This weekend’s big movies were the sixth “Mission Impossible” and the second film in two years about grown-up Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh’s boy. I wasn’t interested in either of them.
So I saw my first Bollywood production instead.
The film is mostly about a 50-year-old man whose youthful singing career never took off and who wants his much-loved daughter to succeed where he did not. He gave her the name of a legendary Indian diva of years past and taught her what he knows. The energetic dad, Prashant (Anil Kapoor), will do anything it takes to assure that his and his child’s dream comes true.
His daughter, Lata (Pihu Sand) has the singing and dancing chops, but her plus-size physique is mocked by audiences. This, and her somewhat inexplicable anger at her father, does not diminish Prashant’s enthusiasm.
Of course he faces barriers. He loses his job when his factory closes. His steadfast but practical wife, Kavita (Divya Dutta), points out that it will take 30 years of saving to finance and release an album of their daughter’s music.
But Prashant persists. He takes a new job driving a taxi, and when a famous singer named Baby Singh (glamor-puss Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) plops into his back seat he sees an opportunity, has an idea and runs with it.
Coincidences pile upon contrivances and more contrivances, and on and on it goes until the extremely unlikely feel-good ending.
Kapoor’s energy and enthusiasm carry the plot, and he is ably assisted by his loyal work friend, Adhir (Rajkummar Rao), and neighbors and colleagues, all of whom wish him well. The themes are family loyalty and the cooperation of friends, plus more than a soupcon of lecturing against the kind of abuse Hollywood actresses have had to endure over the years. It suggests that the Indian movie-going public is more traditional than the American one, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I chose the movie because its plot seemed clear, because I don’t speak Hindi, and because I believed, correctly, that the audience would be immigrants. But there were subtitles, and a good bit of the dialogue was in English. In India, it seems people move back and forth comfortably between local languages and English; interesting to know.
As expected, there were many musical numbers backed up by well-choreographed dance routines featuring professional hoofers and neighborhood children.
In short, I enjoyed the film, but its plot is way, way over the top.
For this we cannot blame Bollywood. The script is a rewrite of “Everybody’s Famous,” a 2000 Belgian film that was nominated for an Oscar in the foreign film category but found no audience in the US.
By contrast, “Fanney Khan” may do better. It opened Friday, in India and on 64 US screens — 11 in the California, nine in New Jersey. (The US had about 4 million Indian immigrants in 2015, and no doubt more have arrived since then.) In fact, two Indian films are among the 100 most well-attended in the US so far this year, and this without any apparent promotion to the non-immigrant population.
Same Old, Same Old Cinema
If I weren’t in Nashville, a city that has a good-sized Indian population and a multi-plex with too many screens, I wouldn’t have had a chance to find a film like “Fanney Khan.”
We could use more variety in the films available at American multiplexes. The current situation favors the usual genres — superhero, action, vulgar comedy and horror — with sequels and more sequels until once-novel ideas have played themselves out.
It gets dull, and if you don’t live near a good-sized city with an art house, that’s all there is to see.
In some ways, the situation resembles the bad old days of American cinema, when a few big studios controlled not just the making of films but also their distribution to studio-owned theaters. After several tries over decades, the vertically integrated system was busted up in 1948 as a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
Now we have a situation that feels effectively the same: Big studios release their big films onto many screens controlled by a few theater chains, and small studios/distributors release smaller films onto fewer screens, based on their estimations of audience interest in various locales.
But sometimes you don’t know what will interest you until something unexpected comes along. It takes remarkable luck and/or post-Sundance word-of-mouth for an unusual movie to make its way into broad distribution. (Yes, this may matter more to me because I am TV-phobic.) In a world with hundreds of film schools and languages and flavors of drama and humor and documentaries — more of the same feels rather limiting.