Fatso has several things going for it: a clever idea at its centre, some super performances, some nice set pieces and Rajat Kapur’s gentle but firm hand at the wheel. It’s fresh and often funny. The trouble is, it also wants to be profound.
The plot has great potential. Good-looking yuppie couple Naveen (Purab Kohli) and Nandini (Gul Panag) are very much in love and planning to get married. Then Naveen dies in a car accident. Nandini is distraught. So far, so tragic. But this is a comedy, remember? So Navin arrives in the other world and discovers that it’s all a mistake: it wasn’t him who was meant to die, it was his fat friend Sudeep (Ranvir Shorey). Having discovered that he’s lost out to a clerical error, Naveen sets about getting a new life. Literally.
Fatso’s most memorable bits don’t unfold on Planet Earth. They happen in the afterlife, which – in Rajat Kapur and Saurabh Shukla’s mordant imagination – is a crazed sarkari office, stretched to the limits. As in life, so in death. White-painted boards proclaim special sections for ‘Senior Citizens’ and ‘Natural Deaths’, stacks of dusty files climb to the ceiling and hassled officials try to pass the buck onto each other. The dead jostle each other in long, untidy queues, trying to complete their unending paperwork so they can move on to the next stage. But the bade sahib is always in a meeting.
This section of the film is superbly done, with a host of top-notch actors making every character memorable. I’d single out the hassled but placatory afsar played by Rahul Vohra, the tea boy Chhotu who tells a baffled Naveen, “Hum toh last station par ruke hue hain, moh maya ke chakkar mein” – and of course, the cynical (but good-at-heart) peon of death, brilliantly played by Brijendra Kala, last seen as the nervous journalist in Paan Singh Tomar (and who also appears in this week’s other release, Jannat 2, as Randeep Hooda’s right hand man).
Unfortunately we don’t get to stay stuck at this “last station”, because Naveen figures out a way to get back to earth: by having Sudeep die instead of him, and entering Sudeep’s body. The murky morality of this decision – pretty much orchestrating your friend’s death so you can live – seems entirely lost on the self-obsessed Naveen, and on the filmmakers, too.
Before we know it, the ghostly Purab Kohli has disappeared and the cinematic spotlight has shifted to Ranvir Shorey. Which is no bad thing, really, because Shorey’s wonderfully credible Sudeep is about a hundred times better than the annoyingly cocky performance Kohli puts in here. Shorey brings the amicable, rotund Sudeep brilliantly to life, whether he’s playing football with kids on the beach, clumsily trying to prevent old friend Yash (Neil Bhoopalam) from sneakily wooing an apparently clueless Nandini, or talking his suicidal friend Tanuja (Gunjan Bakshi) out of the idea of killing herself.
But what’s really going on here? Nandini tells her old buddy Sudeep he should never change anything about himself – including the ridiculous laugh that is “so you”. But why is the fat boy suddenly able to to woo the pretty girl in his group? Isn’t it because he’s internally changed – on the inside, he’s no longer the complacent, unambitious, never-slept-with-a-girl, okay-with-his-potbelly Sudeep.
There are too many things left unexplored here. For one, it seems more than a little tragic that the fat boy character only acquires confidence once he’s a good-looking man who knows he’s only trapped in a fat body. Next, it’s deeply discomfiting that the “love story” that Rajat Kapur declaredly set out to make doesn’t involve letting the girl in on who she’s actually falling in love with. The film tries to play with complicated questions of identity and selfhood, without successfully grappling even with the most basic things, like honesty. Things are worsened by Gul Panag’s terribly written character: a woman whose first reaction upon seeing her dead fiance is to run her finger over his lips and say “Bite it, dammit” can only appear ludicrous. It’s hard even for the competent Panag to make such stagey lines and too-quick turnarounds seem entirely credible.
From the director of such first-rate films as the sadly underwatched sex comedy Mixed Doubles and the wonderful Mithya, Kapur’s previous meditation on identity, Fatso is a bit of a disappointment. Even when it’s making us laugh, it feels like there’s something hollow at the centre.