“My grandfather used to say that’s what books are for. To travel without moving an inch” – when Ashok Ganguly said this to a fellow train passenger in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, it was just one of the million testaments to the power of a good story. Ken Scott’s The Extraordinary Journey Of The Fakir is simply put, an ode to the art of storytelling. But in a screenplay that is all too flimsy and scattershot, it rarely keeps us invested in the adventure. The ‘contrivances’ are NOT the problem in a fairy tale, but the Dhanush-starrer is so alarmingly syrupy that it’s hard to imagine the actual stakes beyond a point. Will he survive the next obstacle? OF COURSE, HE WILL.
Playing the role of a street-smart illusionist from Mumbai called Ajatashatru Lavash Patel, Dhanush is an easy choice to play a role he’s made a career out of. The everyday bumbling chap, who wouldn’t make heads turn while walking into a room. That is unless he decided to unbutton his blazer before busting a move to Amit Trivedi’s bass-heavy song. That’s when the spotlight and the centre of the stage will automatically find him. It’s hard to resist Dhanush’s charm even when his character’s so-called ‘adventure’ hits some silly turns. One of them includes him sharing a hotel room with a world-renowned actress, much like Shah Rukh Khan’s Bauaa Singh from last year’s Zero, only to look significantly more endearing. Which isn’t saying a lot.
After Ajatashatru’s mother’s passing, circumstances bring him to Paris. A boy from the streets in Mumbai, using his earthy accent to sweep a local Parisian woman (Erin Moriarty playing Marie) off her feet in the middle of an IKEA store, has its endearing moments. There’s an anecdote that borrows from an O’Henry short story, a meet cute that resembles the first few dates from Marc Webb’s (500) Days Of Summer, where the boy and girl humour each other like a middle-aged couple. It’s not earth-shattering screenwriting, but Dhanush and Erin Moriarty’s rom-com deftness make it watchable. And there’s that great moment when an ex-flame walks into a French actress’ suite and finds Dhanush in a bath gown. Out of all the things you expect the ‘white character’ to say, he bursts out – “This can’t be right… he’s too young for you!”
The biggest problem with The Extraordinary Journey Of The Fakir is the film’s ‘outsider’ gaze on its protagonist. One that still romanticises India as a mystical and magical entity. It might not be entirely intentional, but it’s only a more sophisticated version of India’s image as the land of snake-charmers. The word karma gets thrown around a lot for that #RelatableAF Indian connect to a series of serendipitous events. Scott’s film might not make you tear your hair out, but it also manages to oversimplify the plight of refugee camps. When the film isn’t trying to trick you into believing its profundity, it tries to philosophise as if it were a cousin of Life Of Pi. It isn’t.
Ken Scott’s The Extraordinary Journey Of The Fakir isn’t the worst film you’ll see inside a theatre, but its vapid adventure will leave you wishing there was a significant time spent on rewrites. It’s a puff pastry of a film, something that might seduce you with its glaze and crisp running time of 92 minutes. But in the end, it’s neither filling and might in all probability, leave you wanting for more from its bland sense of adventure. Not once during this film is your pulse racing or your heart throbbing with concern for the protagonist. What a waste of an adventure!