Rajat Kapoor s Fatso is billed as a comedy. Perhaps it is, but the film is meant to arouse chuckles not laughs; it is possibly only a light-hearted look at death, the most serious moment in our lives. It is also a love story, a fairy tale where the impossible comes true and then to leave you a little stirred up. Overall, it is a wonderful film with a tone and style that underline a trend to handle substantive philosophical issues through accessible narrative/ story-telling. That it does so without pontificating and without resorting to the usual formula of Bollywood gives it its singular credit.
This is a story of five friends, two couples and Sudhir who is overweight and without a girlfriend or good looks. Nandini and Navin are about to get married when Navin gets into a car crash and is transported into the after-world. It turns out that the world there is run by the bureaucrats, who always do this sort of thing to us. As you can expect, they are neck-deep in managing files. Navin isn t meant to be picked up. It is a mistake! Let us spare further spoilers and bring back Navin among the living so he can court Nandini again. But this time Sudhir has to vacate his body and make room for Navin. In what ensues to be a gentle struggle to win back Nandini s heart, Navin realizes a lot more in Sudhir s body. The same stuff that matters to fairy tales that love wins in the end and that it is the inner soul that matters and not the obese bodies that we occupy.
The style of the film, shying away from glamour and steeped into urban, comfortable ethos of younger generation makes room for some more thought to get our attention. The characters move between English and Hindi, appealing to broader constituencies but also underscoring the ethos of the generation finding a place in two worlds. That the film paints romance without vibrant color or songs does not damage its reception. Casting works fine even though Sudhir s fatness does not always look very organic. Gul Panag works well as Nandini but with a distant passion for the changes that life brings to her. It is an evenly-paced narrative, with death as the villain and life as its greatest hope.
The film makes its impact on two levels. Both of these scenes/motifs mark Rajat Kapoor a director who can indeed make films that are entertaining, with some additional redeeming aspects. First, the world after death turns out to be a gigantic enterprise, run by incompetent bureaucrats who make mistakes and cannot follow up on simple requests. Their task is to keep the machine running as the real boss stays invisible. After-life does not look attractive at all and we ought to feel sorry for ourselves. Death is cruel injustice as it is but this scene in Fatso does a commendable job in making it an entirely bland and mechanical experience. So hang on to what you have; it is about to get worse. The motif is played out rather extensively with great success for as the narrative progresses, we feel sorry for Navin, for the rest of the victims and eventually for ourselves.
The final scene of the film, as Navin begins to realize that Nandini is coming back to him, despite an entirely unattractive outer wrapping, brings the film to a different, more thoughtful level. There are shades of Wings of Desire (1987) here, that memorable Wim Wenders film which awakened the faith in angels, in the sensuous love of the living and in film makers/viewers endowed with the blessing of sharing the perspective of the eternal. Suddenly, Navin realizes what all of us should, that there is more to life than love or acceptance by others. There are other allusions here too ( it is cold in here when the departed return in a different form). Even without that, the film delivers a verdict on after-life and the one here-and-now. Sudhir admits that bun-muska in Iranian caf s is as important as getting girlfriend back and the smell of cow dung is a bigger gift than some hypothetical after-life. There is no sensual pleasure in after-life. This is indeed the greatest gift we have. There is much to be read here as Fatso moves to a plane higher than a boy-gets-the-girl story, of which there are plenty. Among all the things that make living worth lot more than dying, of course, as Sudhir realizes, is watching films. There are no film theaters up there, just an unknown mess from which there seems to be no escape. That is precisely the reason why we ought to enjoy them while we can!