Zooni Ali Beg (Kajol) is a blind girl from Kashmir who has travelled with her friends for a trip to New Delhi. There, she meets up with tourguide Rehan Qadri (Aamir Khan), who charms her with his bewitching poetry. Zooni eventually falls for the handsome guide, but a distant Rehan initially hesitates in reciprocating, before eventually giving in to his heart and marrying the beautiful Kashmiri girl. Zooni then undergoes an operation to restore her sight, only to hear Rehan has apparently been killed in a bomb blast. Seven years later and Zooni is a single mother back living in Kashmir with her father (Rishi Kapoor). One day, she receives a knock at the door from a wounded soldier with a familiar voice, while news comes in from the police that they are hunting for a wanted terrorist masquerading as an army officer.
After spending three short hours watching the romantic drama-cum-action thriller-cum-extravagant musical that is the Bollywood masala epic Fanaa (‘Destroyed’), I was left pondering over a perplexing conundrum: If the role of quality cinema is to leave you realising that you’ve just seen a great film, then is a bad film that convinces you of the same really actually a good film as well? Surely not, since Fanaa boasts such a countless number of plot holes, illogical behaviour, implausible coincidences and hackneyed clichés that it rationally cannot be classed as anything but mindless absurdity. However, rationale was far from my mind after this viewing experience as my thoughts were instead fixated on the movie’s sheer ineffable wonder. Fanaa is an emotionally-manipulative rollercoaster ride of glorious visuals, catchy tunes and, most of all, electrifying performances from leading stars Aamir Khan and the returning Kajol, making her comeback to Hindi films after a five-year absence. It’s a wonderful reminder of a large reason I love commercial Indian cinema, where even the most hammy dialogues and nonsensical plots are rendered inconsequential by the utter conviction of the narrative and passion of the performers. When it comes to providing unbridled entertainment over original substance, Bollywood is in a league of its own.
Fanaa is something of a back-to-basics film for Hindi movies. After an extended spell of experimental and less-than-mainstream offerings (such as the songless black comedy Being Cyrus and the morally-questionable Rang De Basanti) that have been hit-and-miss at the Indian box office, director Kunal Kohli – of Hum Tum fame – has given a distinctly old-fashioned feel to this, his follow-up. Totally different in style to his previous directorial outing (which almost seemed like a regular, laid back Hollywood film at times), Kohli has gone for excess this time around and dug out some tried and tested formulas to garner a crowd-pleasing superhit - something I'm all for at the moment. In 2006's Bollywood, it paradoxically makes for a nice change. So, Bolly Cliché Check List™ at the ready? Here goes...
Overwritten ‘filmi’ dialogue? Check.
Lavish musical dream sequences? Check.
Superfluous supporting comedy characters? Check.
Dodgy blue screen SFX? Check.
Cute kid spouting contrived lines? Check.
A miraculous cure for blindness? Check.
The astounding ineffectiveness of bullets on the good guy? Check.
Action scenes ripped off from Hollywood blockbusters? Check.
The tired nature of the above may go over their heads of those new to Indian films, but even for those who aren’t, it shouldn’t make much of a difference. If you haven’t allowed the movie to wrap your emotions around its finger by the time any of its negatives could start bothering you, then this kind of Bollywood pot-boiler may not be the type of cinema for you. Switching your brain’s logic switch off is part of the deal.
You can’t spend 168 minutes having your mind melted by inanity for the whole duration, of course – that part only makes up a relatively small portion. For the majority of its running time, Fanaa is a genuinely delightful and engrossing picture with some truly wonderful cinematic moments. While some of the credit for this definitely goes to cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran and song composers Jatin-Lalit (making their swan song with this film), the movie unquestionably belongs to its two inimitable stars, Aamir Khan and Kajol. While the two have acted together before (in 1997’s mind-bogglingly dreadful comedy Ishq), this is the first occasion that sees them opposite each other and it’s hard to imagine them living up to the hype any more than they have. With two very different acting styles (Khan’s straight-laced to Kajol’s mugging), they both nonetheless share a captivating chemistry that is very different from Kajol’s hugely popular on-screen jodi (‘partnership’) with fellow hamming expert Shah Rukh Khan, but still almost equally as enjoyable to watch. And while Fanaa's script is well-written and its narrative is structured nicely for the most part, there are nevertheless occasions (particularly in the slow-moving second half) where viewer interest might be in danger of waning had there been actors cast of a lesser calibre. Thankfully however, the two leads carry the picture through both its ups and downs with aplomb, creating two very sympathetic and three dimensional characters in the process.
