Bollywood movies are famous for leaping between genres with careless abandon, but few of them shift gears as sharply as Kunal Kohli's Fanaa does halfway through its 169-minute running time. Even viewers accustomed to this particular Bollywood quirk might find themselves nursing a severe case of whiplash.
Things start off simply enough as Zooni (Indian superstar Kajol), a blind girl from a rural town, travels to New Delhi with her dance troupe to perform at an Independence Day celebration. Once there, she falls under the spell of a poetry-spouting tour guide named Rehan (Aamir Khan, last seen sporting long hair and period clothing in Mangal Pandey: The Rising), over the objections of her protective friends.
It's at about this point in a typical Bollywood movie that circumstances would arise to keep the two lovebirds apart-a simple misunderstanding, a case of mistaken identity, unhappy parents, invading aliens...take your pick. But no, Rehan and Zooni's love affair continues with no significant bumps along the way. Their unchecked happiness is at first surprising and then becomes profoundly boring as it dawns on the audience that there won't be any dramatic conflict to spice up the romance. By the end of the first hour, not only have Rehan and Zooni gotten hitched (after singing the requisite love ballad, of course), but Zooni has also regained her sight thanks to an experimental operation. All that remains is for her to give birth to a bouncing baby boy and you can start filing out to the lobby.
Then, just when you're convinced that the projectionist has switched reels by accident, something happens that spins the movie in an entirely new direction. When the story picks up following the intermission, seven years have gone by and we're in Kashmir, where a terrorist group is planning a major operation to achieve the territory's independence once and for all. Against this backdrop, Rehan and Zooni meet again, but suffice it to say things have changed since their carefree days in Delhi.
To describe this abrupt change in tone, location and plot as drastic would be an understatement. The second half of Fanaa is, for all intents and purposes, an entirely different movie. Fortunately, it also happens to be a much better one, filled with all of the elements-including surprises, conflicts and recognizable human emotions-that are missing from the first hour. While Khan wanders through both parts of the film looking vaguely mystified, Kajol turns in a quietly touching performance, which is all the more remarkable considering some of the surreal moments she's asked to play. Anyone who feels that the summer's first few blockbusters have been overly predictable should give Fanaa a try. It may not feature superpowered mutants, sinking ocean liners or Tom Cruise leaping off a skyscraper, but at least you'll never be able to guess where the story is going.