The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir movie review: Dhanush’s international film is all smoke and mirrors, no substance
The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir
Director - Ken Scott
Cast - Dhanush, Erin Moriarty, Berenice Bejo, Barkhad Abdi
Rating - 2/5
Midway through The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir, Berenice Bejo joins Dhanush on the dance floor at a shadily lit club, and performs the most suggestive steps to lyrics that go something like this: ‘Purze mere dil ke, ting tong karein hil ke’. It is the most embarrassing thing an Oscar nominee has done since they got John Travolta to dance to Tune Maari Entriyaan at IIFA.
Directing a Bollywood-style song-and-dance number has been a long-standing dream of many Western filmmakers — Guy Ritchie recently found an excuse to squeeze several into his Aladdin — but here’s the thing. The musical interlude in The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir isn’t an homage to the lavish Bollywood epics of yore, it is instead a knockoff of something you’d see in a Karan Johar film - empty and unnecessary.
Watch the Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir trailer here
But the musical number is emblematic of director Ken Scott’s well-intentioned but thoroughly misinterpreted adaptation of French author Romain Puertolas’ debut novel, which in 2014 became a runaway bestseller in several countries around the world. Much of the whimsy of Puertolas’ text appears to have been lost in translation, and despite Scott’s cutesy, Amelie-esque ambitions, it is let down by stilted acting and a distinct lack of fun.
And no-one is nearly as uncomfortable as Dhanush, who plays the titular fakir, Ajatashatru ‘Aja’ Lavash Patel, with the look of someone who has just been taken for a ride by an actual conman.
The character, in addition to losing his innate likability in the film adaptation, has also been rechristened for some reason. In the novel, he was called Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod - a source of much humour, insensitive as it is to make fun of foreign names.
Like Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is structured around the hero recounting his adventures, in all their embellished glory, to patient listeners. Aja was born in Worli, to a single mother who refused to tell him who his father is. So a young Aja resorted to asking her if every man they meet is his long-lost dad, until she told him the truth. His father was a Parisian trickster whom she loved dearly, but because of their different backgrounds, could never marry. She dreamt everyday of visiting the City of Love, and soaking in its beauty from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
As Aja grew up, he came to realise that he is poor. So he decided that the easiest way to make a quick buck is to fleece foreigners. But before his criminal career was allowed to blossom, Aja’s mother died. And so, to honour her unfulfilled dream, a young Aja embarked on a journey across Europe, armed with nothing more than a counterfeit €100 note and a childlike sense of curiosity.
The Extraordinary Journey of a Fakir is very episodic, which was perfectly fine on paper, but can’t help but feel jarring on screen. He goes from Paris to London to Rome to Libya, absolutely unmotivated. And it certainly doesn’t work in the film’s favour when Scott insists on cutting to a flat Dhanush, narrating the most colourful (and perhaps the most expensive to film) chapters of his story to his audience - a group of street urchins destined for juvie. Even Slumdog Millionaire and Forrest Gump, two movies to which it owes a considerable debt, had the sense to follow the oldest maxim in filmmaking: show, don’t tell.
It doesn’t help that the emotional anchor of the story — Aja’s quest to return to Paris, to reunite with a young American girl he’s smitten by - hasn’t an ounce of believability. Before you’re able to settle in, the Fakir has already arrived at his next destination, hungry to learn new lessons, and to heed the advise of another character. Aja meets several on his adventures, one of whom is the movie star played by the aforementioned Bejo.
To his credit, despite being often distracted, Scott retains the core of what Puertolas’ novel was getting at - a conceited man learning to be more selfless. The book’s success was aided in no small part by its arrival being timed to overlap with the European migrant crisis - Puertolas was a border policeman before trying his hand at writing - and his story has a strong, yet sympathetic undercurrent of themes such as illegal immigration and border policy.
Like its hero, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir’s intentions are pure, but it is, in its heart of hearts, far too reliant on the same old tricks, always on the lookout for the next chump to con.