The Fakir of Venice, which opened the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, offers a hint of how creative Indian filmmakers might widen their audience.
The Fakir Of Venice is a strange case—for no discernible reason, this film lay unreleased for a decade. It was supposed to be Farhan Akhtar’s debut as an actor, and it is certainly an odd choice for the industry insider. Over the years, Akhtar made a name for himself as a producer, director, actor, filmmaker, singer, but the film languished in the cans till now—it releases this week.
The cars and communication devices may have changed (the fax machine is almost obsolete) but otherwise, the plot, such as it is, could very well be set today. There is still a lot of ignorance about Indian spiritualism, there is always a sucker born every minute and a Bollywood production coordinator remains a jugaad expert.
When the film, directed by Anand Surapur, and supposedly based on a true story turned into a script by Rajesh Devraj, opens, Adi Contractor (Akhtar) smuggles a monkey to a film shoot in the Himalayas, under the noses of army security. He is proud of his ability to arrange for anything, which makes him something of an asset with film units. When he gets an assignment from an Italian artist, to find a fakir for an art installation, Adi jumps at the chance to venture into foreign territory and also put away some money for studying in the US.
His trip to Benaras proves futile, it is a Mumbai fixer—more connected than Adi himself—who finds an alcoholic painter Sattar (Annu Kapoor), who is capable of burying himself in the sand for several hours—which is what the Italian gallery wants.
Adi and Sattar land in Venice and are forced to share a room. Sattar gets grumpy often and constantly demands “daru” but his act fascinates foreigners, and Adi keeps up the chatter to make up for Sattar’s silence, to convince gullible white people that he is truly a great holy man.
Unfortunately, the film loses its potential for satire quite soon, and it because a series of episodes of Adi nagging and Sattar cribbing, so it’s neither funny nor moving. The actors are both convincing in their parts—and one wonders why Annu Kapoor did not make a bigger success of his film career. Maybe he came into the industry before the time when audiences came to accept actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanjay Mishra and Pankaj Tripathi in lead, or at least, significant parallel roles.
Still, after a screening at the Los Angeles film festival, got a thumbs up from The Hollywood Reporter. Kirk Honeycutt wrote, “In the wake of the overwhelming success of “Slumdog Millionaire,” the global movie market is ripe for Indian content — as it was following the considerable success of “Monsoon Wedding” — but a problem remains: Indian producers still do not think globally when they conceive projects. Indian films might go out day-for-date in India and around the world, but these are aimed almost exclusively at Indian moviegoers. This market sufficiently has rewarded producers that few are willing to challenge the formulas of rote characters and situations or slavish imitations of Hollywood fare bordering on theft of intellectual property.”The Fakir of Venice,” which opened the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, offers a hint of how creative Indian filmmakers might widen their audience. The film does not look or act like a typical Indian film, whether it be mainstream masala movies or regional art house films. And it’s not because the setting is mostly non-Indian; it’s because the characters, whether Indian or Italian, are fresh and original, and the challenges they face are universal.”
It’s this lack of “typical” Indianness, will, however, affect its fate in Indian multiplexes, not so much the delayed release. The film did not conquer the Western market either, so it might just have fallen between two boats. -