The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir
Dhanush, Bérénice Bejo, Erin Moriarty, Barkhad Abdi, Ben Miller, Abel Jafri, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse
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…a delightful treasure hunt of wild coincidences told in a fairy-tale of a story…
Bringing to the screen a delightful treasure hunt of wild coincidences told in a fairy-tale of a story, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is a beautifully realised fable. By using a template of episodic adventures told by our hero Aja, the film is an engrossing and emotionally resonant story. Taking the audience on a wild ride from the streets of India to the city of Paris and beyond, the film plays out as a tall tale of unpredictable encounters and diverting happenings.
Aja (Dhanush) is a young fakir, or magician, who arrives in Paris in search of a new life. The opening segment focuses on Aja’s early life in Mumbai and introduces his challenging upbringing with his mother. She works long hours for little money, but is dedicated to her young son.
As he grows up, he wants to help as best he can, and discovers that street illusion and sleight-of-hand is the best way for him to do this. The confident and skilled boy becomes a young man with dreams of travel and seeing the world. After the passing away of his mother, and the sensitively dealt with chapter of that loss, the young man’s thoughts turn to the land of his father, France. With a sum of money resulting from street petty crime, he manages to buy a plane ticket to Paris. Armed with language and knowledge learned from an abandoned Ikea catalogue, Aja’s adventure begins to take flight.
Some amusing and thoroughly well thought out scenes in a Parisian Ikea store – the novel that the film is based on featured Ikea in the title, so it’s not just pure product placement – see Aja fall for Marie (Erin Moriarty). The two plan a date for the following day, however the homeless and penniless Aja spends the night ensconced in a Swedish designed wardrobe and wakes up to the unwanted surprise of being in the UK and not Paris. Here he meets a group of refugees, including Sudanese man Wiraj (Barkhad Abdi), who becomes a friend throughout the long journey.
The bizarre practicalities of immigration routes and the realities experienced by refugees are brought out in a surreal sequence. The scene is set up as a literal song and dance routine introduced by Ben Miller’s immigration officer. As a nod to the kind of Bollywood action that Indian cinema regularly uses, it’s a bizarrely funny section.
But it is also provides plenty of food for thought. The UK chapter, and indeed the entire film, displays the sort of hoops that new arrivals to European nations are expected to go through. This is shown again when the large group of arrivals in the UK are flown off to Barcelona, a location that none of them have any connection to or any particular desire to go to.
Aja himself just wants to be in Paris to continue his fleeting romance. But from Spain, he then finds himself in Rome, where he becomes a friend and confidant of Bérénice Bejo’s famed actor and socialite. He also becomes a star figure thanks to the metaphysical spiritual writing he has scrawled down during his long travels.
A wealth of action and surprises follow on from there, tempered with an insightful presentation of the refugee experience. A fun film, brilliantly held together by a sparkling performance from Dhanush, that manages to take a proper look at why people travel, and all the various implications that has, while still being a sweetly romantic adventure.