Fanney Khan: Anil Kapoor’s On-Screen Ageing Deserves a Fan Club

Bollywood

Fanney Khan: Anil Kapoor’s On-Screen Ageing Deserves a Fan Club

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

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tul Manjrekar’s Fanney Khan, an adaptation of the Oscar-nominated Belgian comedy, Everybody’s Famous!, inexplicably veers into a peculiar Secret Superstar meets Dangal territory. But neither does the film boast of an abusive, patriarchal father whose weekly hobby is breaking guitar strings nor is it splattered with any passive-aggressive wrestling.

Instead, Fanney Khan is a straightforward story about Prashant (Anil Kapoor), a factory worker and failed orchestra singer, whose singing ambitions are thwarted by the unfairness of life. Like Mahavir Phogat, Prashant is doubly determined to correct his failure through his daughter, who he names Lata with a touching hope. So he goes to desperate lengths, which include drugging and kidnapping a celebrity Baby Singh (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan doing another Sunehri) for a record deal, to ensure his daughter gets a shot at stardom. It’s a classic Indian parent trope that has been milked far too many times. Just like its predecessors, even Fanney Khan refuses to acknowledge the problem with parents dumping their unfulfilled expectations on their offsprings.

Except, Everybody’s Famous! derived its ingenuity from its satire. The common man- underdog story was merely a supporting narrative. What took precedence was its biting social commentary on celebrity culture, and how the desperate hunger for stardom never translates into a happily-ever-after. In it, the search for fame erodes both the father and the daughter. But in Fanney Khan, fame is the fairy-tale device that unites the duo.

Unfortunately, Manjrekar, substitutes the satire with unflinching melodrama and a predictably awful underdog tale. It’s unbelievably cliche-ridden: Lata hates her loving father, but the film doesn’t deem it fit to provide an explanation for her feelings, making her incredibly unlikeable. Baby Singh’s manager is conveniently creepy. There’s a needless love-track between Baby Singh and Aadhir (Rajkummar Rao), the soft-spoken friend who helps Prashant kidnap her. Innumerable fat-shaming jokes are disguised as lessons in body positivity and the film peddles the problematic message of breaking the law to make dreams come true. Its lack of self-awareness is truly astounding.

Why is Fanney Khan, then, not an absolute train-wreck? Two words: Anil Kapoor, and his touching performance as the delusionally optimistic Fanney Khan.

Kapoor single-handedly infuses the film’s implausible plot with affecting moments, whether it is while being confounded by his daughter’s hostility and innocently asking “Maine aisa kya bol diya?” when she gets angry with him for the umpteenth time. Or while pretending to keep his cool when his daughter gets an audition call even as he wipes away tears that dot his entire face – the actor expresses his sacrifices, joy, and pride with a single expression.

Why is Fanney Khan, then, not an absolute train-wreck? Two words: Anil Kapoor, and his touching performance as the delusionally optimistic Fanney Khan.

The 61-year-old sings, dances, and emotes with the electrifying energy, charm, and sincerity of a newcomer who’s hell-bent on creating an impression. As the concerned father, the helpless kidnapper, and a passionate singer, Kapoor makes its almost impossible to not be emotionally invested in his plight, despite the plot descending into a nonsensical mess. At a time when 50-year-old A-listers insist on playing lead roles, running around trees, and romancing younger actresses, Kapoor brings a quiet dignity to his role as a father that makes his entire journey instantly believable.

This isn’t the first time Kapoor has played an age-appropriate role with ample shades of grey in his hair. In Race 3, he was father to 52-year-old Salman Khan, one of his contemporaries, besides managing to gift the year’s worst film, an engrossing negative performance. And in Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do, Kapoor’s Kamal Mehra, the self-centred businessman who never learnt how to be a parent or a husband, had him play second fiddle and father to Ranveer Singh and Priyanka Chopra.

It was also his finest performance in recent times, and yet, Kapoor, remains one of those A-listers, without a real, heaving fandom. I’ve seen fan clubs dedicated to Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone, the late Vinod Khanna’s utter gorgeousness, and even Jackie Shroff’s street charm. All Kapoor gets is that recycled “Baal Divas” WhatsApp forward, every Children’s Day. I’ve never heard anyone say that they adore Anil Kapoor – just the way I’ve never heard say that they dislike him.

Of course, we now occupy a slightly altered Bollywood, where it is possible for Kapoor to play his own age and have the leeway to experiment with his roles. He conjures up emotions that only someone withered by age can. If anything, in an industry obsessed with youth and screen-time, Kapoor is testament to how standout performances have rarely anything to do with either of them. By putting his weight behind flawed supporting roles, Kapoor is, in a way, also challenging Bollywood to write radical and watchable older characters.

In next year’s Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Kapoor comes full circle and plays father to his own daughter Sonam Kapoor. It might seem like a crowd-pleasing pairing, but it is natural progression for Kapoor, who revealed his thought process and self-awareness in a recent interview. “These are the things which I’ve learnt… like my age – the kind of roles I do. I’m not delusional. I just cannot do what I did 30 years back. Physically, I can’t do it. So I have to do what suits me and do my best.”  

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