Fanney Khan director Atul Manjrekar on his debut feature, tackling body shaming and love for orchestral music

Fanney Khan marks the debut of director Atul Manjrekar in Bollywood but the term ‘debut’ belies his experience of eighteen years. The man has directed close to 400 ads and has been part of the entertainment fraternity for almost two decades now. Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and his editor wife PS Bharathi are like family to him and the filmmaker’s association with Mehra dates as far back when the established director was busy making the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Aks, for which he edited the film. Apart from making promos of Delhi 6, Atul was the one — who after a three-month grueling journey to northern states — suggested to his mentor the possible locations where Rang De Basanti could be filmed. The almost two-decade old association is still going strong and Fanney Khan is another testimony of their faith in each other. “I used to edit ads and other things for him and it was he who suggested that I should become a director. The thought that I could direct a film had never crossed my mind. He saw something in me and I understand him a lot. Everything I know about filmmaking comes from him and his wife,” says a modest Atul.

Fanney Khan is the big break that Atul got from Mehra and he is now relieved that his mother will finally get to see her son’s name in a film after having done numerous ads and films as assistant. “My mother used to often tell me that I should do serials, that way she would get to see my name in the credits. She was so eager to see my name that she even told me once to direct a Marathi serial at least.”

The film revolves around the relationship that a father shares with his overweight daughter and the history of Bollywood is replete with films tackling such a relationship. Were there challenges not to repeat the same thing? “The most appealing part of the original Belgian film was the relationship between the father and the daughter and it’s something that has a universal emotional appeal. It’s also about the extent to which a father can go to fulfill his daughter’s dream. I was also getting an opportunity through this story to tell kids to understand their parents too.” Atul adds that during the teenage-phase, every kid believes that his or her parents don’t understand them but it all comes from the fact that every parent want their children to lead a better life than what they have led.

Apart from dealing with a father-daughter relationship, the film also deals with the concept of body shaming and the film takes the issue head-on. Hindi films too have done their bit in making fun of overweight characters in the past. While the past has seen actors like Tuntun and Preeti Ganguly (daughter of actor Ashok Kumar) relegated to comic and side roles, with Fanney Khan, it’s also the first time that a major part of the film’s narrative has been invested over an overweight character. “My film deals with a girl who is overweight, not good looking or sexy in the conventional scheme of things. She is also a good singer but in the absence of such features, people don’t listen to her songs and they only see her. She becomes a butt of (everyone’s) joke because no one is paying attention to her singing abilities. To sell a song these day and to make people hear them, its video has become a necessity. Music too has become all about appearance and I wanted to highlight this fact in the film.” The filmmaker informs that Fanney Khan makes a big statement on body shaming because these days’ teenagers feel the pressure of looking a certain way.
Atul is happy about the fact that conventions in Bollywood have changed now. He believes that had Tuntun been around today, chances are that a film would have been made with her in the lead. Ask him if the cause lies with the icons, who often could be seen propagating false claims as dictated by companies, and he informs that those making products will go to any extent to sell them. “Can you recall one actor who was wheatish in complexion 30 years back? There was an image attached to heroes and heroines. The heroes were considered to be tall, fair and good looking while heroines were expected to be fair, pretty with long hair. But everything is changing now and real people are coming in. Things are now changing for good,” opines Atul.

Atul was brought up in an era of Mumbai when orchestra was a big thing. He has now taken his childhood fascination to his debut film and the film actually opens with an orchestra scene. “When I was writing the story, orchestra was the first thing that came to my mind and I also wanted to recreate my childhood memories related to orchestras in this film as a small portion of Fanney Khan talks about that era. I always wondered: where did the singers who performed in orchestras, disappear after a point of time?”

The social media profile of the director mentions him as a ‘damn good cook’. So any mouth watery dishes he specializes in? “I love cooking and one thing jo mai accha banata hu wo filme hai. Cooking is like making films which has a basic plot and then you keep adding things and finally something comes out of it. I make amazing palak chicken which has been vouched for by my wife,” signs off the filmmaker.