Destiny be damned
Dhanush plays with a winsome sincerity. His films include Vetri Maaran's Aadukalam and Vada Chennai, as well as Raanjhanaa and Shamitabh
The Extraordinary Journey of The Fakir is a heartwarming international film in English, starring Tamil star Dhanush and Bérénice Bejo, that opened on Friday. Bejo, of course, is the Argentine-French Oscar-nominated actress from The Artist. The film is remarkable for many reasons (the Tamil dubbed version is Pakkiri). First, it is thrilling to see Dhanush effortlessly crack the Bollywood ceiling in a true-blue international co-production: it is a French-Belgian-Indian co-production, in English, directed by Canadian director Ken Scott. Dhanush holds his own in an international cast. Scott takes a Bollywood approach, pulling off a tightrope act, balancing romance, comedy, action, adventure and magic realism, with a touching message about hope amid illegal refugees, including people of colour, topped off with naach-gaana and a happy ending. It's a gora doing Bollywood, and he succeeds marvellously. And, it is timely, as nations worldwide, including the US, Europe and India, grapple with the issue of refugees.
The film is based on Romain Puértolas's novel The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe. Puértolas, a former French border guard investigating illegal immigration in Paris, who wrote the novel on his mobile phone between shifts, brings the film real heft. It is a film about hope, and destiny be damned, with many laugh-out loud moments. Ajatashatru Lavash Patel (Aja, Dhanush) is a Mumbai street magician who dreams of going to Paris to find his French magician dad. His adventures take him through the UK, Spain, Libya, Italy, during which he helps many fulfil their dreams — including reconnecting a French actress to her lost love, and helping African refugees start a new life. Despite calling for some leaps of faith, the action is so quick-paced, and with a good heart, with winning performances, and Amit Trivedi's infectious score, that you cheerfully go with the flow. Indians are appallingly racist, especially towards people of colour. So, even though the African refugees' stories are not as horrific as the news, when Dhanush helps them make their dream come true, he crucially acknowledges their humanity.
As a Western film that does Bollywood, it is a landmark film that speaks to us in our own cinematic language, juggling an unlikely cocktail of film elements, Bolly-style. There have been diverse precedents, from Fritz Lang's The Tiger of Eschnapur to Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge. While top Indian talents in international cinema, usually include Bollywood stars such as Irrfan Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Aishwarya Rai, it is very nice to see southern talent Dhanush shine internationally.
Dhanush plays with a winsome sincerity. His films include Vetri Maaran's Aadukalam and Vada Chennai, as well as Raanjhanaa and Shamitabh. Bejo is gorgeous, but Erin Moriarty is strictly okay as his girlfriend Marie. Ken Scott takes big risks with very unlikely elements — refugee stories with rom-com, yet he directs with confidence. Romain Puértolas and Luc Bossi's screenplay (with Ken Scott) demands some leaps of faith, with Aja and Mumbai slum kids speaking fluent English, magic realism, and the framing of the story as Aja's flashback told to slum kids, yet works overall. Vincent Mathias's cinematography is engaging, but the editing by Philippe Bourgueil while choppy, nonetheless weaves together multiple strands with different tonalities, and holds the verve. Enjoy.
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
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