Based on French novelist Romain Puertolas’s bestseller The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe, this English language film adaptation stars Dhanush as Ajatashatru Lavash Patel, aka Aja.
The book wanted to spotlight the issues of immigrants and refugees but the film (adapted by Luc Bossi) gets caught up in the exotic and playing up the Bollywood genre, such as including songs and dances which are as awkward as the English-speaking slum children. The film also scrubs out the brand name of the Swedish furniture major while retaining Aja’s obsession with their designs.
Aja (Dhanush), the son of a washerwoman in Mumbai’s Worli area, makes a quick buck by posing as (fake) fakir and scamming gullible tourists. He eventually scams his way to Paris in search of his estranged French father. A Tamil star plays a half French-half Indian, English-speaking Patel from a Mumbai slum – wrap your head around that!
Aja has barely been in the French city a few hours before he is fallen head over heels in love with Marie (Erin Moriarty), an American woman he meets at his favourite furniture store. He makes a date to meet her at the Eiffel Tower the next day but “the tyranny of chance” plays its hand. Actually it is just plain stupidity. The result is that he does not keep the date at the Eiffel Tower because he is being transported to the UK in the back of a truck filled with Sudanese immigrants. Thus begins Aja’s unplanned journey around Europe in wardrobes, trucks, luxury luggage and a hot air balloon.
Aja proves to be a survivor who is determined to raise himself out of poverty and find his way back to Paris to fulfill promises made. During his travels, he meets a motley crew of characters – an illegal immigrant from Sudan (Barkhad Abdi), a European movie star (Berenice Bejo) and a British immigration officer (Ben English), who inexplicably bursts into a tuneless song while deporting the illegals to Spain.
Dhanush’s sincerity permeates through Aja. Director Ken Scott plays to the actor’s core audience by even handing Dhanush a gratuitous Bollywood dance number. The international supporting cast, especially Bejo and Abdi, blend in nicely.
A few scenes are heartwarming, like when Aja turns his only shirt into a canvas and his determination to give his mother the send off she dreamed of.
Scott directs with a light touch, preferring not to underline the core issue of illegal immigrants and poverty but to play up the fable-like quality of the tale, which leaves you wondering how much was fact and how much was the fakir’s fantastic fiction.