There’s no good place to start with Fanney Khan, so one may as well begin by asking: What ails Amit Trivedi? There was a time, not so long ago, when he was in Rahman-esque form: Lootera, Queen and Bombay Velvet, three of his best soundtracks, were consecutive releases for him. Yet now he seems adrift. His last notable work was 2016’s Udta Punjab, his trademark anthemic sound has started to grate, and if there’s a worse song this year than his Chumme Mein Chavanprash, I’m yet to hear it.

Last year, Trivedi supplied the soundtrack to Secret Superstar, about a young girl who wants to become a singer but whose efforts are thwarted by her conservative father. His latest collaboration, Atul Manjrekar’s Fanney Khan, also centres on a girl in a middle-class family with dreams of pop stardom in her head. That’s where the similarity ends: Fanney Khan – flamboyant, simplistic, often inane – makes the sober-sided Secret Superstar (which had its own problems balancing sweet and sour notes) look like Bicycle Thieves.

Lata’s (Pihu Sand) problem isn’t an overbearing father – indeed, she probably wishes her dad wouldn’t be so Dangal all the time and dump his unfulfilled dreams on her. Still, her parents are unusually supportive, she sings beautifully, dances, but is repeatedly frustrated because she doesn’t fit the popular image of a svelte superstar. At one talent competition, she’s heckled about her weight; at another, a judge jokes that had her parents named her after PT Usha instead of Lata Mangeshkar, she might have taken up running instead.

Prashant (Anil Kapoor), Lata’s father, a former orchestra singer, loses his job when the factory he works at is shut down. He becomes a cab driver, all the while plotting Lata’s ascent in the music world – he hopes to produce her debut album himself, but that’ll cost upwards of 15 lakh rupees, which is way beyond their means. Then one day, the most popular singer in the country, Baby Singh (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), steps into his taxi. Does he tell her about Lata? Ask her to listen to a recording of the girl? No, he does what any devoted father would: slip his daughter’s favourite singer water spiked with sleep meds and drive off with her.

What might at one time have passed off as a comical kidnapping ends up a little queasy in the era of #MeToo – another woman drugged and held hostage by a stranger. An emotionally adept actor could have suggested these notes while staying true the comic demands of the script (Manjrekar and his co-writers Hussain Dalal and Abbas Dalal make a clumsy attempt, having Adhir (Rajkummar Rao), Prashant’s friend, tell Baby that they won’t rape her). But Baby doesn’t look particularly angry when she wakes up blindfolded and tied to a chair in an abandoned factory and learns that she’s being held for ransom. Rai is too unruffled a screen presence to convincingly sell the kind of silliness this film requires – for instance, the scene where she rubs herself on a panicked Adhir before sending him out to pick up her dog (this way he’ll smell her on him).

While Secret Superstar and Dangal built up to genuine catharsis, Fanney Khan doesn’t pack the same wallop, possibly because this film is more about Prashant than Lata. Sand has some good moments when she’s telling her father off, but we aren’t privy to Lata’s interior life. And we get a little too much of the singing, shouting, trumpet-playing Prashant, Kapoor selling every single moment so hard it’s wearying. Even Rao can’t rise above this material, though Girish Kulkarni, who plays Baby’s scheming manager, is as creepy as he needs to be.

This is Manjrekar’s first film, which might explain why he seems fascinated by the potentialities of the camera but not always in command of it. There are frequent lingering close-ups that are more uncomfortable than dramatic. In one scene, Manjrekar does the swirling camera movement so beloved of first-time directors and can’t seem to stop. Fanney Khan is a well-meaning feint at the issue of body-shaming and an exhortation to not give up on one’s dreams. Yet, it also shows the yawning chasm between intent and execution into which so many Hindi films fall.

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