fanaa-2006-3bIs this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, and Amazon Prime? Fanaa is available for rent through Netflix Watch Instant and the iTunes Store, but not on Amazon Prime.

Starring: Aamir Khan & Kajol

Directed by: Kunal Kohli

Screenplay by: Kunal Kohli

For years I have put off watching a Bollywood film and not because I have no interest in seeing a Bollywood film, but rather that I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste the one chance I was willing to give to Bollywood by seeing something that was utter crap. I wanted to make sure I saw a film that well represents India’s explosive film market. Not necessarily the best Bollywood ever made, but something that was well regarded and popular by Indian movie audiences. That movie was Fanaa, which stars Indian mega-movie stars Aamir Khan and Kajol. Before I launch into my review, I should point out that I was already familiar with the various traits of a typical Bollywood movie. I was fully expecting to see elaborate musical numbers, a long running time (although I suppose Fanaa’s 2 hours and 48 minutes is relatively short for a Bollywood film), and a melodramatic narrative. I was especially looking forward to seeing Fanaa because of Aamir Khan’s immense popularity and I figured that with two very famous actors gracing the screen, I would also be in for some great performances. In short, I was expecting nothing less than an epic, spellbinding masterpiece.

Fanaa is about a blind girl, Zooni (Kajol) who is sent off to New Delhi to perform on Republic Day, which is India’s Fourth of July. Zooni arrives in New Delhi and she immediately attracts the attention of a tour guide, Rehan Khan (Aamir Khan). Rehan woos Kajol and finally convinces her to go out on a date with him. The two fall in love and just as Rehan and Zooni seem destined to be together forever, Rehan is tragically killed in a terrorist bombing. His death happens to also coincide on the same day that Zooni undergoes a successful eye operation to restore her vision. However, although Zooni believes Rehan dead, we find out Rehan is actually alive and well. Not only that, Rehan is a terrorist working to force India and Pakistan to leave Kashmir and he is responsible for the bombing that supposedly took his life.

Rehan now has a new mission, which is to steal a trigger for a nuclear bomb that will be detonated in New Delhi. He steals the trigger, but before he can deliver it to his terrorist comrades, he is wounded. He is forced to seek shelter in the first house he sees, which just happens to be Zooni’s and HIS SON’S! Will Zooni recognize her long-lost lover? Will she accept the fact that he is a dangerous terrorist?

Subtlety is obviously a lacking characteristic in Fanaa. During the film’s 2 hours and 48 minutes, a romance blossoms, a woman is cured of blindness, a terrorist bomb explodes, the lover turns out to be a dangerous terrorist who fights off Indian soldiers in the snow-filled mountains, the lovers reunite by pure chance and get married, and the woman must decide whether to kill her terrorist lover or save India (oh and we find out she had a child with her lover). I suspect that Indians prefer escapism in their movies and they like to get their money’s worth when they see a movie, which is why their films tend to be long and chock full of action, romance, comedy, and music.

I will just get right to it. I did not enjoy Fanaa and I can certainly tell you that my disappointment was not for lack of an effort to like it. But before I go into why I found this film to be so lackluster, I will start off with what I felt did work in the movie. For one, I am continually amazed by how sophisticated and polished certain foreign films have become in the last couple of decades. More accessible computer graphics software and increased skills and training in film production have allowed film markets such as South Korea, Hong Kong, and India to put out movies that almost rival those made in Hollywood in terms of quality and popularity. Watching Fanaa, I was astounded by the beautiful cinematography (especially in the later snow sequences), production, and costume designs.

As cheesy as they are, I was also surprisingly taken in by the film’s musical numbers. Spontaneous music sequences are synonymous with Bollywood movies and this distinction was recognized in Slumdog Millionaire’s end credits song and dance number. In fact, if there was one thing I was most looking forward to seeing in Fanaa, it was the music sequences and these did not disappoint. The songs’ lyrics are mostly clichéd, run-of-the-mill love poems, but you can (and actually should if you don’t speak Hindi and have to read the subtitles) skip all that and focus your attention to the beautifully choreographed dances, the melody and beat of the songs, and the no-expense-spared production design.

Now to the bad. If Aamir Khan and Kojol are among India’s finest actors, then Bollywood has a hell of a long way to go in terms of having quality actors. I understand that my criticisms may be made without an understanding of the norms in Bollywood filmmaking. However, I can only judge what I see and Aamir Khan and Kojol’s performances are as over-the-top melodramatic as anything you would see in a soap opera. With such performances, it was difficult for me to connect emotionally with Zooni and Rehan’s relationship. I do not buy into relationships where one character becomes smitten with love as soon as he/she lays eyes on the other. This does not happen in real life and the most that these characters can want from each other in these circumstances is just sex (which they do). Moreover, the film spends an hour showing Zooni and Aamir spending time together in New Delhi. To say that they are getting to know each other would be giving the characters too much credit because most of their dialogue consists of exchanges of poetry that seem to come out of a fortune cookie. The filmmakers clearly relied on their actors’ physical qualities to get the audience to buy into the insipid romantic relationship rather than develop complex characters and a plausible romantic subplot.

I also do not generally go for plots that rely on touch-and-go encounters, serendipity, and happenstance. Such plots tend to involve a continuous string of absurd coincidences that make me feel that the filmmakers were unable to come up with a believable way to resolve a plot issue so they resort to these coincidences. Fanaa has a lot of these, the most glaring one occurring when a wounded Rehan stumbles by chance to Zooni’s house 7 years after she last saw him. I would expect this sort of old-fashioned simplicity in storytelling in a film made 50 or more years ago. But in today’s more sophisticated world, there is no longer any room for what is now considered cliché and trite.

The film takes on a drastic turn in its second half. We suddenly go from a light, romantic story to a heavily dramatic, action-packed plot involving a G.I. Joe style mission and a patriotic theme. Despite how beautifully the snowy landscapes are shot, the action seems to be ineptly lifted out of every Hollywood action film and is presented in the most uninspired, boring fashion. Adding to this mess is the absurd subplot involving a nuclear trigger that must be found before all of New Delhi is annihilated. I actually did not have a problem with the basic idea of this subplot. However, like the rest of the film’s script, in the interest of packing as much story into the script as possible, this subplot is underdeveloped.

Fanaa only works if you are a huge fan of Aamir Khan and/or Kojol. Having never seen these actors before, I am obviously not a fan of them and aside from them, the film leaves nothing else for me to really enjoy except for its aesthetic look and the musical numbers. With a weak script, poorly developed characters, overwritten dialogue, and saccharine melodrama, Fanaa is nothing more than a bigger budgeted version of a soap opera that appeals to your basest senses.