Dir. Homi Adajania
Finding Fanny is a self-consciously quirky story about weird, broken people. At times it tries a little too hard, but for the most part, its peculiar humor works. It is not as sinister as Homi Adajania's earlier Being Cyrus, but it's of the same genus, poking at the soft spots of peculiar people in an insulated, inward-turned community. Instead of a Parsi family, Finding Fanny points its magnifying glass at the denizens of a forgotten Goan backwater. "Don't try to find Pocolim on a map," says the film's narrator, Angie (Deepika Padukone), of the town, conveying at once the remote, insular nature of life there, and the somewhat fantastical nature of the film's narrative.
The film's web of relationships portrays some that are disturbing, and some that are touching, even if they do not always make sense. The tenderness with which Angie looks after Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah) is especially sweet. Ferdie has the air of a wounded animal about him, a nervous stray, responding with a frightened flinch to Angie's attention. This is such a delightful performance from Naseeruddin Shah; woolly-haired and woolly-brained, Ferdie slumps and stammers and weeps with charmingly comical sincerity. It is Shah doing the great work that we know he can do, rather than the familiar charismatic rogue character he's played so often of late, which begins to feel phoned-in, even if it is entertaining. Ferdie is sad, a broken-down loser, and yet utterly lovable.
Angie refers to Ferdie in her opening narration as her "best friend". This is the first sign that there is something a little strange about Angie. Angie is the narrator of this story, and perhaps that is why Finding Fanny is explicit in exposing the weirdness of all its other principal characters, while leaving Angie's to be read from between the lines. Why is Angie's best friend a confused, hapless old man? Why is a smart, vivacious young woman seemingly content to live in a tiny, lost village with her dour, officious mother-in-law Rosie (Dimple Kapadia)? Angie tells us about the socially maladjusted Savio (Arjun Kapoor), tells us that something broke in him when she decided to marry their childhood best friend, Gabo (Ranveer Singh in what the whimsical credits call an "all too brief special appearance"). But Angie omits to tell us that something broke in her, too, when Gabo died during their wedding celebration, and left her frozen in time and space.
Less sweet than Angie's relationships is that between Rosie (that's Mrs. Eucaristica, to you) and Don Pedro (Pankaj Kapur), a pervy artist who can't take his eyes off Rosie's copious derriere and longs to capture her on canvas. Pankaj Kapur chews up the scenery as much as anyone ever has, but his character is just too weird and the mouthfuls of dialogue he has to deliver are sometimes more than even his talent can manage. And the fate that Finding Fanny doles out to Don Pedro is more mean than funny - it's where the film's black humor waxes a little ham-handed. The film is cruel to a feline character as well, but acknowledges and in its own way apologizes for that excess with a cute nod to it in the finale, in which another cat narrowly avoids a similar end, to smiles and cheers of gathered villagers.
Going into Finding Fanny, I had no doubts that Deepika Padukone would be able to hold her own amongst seasoned veterans like Kapadia, Kapur, and Shah; though most of her work has been mainstream and commercial, Padukone has shown herself a more than competent talent and I continue to believe she will only get more interesting as she gets older. I had less confidence in Arjun Kapoor, who seemed the odd man out amongst these performers. But he delivers Savio with a satisfyingly dense physicality. He still doesn't have to do much beyond pout and scowl, but it is a substantive pouting and scowling, and there is an agency behind the stupidity of Savio's demeanor; it's not merely the vapid look of an actor who doesn't know how to look any other way.
By film's end all the characters (well, except Don Pedro) have emerged somewhat from the shells of obsessive self-absorption in which they began and have figured out how to let other people into their mental universes. Angie and Savio learn how to talk to each other, overcoming what seems to have been a lifetime of mutual sulking. The feckless Ferdie has found his voice, and seems ready to face the world a little, without the abject terror that kept him fetally curled up within himself for years. Even Rosie Eucaristica seems prepared to allow herself a little happiness. And so the occasional warts are forgivable in a movie that is otherwise enjoyable, delivers some real funny moments, and is anyway rather brief.