Starring Dhanush. Rated PG
The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is a feel-good story with lighthearted things to say about a coterie of migrants, refugees, and oddball characters. And we meet them in a variety of beautifully shot settings, augmented by fun graphics and the occasional Bollywood number.
It also offers an engaging lead performance from the one-named Dhanush, charmingly handsome star of many Tamil films, making his English-language debut as Aja Patel. He’s a Mumbai street kid, initially played by Hearty Singh, who grows up loving western notions of luxury. Aja gets this Europhilia from his hard-working mom (Amruta Sant), who dreams of going to Paris—something to do with the boy’s missing father, whom she refuses to talk about.
The lad does some Oliver Twist–y things in a spectacularly clean corner of the city; his wallet-lifting sleight of hand is magical enough to make him a fakir. But it’s his random encounter with an IKEA catalogue that gets him moving west. When the grown Aja finally gets to Paris, the results resemble a commercial for Swedish furniture, and that’s not accidental. The best-selling novel it’s based on is The Extraordinary Voyage of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe—more a synopsis than a title, and an indication of the whimsy that will accidentally carry this relentlessly upbeat fellow from Paris to England, Spain, Italy, Libya, and back to Mumbai, where he tells his story, as a framing device, to ragged dirty urchins being held in a sweaty police station. Think Slumdog Millionaire, minus the torture.
Book author Romain Puértolas also adapted this screenplay, alongside Italian writer Luc Bossi and director Ken Scott, a Quebecer best-known for French-language comedies like Starbuck and Delivery Man. They’re careful not to impose any tongue but English on the audience, and this results in notably stilted verbal outings from The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo, as a French movie star; Captain Phillips’s Barkhad Abdi, as a helpful refugee; and—this is the kicker—even American Erin Moriarty as the young, blond love interest Aja meets in Paris.
In the book, this was an older Frenchwoman, but whatever. The whole thing is so sweetly sanitized (apart from some out-of-place “lesbian” jokes), no details matter much. This Fakir is a foreign film for people who never see foreign films. And if it opens a worldly catalogue for even one stay-at-home traveller, that’s probably to the good.