Mayank Shekhar: May the farce be with you

Jul 04, 2017, 06:09 IST | Mayank Shekhar

Farhan Akhtar's unreleased 2008 acting debut, Fakir of Venice, looks at two things that we're sceptical about - art and god-men

A yogi’s hands, folded into a namaskar, is all you can see. The rest of his body is buried in sand, through which he somehow breathes
A yogi's hands, folded into a namaskar, is all you can see. The rest of his body is buried in sand, through which he somehow breathes

Think about it. Of the many things a lot of us feel sceptical about, abstract art and spiritual god-men might just top the list. For one, both work on us at a visceral level - art is hard to define; holy god-men attempt to define our lives wholly. In either case, they do something to you. Or they don't. There's no other way to see it.

I brisk-walked blindly around Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York once as a cynical college kid, with the express purpose of stopping only at exhibits that would hold my eye - rather than concerning myself with locating the masters. The sub-conscious experiment was a success. As it turns out, each time I stopped to gaze for longer at a particular painting, its creator turned out to be a fairly celebrated name. Not that democracy must define artistic excellence. Still, for some reason, I kept halting at Joan Miro - maybe it was just that kinda morning.

I've also spent a fair amount of time in the company of a family spiritual god-man. The general bonhomie and genteelness in the room as a result of his presence, the love of his followers rubbing off on each other, actually made me feel good. This is just for the disclaimer or diagnosis that I'm pretty much an agnostic on art and God, or even vibes of god-men - the two subjects that Anand Sorapur's unreleased 2008 film, Fakir Of Venice, merges so beautifully to tell an entertaining story of the willful fart behind art. The film opened the nationwide Jagran Film Festival this week, and is expected to finally release in theatres sometime later this year.

Exhibit A in Fakir Of Venice, by the way, is a yogi whose hands, folded into a namaskar, is all you can see. The rest of his body is deeply buried in sand, through which he somehow breathes with his face wrapped in a red shroud. The human being is himself an installation art, signifying what, exactly? Well, he has a cunning manager cum assistant who stands besides the installation making up random meanings for visitors, as they go along, at the art gallery in Venice.

Actor Annu Kapoor brilliantly plays the fakir of Venice. Beard and a saffron robe automatically give him the aura of a god-man who the world immediately takes seriously. Maybe even he begins to, at some point. But he's essentially a poor Maharashtrian alcoholic from Juhu Beach (his spot-on accent reminded me of Makarand Deshpande: Mac Sir!), who's mastered this breathing game since he was a li'l child. Venetians are in awe of this bum. There is much money to be made. You know the whole scene is built on fraud. There are references to Osho (the global hero) and Mahirishi Yogi (the Beatles' guru, who disenchanted them eventually).

Perhaps the same terms of trade apply to inexplicable art as well. Maybe some of this peer pressure is true. I mean, come on, it was just a few days ago that the crowds at Glastonbury festival uniformly erupted to applaud a three-minute, latest track of Radiohead, while the band was merely tuning their guitar! One fan described it (the guitar-tuning mistaken for a track) as "minimalist, but also complex, emotionally raw." There are several such instances in art, the most popular being Marcel Duchamp's unsigned installation Fountain, which was basically a urinal turned upside down, that people later recognised as path-breaking avant-garde.

The fakir has a fine, opportunist salesman - totally unemotional, unscrupulous, lacking in empathy, he's fixated with fooling goras for a few bucks that can land him in film school. Why is this character Adi Contractor significant? Firstly it's played by Farhan Akhtar. Farhan made his acting debut with this film. He wings it as the typical young, upper-class, South Bombay fixer, who works as a movie production controller and hence knows a thing or two about jugaad. I'd asked Farhan a few years ago about this film - set in Venice and Varanasi, the two places people must go to before they die. Is this a movie you must watch before you die?

Back then Farhan said Fakir was a very freshly experimental film for its time. Maybe it's dated now. Or enough such experiments in Indian cinema have been attempted since. Craft-wise, he's probably correct. With technology, we tend to hit ancient history far too soon. You have to view the 87-minute-long Fakir as a 2008 film, not just for when it's set - the hero drives a Tata Sierra, he communicates over fax - but when it was shot.

But the story is compelling, chiefly because it's frickin' true! No, seriously. I'm told AR Rahman, who's supposed to redo the movie's background score, had actually seen the real-life Fakir, buried in sand, in Venice. Anand, the film's producer-director, had paid rights to the real-life fixer, Adi Contractor, who had pulled off this stunt in Italy. That's Homi Adajania - who we better know now as the director of Bollywood movies like Being Cyrus, Cocktail and, more recently, the fabulous Naseeruddin Shah, Arjun Kapoor, Deepika Padukone-starrer Finding Fanny. Knowing this, you simply can't help but go, "Holy fakir!"

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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