Once upon a time in India, in a little Goan village called Pocolim, there lived an old man bent over and choked up over the loss of his one true love, Stephanie Fernandes. Freddie had once poured out his heart to Fanny, as he called her, in a letter but he never got a reply. Then one day, 46 years later, an envelope as brown as the colour of cold tea lay under his door. It was the same billet doux, but it had never reached Fanny. With the help of his neighbour, Angie, Freddie decided to find out what had become of Fanny.
Angie, bless her kind soul, knock-out looks, and casual-chic clothing, brought along travelling companions. One of them was her mother-in-law Rosie, the village busybody with a size 20 bottom and a delightful collection of floral frilly dresses and shoes in permanent danger of losing their stilettos. They needed a car, so local artist Don Pedro, who went into raptures at the mere sight of Rosie’s derriere, loaned his vintage vehicle. The vehicle needed a driver, so Savio, the brooding childhood friend whom Angie might have married if she hadn’t nodded her head in the direction of Rosie’s son (who choked on the cake on his wedding day, poor thing), came along for the ride.
Also in the car was Rosie’s cat, Nareus. Why? Just, but also because the feline provides the first of many indications that life is incredibly sweet, often silly, and endlessly entertaining, but also sometimes bitter.
Not that there are too many dark linings in Homi Adajania’s sunny and incredibly funny yarn. Equal parts screwball comedy and road movie, Finding Fanny is Adajania’s third feature and his second collaboration with Kersi Khambatta. His estimable debut, Being Cyrus, written along with Khambatta, was set in his own Parsi community. The despair of its maladjusted characters balanced neatly with their laugh-inducing eccentricities. Each Hominoid had an ingrown toe nail, and it showed.
Don Pedro is the only one vaguely approaching unsavouriness, but he has one of the movie’s best lines, when he describes Freddie as the “Casanova of the Konkan”.
The real bright star, who eclipses the rest of the cast, including a surprisingly charming Arjun Kapoor, is Dimple Kapadia’s Rosie. Kapadia started her career playing stereotyped Catholic girl Bobby Braganza, and went on to appear in roles that demanded nothing more of her than a toss of her magnificent mane and a flash of her almond eyes. Adajania recognised that beneath Kapadia’s distracting appearance lay a volcano of anxieties and tics. She was shrill and crotchety in Being Cyrus, and in Finding Fanny, she is desperate, fragile, funny, wise, and the most rounded person in a movie whose characters freeze halfway into creation.
Savio is the other interesting lost soul in a journey to possibly nowhere. Arjun Kapoor has tended to spit out his lines in his Hindi movies, but he is far more at ease with the colonial tongue. Savio is a good-natured hunk who is fool enough to be put in his place in a hilarious post-coital conversation that shows the easy-going Angie’s tough side.
Angie, Pocolim’s resident angel, symbolises the film’s preference for fun over wisdom. The idea of Pocolim as a beauty spot that can also be a scar doesn’t figure in the conversation. If there is any sadness at being stuck in a nowhere—and admittedly gorgeous—place, it is tucked away as safely as Angie’s virtue. Every time a moment suggests that the Funny Five will take a troublesome detour, the movie pulls back hurriedly to the middle, as if afraid of what might be revealed. Kapadia has a great scene of hope turning to cruelty with Kapur’s Picasso-esque painter that ends just when it starts to get interesting. So it is with the rest of this movie, which is superb at verbalising the nuttiness of its characters through offhand remarks, non sequiturs, and pointless debates but not as committed to teasing out their underlying motivations and troubles.
It’s a they-are-crazy-but-not-dangerous giggle-fest, with as many repeat-worthy jokes in Goan English as there are cashew trees in the state. (The movie is also out in a Hindi dubbed version, the very idea of which is hard to digest.) Since this is also India’s European corner, the sun-blessed land of laidback, where time can stretch onto eternity or to the 105-minute duration of this movie, Finding Fanny never dares to disappoint. Pocolim, evocatively described as a “a puppet show as large as a village”, is caught in the kind of picturesque and photogenic time warp that makes location scouts and real estate agent salivate. It has been shot with appropriate prettiness at its lush best by Anil Mehta and beautifully designed by Manisha Khandelwal, so it’s all good.
Finding Fanny releases in theatres on Friday