Atul Manjrekar’s directorial debut Fanney Khan doesn’t wander very far from its source, the Belgian comedy Everybody’s Famous! (2000). A factory worker whose dreams of being a musician and singer were thwarted somewhere along the journey called life has invested great hope in his daughter. She is a talented singer, but is also overweight, surly and decidedly non-glamourous. The worker dreams up of a harebrained scheme of kidnapping a pop star and blackmailing her manager into giving his daughter her break. The pop star welcomes the abduction as an adventure far more interesting than the drudgery of show business. Meanwhile, her manager decides to milk her absence to boost the ratings of a music talent show on television.

The satirical and glib tone of the Belgian movie, which makes its contrivances believable, has been replaced with a fair share of melodrama in the official remake. An extended joke about fame at all costs has been given the veneer of a fairy tale in which anything is possible. In the Hindi production, Amit Trivedi’s score increases the musical possibilities, although only two songs from the score stick, one about the elusive “achche din” and the other centring on the daughter’s moment of triumph.

Yet, Fanney Khan has its affecting moments, nearly all of them stemming from Anil Kapoor’s touching performance as the concerned father and the romance between the characters played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Rajkummar Rao.

Prashant (Kapoor), better known by the moniker Fanney Khan, is so sure that his newborn will be a singing talent that he names her after Lata Mangeshkar. Lata (Pihu Sand) isn’t having it easy in her attempts to convince the world that she is capable of living up to the expectations. “It’s all about the packaging,” her friend confidently tells her, and going by the reigning star of the charts, the red-haired and ultra-glam Baby Singh (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), she is probably right.

But Prashant is undeterred. Despite his daughter’s tantrums, he forges ahead in his project to launch her career, and gets the opportunity of a lifetime when Baby hails his taxi. Together with his friend Adhir (Rajkummar Rao), Prashant kidnaps Baby and dials her manager Kakkad (Girish Kulkarni) to strike a deal.

Rajkummar Rao and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Fanney Khan. Courtesy T-Series.
Rajkummar Rao and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Fanney Khan. Courtesy T-Series.

Girish Kulkarni is barely convincing as the duplicitous manager, but the other recruits snugly fit their roles. Anil Kapoor’s relentlessly optimistic man of many parts (musician, factory worker, taxi driver, best dad in the world) is the latest piece of evidence of the actor’s ability to play an ordinary man battling extraordinary circumstances. Kapoor generously shares the screen with his co-stars, giving Divya Dutta (who plays his wife) room to inhabit her role and the first-time actor Pihu Sand to display sparkiness.

Sand’s Lata is a bit too perfectly formed to be convincing as a struggler taking her first steps – she has all the moves down pat in one of the songs – but she comes into her own in the rousing track Tere Jaisa Tu Hai. The evolving relationship between Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Rajkummar Rao is a giggly delight, allowing the veteran of heavy-lidded romances to relax for the first time in years and giving Rao ample scope to show off his comedic skills. Casting is the real winner in Fanney Khan. The actors help the movie navigate the implausibility at the heart of the plot and its facile critique of a music industry in which talent is worthy of being recognised only if it is televised.

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Fanney Khan (2018).