I am relieved to report that Finding Fanny isn’t about the search for a pair of buttocks – not that much searching is needed in the case of Rosie (Dimple Kapadia), whose well-upholstered posterior would raise Rubens from the grave. Rosie is the local busybody in the Goan village of Pocolim, and she lives with Angie (Deepika Padukone), the widow of her son Gabo. Note that name. Márquez is certainly one of director Homi Adajania’s guiding spirits. Time stands still in Pocolim and a character lights a candle for every part of the body that aches. But it is the soul of Wes Anderson that hovers over the film – not so much in the visual design but in the tweeness of the characters and the off-the-charts “eccentricity” factor in the situations they are put through. In a coincidence that’s uncanny (and which wouldn’t be out of place in an Anderson movie), Adajania’s film shares with The Grand Budapest Hotel a scene where a cat meets its end when tossed out of a window. Even the felines in these films are eccentric: they have but one life.
Finding Fanny shares similarities with Adajania’s first film Being Cyrus. Both are about small, colourful communities (Parsis, Goans), who speak English with a smattering of a local tongue (Gujarati, Konkani). Both feature artists (a sculptor there, a painter here) and dream sequences, and both films gaze on Dimple Kapadia as a fleshy object of lust. (The protagonist of Cyrus noted her “swish of hips and bounce of breast.”) And both films are determined to prove how quirky they can be. From the first frame – indeed, from the disclaimer at the beginning – Finding Fanny labours to be different. Soon, we hear a man singing tunelessly, accompanied by yowling dogs – and the story gets going when this man, Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah), receives a letter he wrote to a lover, Fanny, many decades ago. Clearly, she never got it. Angie convinces him that he should go in search of this woman: Fanny must be found. And so, a motley crew – Ferdie, Angie and Rosie, along with Don Pedro (Pankaj Kapur) and Savio (Arjun Kapoor) – set out on this quest, in a car. No, wait. They set out in a vintage car. No, wait. They set out in a vintage car that’s foreign-made. No, wait. They set out in a vintage car that’s foreign-made and coated with rust.
This accrual of off-kilter detail, Adajania hopes, will distract us from the paper-thin characters and the dullish, predictable situations they find themselves in. But films need more than painstakingly sourced props. For a while, Angie does sound interesting. She makes a wish every day. She’s manipulative. She’s also very emotional – her eyes fill with tears while reading Ferdie’s letter, and later, in the car, she gets weepy just staring at the scenery flashing by. Or take Savio. He scoffs at Rosie when he learns that she lied in order to keep up appearances – but he’s ended up doing the same thing. His pride did not allow him to tell people the truth about his life outside Pocolim. And like Ferdie, he too let a loved one slip away when he couldn’t bring himself to talk to her about his feelings. But these shades never add up to a bigger picture. They’re just detail, like the rust on that car.
And the humour, mostly, falls flat. (The film I saw could be called Finding Funny.) There’s a scene in which the five find-outers stare at a house which may hold a clue to Fanny’s whereabouts. The camera is positioned behind them, so it can catch Savio scratching his… fanny. It’s all very droll in conception, but Adajania doesn’t yet have Anderson’s directorial control – these gags need to be filmed with precision, otherwise the bits come off looking stilted. And lazy. One joke depends on Savio conveniently carrying a strip of sleeping tablets. Another focuses on Don Pedro’s face as a biscuit he’s dipping into tea splits in half and melts away – his uncomprehending expression suggests that he’s never ever encountered a soggy biscuit during teatime. Don Pedro’s character, in fact, is the weakest. He supplies the car, but that’s about it. You could take him out of the film and no one would miss a thing. No, wait. He is taken out of the film and no one misses a thing.
Slowly, we realize that Fanny is less a character than a metaphor, and that the trip is really an excuse to shake these people out of the inertia they’ve settled into. Maybe I should have taken the trip, given the inertia that settled over me after a while. None of the actors really convinced me that this was a journey worth taking. The senior performers are fine, if a tad too pleased with their craft, but younger actors like Arjun Kapoor and Anand Tiwari are underwhelming – there’s not a note of newness in anything they do. As for Deepika Padukone, she’s become a relaxed presence on screen – but she’s also become so luminous that she blots out everything around her. She may have gotten to the point, like Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960s, where she cannot play ordinary people anymore. The fact that we’re supposed to accept her as a lonely, sexless widow may be the film’s best joke.
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