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Choices - to choose between right or wrong is simple, but what defines one's life is the decision between the greater of two goods or the lesser of two evils. This is the advice that Zooni Ali Beg (Kajol) receives from her father just as she is about to venture out into the world of her own for the very first time. Little does she know that these very words will shape her life. Zooni, a blind Kashmiri girl, meets Rehan Qadri (Aamir Khan), a local Delhi tour guide and an incorrigible flirt. Her friends warn her against this good-for-nothing roadside Romeo, but she chooses to ignore them. It is now her time to discover life and love. Is this really the right choice? Rehan is fascinated by Zooni and wants her to see life as it should be seen, in its many colours. He promises her that the time spent with him will be the most precious in all her life. Zooni sees Delhi, life and love like she never has before, because of Rehan. What Zooni doesn't know is that Rehan has another side of his ... Written by
"Fanaa" is not a word in common parlance. In Persian, Urdu, and chaste Hindi, it means "annihilated", "destroyed", or in the context of the latest offering from Yash-Raj Films, it signifies "devastated, ravaged, or consumed by love". Any film bearing such an intriguing, if somewhat grandiose, title would have the onus of living up to enormous expectations. In addition, this is Kajol's first film after a self-imposed hiatus, while Aamir Khan, paired with her here for the first time, is also seen infrequently on screen due to his reputed fastidiousness in choosing movie projects.
I say good for them, for this is a superb collaboration between the actors. Aided by strong writing, a different story, able direction, and slick production values, they make it an entirely worthwhile proposition.
The storyas much as I can divulge in a reviewstarts off in fairly formulaic boy-meets-girl fashion: Zooni Ali Beg (Kajol), a beautiful blind Kashmiri young woman, comes to the big city (New Delhi, in this case) for the very first time, after having lived a sheltered, happy life in a pristine little town in Kashmir. Right off the bat, she meets a tour guide with the gift of the gab and a roving eye named Rehan Quadri (Aamir Khan), and against the better judgment of her friends, takes up with him.
Aamir looks a bit long in the tooth to be playing Romeo, but does so gamely, and successfully gets the smitten Zooni to agree to a no-strings romance. This is where I realized that the times, they are a-changing: sweet, blind (in more ways than one), sheltered Zooni is so consumed by love that she permits Rehan to bed her before he weds her, a phenomenon that is exceedingly rare (or used to be) in Hindi films. Her parents agree to the match, and the footloose Rehan readies himself for marriage to just one woman.
Then hell breaks loose. Rehan is killed in a terrorist bomb blast, or so we are led to think, while the Indian authorities launch a search for the criminal mastermind that planned this and several similar attacks. Years later, a Major Ranjeev, bearing a disturbing resemblance to the dead Rehan, shows up. So what are we to think?
From this point on, the film takes off into novel terrain, becoming an extremely satisfying viewing experience. Differing perspectives of nationalism and terrorism are exploredone man's terrorist act may also be looked at as a fight for an independent homelandas well as conventional familial and romantic relationships. Notions of love, loyalty, betrayal, patriotism, and morality get turned on their head, making for a pretty complex film. Is this overly ambitious for a commercial Hindi blockbuster? Perhaps, but the intellectual sophistication of the film-making team more or less pulls it off. There are some plot holes, but they can be overlooked in the interests of the big picture.
Kajol grows in stature as an actor with every film, and her Zooni goes from naive and school-girlish to anguished widow and conflicted wifea challenging character arc, by any measureyet, she makes it truthful and believable with her wonderful transparency. Also wonderful is that neither motherhood, nor her absence from the screen for five years, have dimmed her youthful looks or charm. If anything, she is more svelte, and her face shines with increased character. Kajol has been blessed with sublimely expressive eyes, and now that she has acquired more life experience, they register even greater pain. One almost feels like looking away at times, to allow her privacy in her grief. I welcome her return to the screen, and if she displays similar care in choosing her next project, it will be worth the wait.
Aamir Khan picks his projects with a mix of sensitivity and savvy, and presents the film-going public with a different persona each time. He contrasted his feisty village yokel role in "Lagaan" nicely with the glib, self-absorbed urban youth undone by love in "Dil Chahta Hai", so that in the same year, folks got to see two completely different Aamirs. I haven't seen his "The Rising: The Song of Mangal Pandey" or "Rang De Basanti" as yet, but I am confident that he burrowed deep into the souls of the characters of those films, too. Here he inhabits the skin and soul of Rehan Quadri/Major Ranjeev with total conviction and allows you into the thought processes of these men. He does look too old to do the romantic shtick demanded of the Rehan character, but comes into his own while playing the older Major Ranjeev, a profoundly troubled man dealing with adult ethical, ideological, and moral conundrums. To comment any more on his performance would be a disservice to the plot twists of the film, so I shall stop right here.
The director, Kunal Kohli, handled the fun and light-hearted "Hum Tum" with aplomb, and here he tackles subjects far weightier than those of the Rani Mukherjee-Saif Ali Khan film. His occasional missteps result in some unevenness of pace and tone (which some judicious editing would have remedied), but with the overall wallop the film packs, these are minor lapses. I personally felt the second half of the film needed no songs, but that is my own quibble. The millions in the majority would have none of that, I'm sure. Aamir and Kajol do their own singing in a small but powerful scene, and this, I felt, was far more effective and poignant than the over-produced orchestrations of Jatin-Lalit and the vast array of playback singers they assembled.
Rishi Kapoor, Kiron Kher, Tabu, and others offer strong support, while child actor Ali Hajji as young Rehan is amazingly unaffected and natural.
After witnessing the combustible chemistry between Kajol and Aamir (why were they never paired together before?), and being privy to the volatile, seismic shifts in their relationship in this film, I conclude that "Fanaa" is indeed the title that says it best.
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