Mumbai, 07 Feb 2019 17:00 IST
Anand Surapur's film captures the philosophy of a man seeking himself but fails to package it in a tight, engrossing script.
If The Fakir Of Venice were a short story, it might have been an interesting read. The film has the elements of a rare, quaint experience that makes for wonderful long-read essays, or a good Esquire magazine article.
Based on the experiences of producer Homi Adajania from 12 years ago, the film was supposed to be the launchpad for Farhan Akhtar the actor. A dozen years on, the film feels a little slow and dated. Despite a touching story, and some fine moments, it does not capture your attention cinematically.
The story is a recollection of Adi Contractor (Akhtar), a sly, go-getter production controller. Slick and always on the lookout for a quick buck, it is to him that tasks of finding an elephant, dancers, and 'Charlies' fall in grimy Mumbai.
Adi wants to get out of India to study cinema in New York. His ticket arrives in the form of Massimo (Mathieu Carriere), an artist in Venice, who wants a real 'fakir' from India. Not just any fakir but one who can stay buried in sand for hours, on display.
After trying and failing to find one in the holy cities, Adi ends up with Abdul Sattar (Annu Kapoor), a broke, lost painter on Mumbai's Juhu beach who has been performing the trick since childhood. The two travel to Venice, where they end up discovering truths about each other — some silly, some profound.
The film has a serene pace and is interspersed with bits of philosophy. The idea of a man seeking to exploit a life and another willing to undergo near-death in order to live better is intriguing.
The film also explores the diverse perceptions of spirituality and the truly spiritual. While Adi is looking for an ash-smeared, saffron-robed fakir, he finds Sattar, a working man who does not seek money, fame, or power. He does not even want to exploit his own talent.
The film, though philosophical, is let down by the meandering screenplay. At points, the dialogue needlessly ventures into philosophy, without establishing the drama of the scene. The language, switching between Hindi and English, also affects the viewing experience and the narrative. Though the film has a runtime of only 98 minutes, it feels much longer. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with the film.
However, Farhan Akhtar and Annu Kapoor deliver enjoyable performances. Akhtar, in his long-delayed debut, shows a naivety and arrogance that go well with his character. Kapoor plays his simpleton Sattar with quirkiness. While the actor is excellent in moments of introspection, he at times overdoes his eccentricity which affects believability. His chemistry with Akhtar does not make an impact either as both actors feel distant and cold at times.
While the story deals with two fascinating characters, their arcs are not convincing. The actions of Adi, which change towards the end, happen too suddenly and without explanation. The transformation is more apparent in Sattar, whose fear of death and proximity to it make for a fascinating combination. Some of the scenes feel contrived to add a more philosophical look to the storyline.
Visually, the scenes are framed well and offer some serene moments. Particularly the scene of Sattar on the beach, enjoying a conversation in a native tongue with a foreigner, is one that stays in memory. But beyond the odd scene, there is little in terms of visual beauty that stands out.
In all, The Fakir Of Venice feels like a film that is a philosophical lecture. It is heavy, and leaves you feeling exhausted.
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