Saturday, June 03, 2006

Kajol is Back in Fanaa

I caught Fanaa, opening night, and it was a full house.

How does one write a movie review without giving away the plot?

In Fanaa, Kajol plays Zooni, a young blind girl on her first venture away from her home in Kashmir. In the story, Zooni’s blindness illustrates that sometimes we see things with our hearts but we are blind to dangers and deceit, and with sight sometimes we do not see the real person in front of us.

Zooni travels with a troupe of dancers to Delhi to perform in part of the Independence Day celebrations. Included in the trip are several days of tours of the historic sites in Delhi. The group has arranged for a bus and a guide. The guide is a charming rouge, Rehan, played by Aamir Khan. Khan plays Rehan with both charm and cruelty. He admits openly he only wants to satisfy his own desires and that he does not believe in love as he flirts with the girls. But he falls in love with Zooni and she falls in love with him. Rehan is every young girl’s parents’ nightmare.

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A Bollywood movie doesn’t cut to the chase as quickly as a Hollywood film. Various aspects of the characters and sub-plots are given time to develop before the central conflict is unfolded.

The cinematography is stunning. It is as if the cameraman is in love with India. Delhi is shown in a rainbow of colors, shining and majestic. Yet, Rehan shows Zooni the dark side of Delhi’s history, too. Kashmir is pictured like a winter wonderland with endless vistas of beautiful snow capped mountains. The camera captured the silence and wonder of snow.

Director Kunal Kohli blends many of the musical interludes with the story almost seamlessly. There is one musical number choreographed with a large number of dancers, the rest of the musical interludes lets the music simply touch the characters as the story moves forward which I think represents Indians’ love of music and poetry as part of their daily lives. Later in the movie, the fantasy love scenes are shot in wonderful blue and white settings and each love scene is done tastefully.

Interwoven into this love story is the continuing story of terrorism. This time it is the battle over Kashmir. Zooni loses Rehan to terrorism before she returns home to Kashmir.

At the interlude, the story changes from a love story to suspense. India’s counter-terrorism organization is tracking a terrorist group that has had success over the years in bombing various important cultural and political sites. Tabu is dead-on as the organization’s agent who works to build a psychological profile of the group’s mastermind even as agents within the organization seek to thwart her efforts. The organization seeks to capture this mastermind before the terrorist group’s final plan is carried out. The plan threatens to kill millions of Indians. The premise the terrorist group uses in its defense is if we are sufficiently armed and are perceived as a threat of massive proportion then we can affect the balance of power and achieve our goal – independence for Kashmir. Isn’t that the premise behind every nation that has nuclear weapons?

At the heart of many Bollywood movies are human relationships and the importance of family.

Zooni is a meaty role for Kajol and she carries it off beautifully. As a young blind girl, Zooni is gentle, loving and hopeful. Later in the film, Zooni is a single mother. She is older, wiser, and she is fiercely protective of her family. Aamir Khan’s character, Rehan, is a man torn between loyalties and desires. At first, he is seen as a self-centered charmer who preys on young women. He has cut himself off from his emotions. Then he falls in love with Zooni and he battles his emotions in a struggle over his loyalties. Is he loyal to his love for Zooni, or is he loyal to his former life? Khan’s character believes that loyalty to a belief carries more weight than loyalty to love, even familial love.

I know little about Aamir Khan’s earlier movies, but in his recent movies such as Laagan, Mangal Pandey, Rang de Basanti, and now Fanaa, it seems that Khan is selecting stories that portray a gritty realism. In these films, Khan is carving out a particular type of role for himself. He does not want to be the lover; he wants to be a man of action. Yet, when he must play the lover, he does so reluctantly. He struggles with the emotion of love, literally fighting himself to keep from falling in love. When he is a man of action, he wants to be rational, unaffected by emotion, and loyal to his vision. But loyalty can also be a strong emotion. Khan wants to play to a male audience who feels it is manlier to be pragmatic than to a female audience who feels love is central to life. Yet, when his character, Rehan, feels he must choose love or loyalty, the war between his competing desires plays across his face. (image source:

Whereas, as a woman, Kajol’s character’s struggle is not choosing between two strong desires. For her, love is part of life, just as is loyalty. She thought love could heal, love could change a person, love could make a prince out of a beggar. Her struggle is in loving a flawed human being and learning that love can be shattered by deceit. In a way, Zooni’s character is torn because she is forced to make a choice she never imagined she would have to make.

Pleasures: It is great to have Kajol back on the big screen. Plus, the costumes were fresh and vibrant. The shots of Delhi and the snowy mountain scenes were beautiful.

Regrets: The ending was too similar to the "Key to Rebecca" by Ken Follett.

FYI: Fanaa -- is an Urdu word which means annihilation. In Sufi tradition, it also means destroyed in love. (source:

Director: Kunal Kohli
Producers: Yash and Aditya Chopra
Executive producer: Sanjay Shivalkar
Music: Jatin Pandit, Lalit Pandit
Cinematography: Ravi K. Chandran
Choreographer: Saroj Khan
Runtime: 168 minutes