Dutta). He begins to drive a taxi for an old friend Kader (Satish Kaushik).
Prashant's daughter (debutante Pihu Sand), christened Lata for obvious reasons ("Main Mohammed Rafi toh nahin ban saka tujhe zaroor Lata Mangeshkar banaoonga," her father vows the day she's born), is on the lookout for a break. Her mother wonders why it is necessary to become a star, while her friend Rhea (Barbie Rajput) suggests that she keep her feet on the ground because becoming a star is no cakewalk.
Away from the chawl that is home to the Sharma family - the patriarch's lingo suggests that they have roots in Hyderabad - another woman needs a break of a completely different kind. Baby Singh (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), the reigning female crooner of the land, is grappling with fatigue. She wants to run away from the unending whirligig of concerts, reality show appearances, photo shoots and the demands of her pushy manager Karan Kakkad (Girish Kulkarni) in order to recharge her batteries.
The paths of the aspiring Lata and the super-successful Baby cross tangentially when Prashant, on a whim, kidnaps the latter. After a tiff with her manager, Baby boards Prashant's cab. He sedates her with sleeping pills and drives her to the premises of the sealed factory. He hopes to extort from her the money he requires to fund Lata's first album. He holds Baby Singh captive and turns to his best pal and former co-worker Adhir (Rajkummar Rao) for help.
Initially, Adhir is reluctant but opts to be party to the conspiracy when his girlfriend Jinal (Swati Semwal) leaves for Goa against his wish to attend an acting workshop. Soon enough, the Stockholm syndrome kicks in and the kidnapping victim develops a soft corner for the captor. Adhir, on the rebound, promptly reciprocates the feeling.
Hidden behind a Rajinikanth mask, Fanney Khan meets Kakkad and makes an unconventional demand - a recording of a song that he has composed for his daughter. Kakkad agrees - he wants Baby Singh safe and sound. As Baby's rapport with the awkward Adhir grows, the latter not only cooks for her but also agrees to fetch Ustad, the star's pet Beagle, from her apartment and feed the dog.
Adhir leaves a tell-tale trail behind on the way out. The world gets wind of the kidnapping. The TV channels flash the news. The Mumbai police, however, remains inexplicably unmoved, allowing the hostage time to cement her bonding with Adhir.
There we go again: Fanney Khan abounds in such leaps of logic. But all of it is in the pursuit of some harmless fun and emotional manipulation. The fun remains low-key; the vigorous pulling at the heartstrings, which gathers momentum in the lead-up to the climax, yields some returns by way of emotional impact.
The characters are developed in a rather slapdash manner, but the actors, taking a cue from the lead, throw everything into their roles. Newcomer Pihu Sand is terrific as Lata Sharma, Divya Dutta makes her presence felt, and Girish Kulkarni effortlessly gets into the swing of things.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Rajkummar Rao, actors coming from different ends of the Bollywood spectrum, make an odd pair. Even the characters that they etch out on the screen - one is an orphan, the other is a refugee from Kashmir - have nothing in common. The evolution of their romance strains credibility.
But in a film that glides in and out of the make-believe, it is no big deal if the love story, which anyways runs parallel to the main narrative track of the film, flirts with the unreal. Isn't that what cinematic plots hinging on the realization of impossible dreams are supposed to be? Fanney Khan is that - and more. Embrace it. It will do no harm.