It is commendable that the Indian film industry is now producing more diverse movies than ever. Whether it’s a dark Shakespeare adaptation like Omkara, a cool comedy crime caper such as Bluffmaster! or a raunchy, romantic no-brainer like Neal ‘N’ Nikki, there’s something to be had for all, even if individually they may not please everyone. Once in a while though, it’s nice to know that Bollywood can still churn out a charming, old-fashioned crowd-pleaser full of all the ingredients, good and bad, that made them so popular and loved to begin with – and Fanaa certainly fits the bill. Being brainwashed never felt so good.
Distributor Yash Raj Films couldn't have picked a better time to up their game with regard to their DVD releases. After spending the past few years churning out one sub-par quality disc after another, with the release of Fanaa they have finally delivered the goods. This release offers a magnificent transfer with cracking sound as well as an extras-packed specials features disc. Fingers crossed that they keep this level of care up and finally drag Bollywood's DVD reputation out of the gutter.
The disc's NTSC video is progressively encoded (a rarity in Bollywood's interlaced-happy world) and provides an anamorphically-enhanced picture that is cropped slightly at 2.25:1 from the original 2.35:1. The transfer boasts absolutely glorious colour rendition that does total justice to Fanaa's varied and vibrant colour scheme. Sharpness and clarity are also first-rate thanks to an HD source while the image itself is rock-steady with only very minor speckles showing up from time to time on the print.
The only quibble to report is a slight tint of pale blue that covers white areas during some scenes that wasn't present in the TV promos or on the cinema print I originally viewed. Still, it is rarely distracting and manages to fit the tone of the shots in question, so it may be a purposeful colour correction by the director. Something else that may annoy some viewers is a small, translucent Yash Raj logo that appears at the bottom right-hand side of the screen for a few seconds at the beginning of each of the film's five songs as an anti-piracy measure.
Aside from the director's commentary (detailed below), there are two soundtracks on offer for the feature - one, a 5.1 Dolby Digital track and the other, 2.0 stereo. Both supply completely crystal clear, distortion-free audio with the 5.1 track making excellent use of channel separation throughout. This one is definitely an ideal choice to let your home theatre system let rip with.
The aforementioned director's commentary (in English) from Kunal Kohli is a decent listen, providing some interesting info on the making of the movie and its origins as well as poking fun at some of the film's implausibilities and clichés, but too often Kohli falls into the DVD commentary trap of simply explaining what's happening on screen. Indian cinema could certainly do with its own version of Bey Logan.
On the extras disc, aside from the expected trailers, promos, music videos and - blink and you'll miss them - deleted scenes, there are three unique features included. Firstly, a 20-minute piece with the director from an MTV special that sees Kohli introducing his favourite scenes from his previous two films, Hum Tum and the best-forgotten Mujhse Dosti Karoge. Nothing much profound to be heard in this segment, which is in a mixture of English and Hindi. Also featured is seven minutes worth of camcorder clips (entirely in Hindi) from a script reading by Aamir Khan and Kajol that makes for an amusing watch as Kajol giggles her way through her lines. Finally, there is a 30-minute sit-down conversation in English between Khan and Kajol discussing their experiences with Fanaa. It is by far the best feature on the disc that sees the two at obvious, but good-humoured unease with each other as they talk frankly about their differences both acting and personality-wise.
A wealth of subtitles are available for the main feature, but sadly none for the extras. The English subs are very well translated with a refreshingly clear effort having gone into the song lyrics and poetry in particular. No grammar errors or spelling mistakes could be spotted.
Although it's quantity over quality in the case of the special features, Yash Raj Films' release of Fanaa still gets the thumbs up from me thanks to its top-notch transfer and splendid sound. Hindi films rarely receive this kind of treatment on DVD and couple that with a hugely entertaining movie such as this and you've got one highly recommended Bollywood DVD.
8 out of 10
8 out of 10
9 out of 10
5 out of 10