Fukri movie review: Siddique, Jayasurya counter ‘love jihad’ campaigners with comedy
“Oh what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive!”
If centuries did not separate Walter Scott from present-day Mollywood, it would be easy to believe that this quote was a commentary specifically aimed at the life of Fukri’s hero Lucky. The character played by Jayasurya in this Malayalam film sets off a chain of events that soon go out of control when he agrees to participate in a charade for a small payment.
Fukri combines that theme with the idea of an outsider stepping into a trying family/community situation and helping heal long-festering wounds, which has been explored by Indian cinema across languages in various ways. The kind-hearted new daughter-in-law, the bawarchi (cook) who becomes a buddy, the criminal intruder who falls in love with the people s/he intended to cheat... we have met them all down the decades.
In this family drama from writer-director Siddique, we get Lucky, an orphan who is constantly on the lookout for the next available get-rich-quick fraudulent scheme along with a bunch of disreputable friends. When a plan to surreptitiously lift a precious metal from a local temple goes haywire, they get involved with a college student called Nafsi (Prayaga Martin). Lucky is subsequently drawn into the affairs of her family, which includes the wealthy old patriarch Sulaiman Fukri (played by actor Siddique) and his estranged son Ali Fukri (Lal) who was thrown out of the house years ago when he married a Hindu girl. Ali’s wife too was disowned by her family, including her mother (KPAC Lalitha) who Lucky soon encounters.
As is the case with such situations in real life if you do not stem the tide of your falsehoods early on, in this film too, one deception leads to another and then another, with far-reaching consequences for Lucky, the relatives of the aforementioned hapless couple and everyone else involved. Since this is a Siddique comedy, of course they all live happily ever after, but not before we are unobtrusively served a lesson on how lies will always be caught out and prejudice can ruin people.
Fukri’s first hour is lots of fun. Unlike too many Indian commercial films these days, the laughs in this one are not dependent on the audience possessing a sexist vein. In fact, barring a passing mildly ageist joke at one point, Fukri steers clear of most lazy isms. Instead, Siddique relies on the chemistry between Jayasurya and the actors playing his friends – Bhagath Manuel, Nirmal Palazhi, Kalabhavan Niyas, Joju George – and their timing in comic situations of their making.
Unfortunately for the film, once the story settles down with the Fukri family, Lucky’s friends suddenly become marginal players. He then takes centre-stage with the assumed name Lukman Ali Fukri, along with Sulaiman Fukri and later, Ali. The film continues to be funny after that, but the relegation of the man-child gang to the background vastly dilutes its humour.
Meanwhile, although the tensions within the Fukri parivar lead to amusing situations, Siddique is unable to give the film the level of emotional intensity it should have had, considering the vast potential in the heartbreak of a couple who were torn from their families for no fault of theirs.
In the age of the deplorable ‘love jihad’ campaign, the communal angle in the story is highly relevant. It is also a clever experiment to take this tragic Indian reality into the comedy genre to reach out to a larger audience. Not that there is no sorrow in Fukri. There is. In plenty. But this might have been a more compelling film if, for instance, the Fukri family members had been written with greater depth. Ali, for one, remains nothing beyond an angry old man, and his late wife is nothing more than a flashback in songs.
Fukri also falters by involving Lucky in a romance with Nafsi, but giving her little substance or agency. Siddique is best known outside Kerala for his Bodyguard starring Dileep and Nayantara which he remade in two other Indian languages – as Kaavalan in Tamil starring Vijay and Asin, and as Bodyguard in Hindi with Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor – with all three going on to become blockbusters, while other directors made Telugu and Kannada versions. Though I am no great admirer of Bodyguard, it has to be said that that film’s leading lady was a pivotal player in her own life saga. Fukri operates strictly within a patriarchal framework, with the three male protagonists leading the action while women for the most part allow themselves to be led.
Apparently gender equality does not have a place among the lofty ideals of integrity and communal amity that the film espouses.
Still, Jayasurya is a versatile actor who is particularly a joy to watch in the comic space, Fukri does conjure up a string of episodes and conversations to tickle the funny bone, the first half is certainly an enjoyable ride, and in these trying times Siddique does need to be commended for delving into Hindu-Muslim relations despite his film’s limitations. Fukri overstays its welcome in the final half hour, loses its pace towards the end and the denouement is not entirely satisfactory. In the overall analysis though, this is inoffensive, well-intentioned, mildly entertaining fare.