I have a special regard for this movie, because I had the enormous luck to see it in the faboulous, incredibly ornate and atmospheric Raj Mandir theatre of Jaipur. Watching not just the film, but also the reactions of the audience -who were obviously enjoying the experience enormously and constantly and spontaneously expressing so- was a great delight.
"Fanaa" is a concept taken from mysticism. In the world of mystic poetry "fanaa" was the point at which the mystic's own sense of self was destroyed or anihilated by his/her union with God. We are talking deep religion here and, in this context, that someone uses this word as a title for a Bollywood film can even sound a bit like sacrilege. The concept is, though, brilliantly used by the writer and applied simply to "True Love" a rare event which, arguably, contains a spark of the divine, and that ordinary people can, ever so rarely -but not so much as mystic love-, experience in this life.
Zooni (Kajol) is a blind girl who has lived protected -and isolated- all her life by the love and warmth of her family, who have raised her like the fragile maiden princess of a fairy tale. When she must set out for the big city, Delhhi, and be appart from her parents for the first time, she jokes with them about the possibility of finding there "her prince". Big poetic irony -we, the audience, realize instantly. "And what shall I tell my prince when I find him?", Zooni asks her mother; "May my life be destroyed in your love!!!" answers the mother, quoting poetry.
And Zooni meets Rehan (Aamir Khan)whom nobody would take as a prince at first, or even second or third, sight. But Zooni, being blind, is not blinded by appearances, and soon recognizes the prince in Rehan...even though he is bent on proving otherwise. What will you have from the clash between the innocent, virginal princess who believes Love is everything and the worldwise, cynical casanova who believes in nothing? Comedy or drama? This being Bollywood, you are served, but of course, both.
Thus, the story begins as a romantic comedy, and I must declare right now my profound admiration for a writer who choses a "verse war" as the first confrontation between the protagonists, and has them trying to outwit each other in a rhyming challenge. My admiration peaks when, in the first song, the composers and writer manage to use the concept of "fanaa" inside a teasing, seductive piece, full of sensuality and inviting temptation, in which Rehan expresses the -very unromantic- attraction he feels for Zooni.
But soon the easygoing romance becomes drama when Zooni, fully aware of Rehan's lack of belief in love or any other thing human or divine, fully aware of his intentions, decides to follow her own beliefs unto the ultimate consequences: she decides to love, even if hers is unrequited love....And Zooni pronounces the magical words, "May my life be destroyed in your love!!" Symbolically, what she goes through in Delhi makes her SEE....and also literally. But then, fate strikes in the very contemporary form of terrorism and the story takes a sharp turn...after the intermission.
The second time the writer and composers use the concept of "fanaa" is very different from the first, and one of the most beautiful love songs I've ever heard, but I can't explain any more without including several spoilers.....
This film suffered from some controversy in India. One of its main stars, Aamir Khan, made some public comments about the eviction of entire villages in the state of Gujarat towards the creation of a gigantic water reservoir. He commented particularly on the unfairness of having thousands of people thrown out of their houses, living on the streets. The BJP (nationalists, ruling the state of Gujarat) were instantly incensed, and so was the Congress Party (ruling India), and they asked the actor for a public apology. Aamir Khan, quite a politically-minded person, refused. As a result, "Fanaa" was banned in the state of Gujarat and, when one theatre owner dared go against this ban, the consequences were quite horrid.
What else can I say? Everybody in this film (and regarding the actors I must say that Kajol is charming and very princess-like, but Aamir Khan definitely RULES and totally steals the show) have managed to create here a classical Bollywood, one that touches several genres from comedy to drama and thriller, throwing in, as Bollywood will usually have it of late, a pinch of politics, patriotism, terrorism -maybe the Furies that control our fates in the present times-....and all apparently effortlessly revolving around the concept of "fanaa": the limits to which one is prepared to go for love, and the power of a feeling that can give or take life.