Great On Paper, Fuckall As Film
Adi Contractor, a man who can procure anything is given a task to find a fakir who can bury himself in the sand head first and bring him to Venice, Italy as art installation. He persuades Sattar to play the part. What could have been a fabulous satire on the world of art ends up being tedious because it is directed badly, except for a masterclass in acting by Annu Kapoor.
Annu Kapoor is an effortless actor. He simply chews up the scenery - be it Venice or Bombay, and he decimates his co star Farhan Akhtar without even trying. That said, he plays the title role of the fakir (holy man) in the film. And he’s brilliant. The one star that the film earns goes to his talent.
Farhan Akhtar plays Adi Contractor (not at all as Parsi in his mannerisms as his name indicates except for one word ‘Gadheda’ meaning donkey) the procurer of all things for production houses, who is given the task to find a fakir who can do a headstand with his head buried in the sand. He is given money to travel to Benaras to find one such holy man.
You know they mean his search in Benaras is meant to be funny, but the way it it shown, it just isn’t. Perhaps it is funny on the page. Perhaps a better director could have visualised the search for the fakir differently (the naked fakir who can lift weights with his genitalia could have been funny had the tout not mentioned it before).
So Adi finds Sattar through a tout, and watches Hameeda (Sattar’s sister) bury him in the sand except for hands joined in a namaste. Adi takes pictures and sweet talks the artist in Italy into accepting Sattar as a holy man who buries himself. Sattar explains that his sister and he have been earning money in that manner ever since they were kids, and that breathing through wet sand on the beach is not difficult. Sattar is poor and twenty five thousand rupees seems like a great idea, and Adi does offer him alcohol as well, which he seems to love.
It was a bit weird to see a Muslim man shown to be so used to drinking, because Islam does not allow the consumption of alcohol. However. Sattar is simply amazing as he subjects himself to the makeover into a holy man with a beard with stoic resignation. You wonder why he agrees to this bizarre demand that he spend seven days buried in the sand as art installation.
What ruins the film is the assumption that poor people don’t understand what it means to travel abroad and when Sattar says, ‘There are too many foreigners in foreign country’, you are meant to laugh. There are so many domestic workers traveling abroad these days, that it rather insulting rather than an innocent observation. This movie feels so dated on so many levels, you wish they had directly released it on a streaming service. (The film is rumoured to have been made in 2006/9, and is finally getting a release now)
But you suffer through the goings on in Italy, which are as ridiculous and as predictable as they can get. You see ‘Yoga’ hippies, foreigners incredulous to this holy man act, cheesy drag queens, reporters who think Sattar is being exploited, a sleazy TV producer, a party and a foreigner falling in love with a poor Indian man… It just gets tedious to see Adi being rough on the poor man, and Sattar being stubborn and drunk and not letting on. The digression into death (and the meaning of) could have been stronger. The sudden change of Adi’s rough character into someone making up for his bad behavior, is questionable. And with every scene you want to say, ‘How stupid is that?’ Prime example: Sattar is bleeding all over his white tee shirt from a cut, is drunk like a skunk, and coughing blood, and the super concerned Italian reporter asks him, ‘How are you feeling?’ and offers him more wine after dressing his wound. What?
The film makes you want to run out of the theater like Sattar, screaming, ‘I want alcohol! I want alcohol!’
(This review appears on nowrunning dot com)