Was I wrong to look at the cover of Everybody Says I’m Fine!, with its pictures of a handsome man and a pair of scissors near blood splatter and the quote “When private thoughts turn deadly,” and assume that this was going to be a horror film? I don’t think that I was, although that genre confusion is the least of the film’s problems.
This directorial debut by Rahul Bose tells the story of Xen (Rehaan Engineer), a young hairstylist who owns and lives above a candy-colored salon. As a result of being trapped in a soundproof recording booth as a child and forced to watch helplessly when his musician parents were killed by a short-circuiting sound studio board, Xen has the ability to read thoughts, although he has honed this ability so that it only comes into play when he is cutting his client’s hair. As a result, he is privy to their desires, hopes, fears, and dreams. Based on the cover, this is about the time when you would expect that he reads the thoughts of one of his clients who turns out to be a murderer, and then the mystery/horror takes off, right? Not really.
Engineer is certainly charming and charismatic in the role of Xen, and Xen’s attempts to make the lives of his customers better is cute, although when The Butcher’s Wife did the same thing a decade earlier its posters and covers didn’t misrepresent the film’s content the way that Everybody Says I’m Fine!’s marketing does. Xen sets up two college-aged lovebirds (Juneli Aguiar and Sharokh Bharucha) in a minor side story that goes on for far too long. Another subplot, involving a woman named Tanya (Pooja Bhatt), who has been deserted by her husband but is attempting to keep up appearances that all is well, and a second woman named Misha (Anahita Oberoi), who nosily probes into Tanya’s life, is fascinating in the way that it showcases the way that the upper class women of Mumbai interact across class (Tanya is specifically mentioned to have come from a small community with no wealth, in comparison to her husband and to Misha). This section is by far the most interesting of the film; I could have watched an entire film about Tanya. Yet another subplot revolves around an obnoxiously hyperactive would-be actor named Rage (director Bose) who has Xen give him a series of bizarre cuts that are supposedly for roles, when in actuality no one will hire him. There’s also a rich man named Mr. Mittal (Boman Irani), who has recently won an award and uses Xen’s services to prepare for public appearances.
The primary plot, however, revolves around Xen’s meet cute with Niki, a spirited young woman whose mind he cannot read, presumably because her darkness is buried too deep, and how she disrupts his isolated and relatively humble existence. Over the course of the film, she appears at random intervals to taunt and tease Xen, before the two of them go to bed together. He eventually discovers that the disobedient “girl” Mr. Mittal is perpetually dwelling upon is actually Niki, who is his daughter and whom he has molested for years. Xen then murders Mittal in a fit of rage and fakes an accident, leading Niki to break down in his arms, all her thoughts bubbling to the surface as she weeps and shrieks. The following morning, when Rage appears for a haircut, Xen realizes that he cannot hear the man’s thoughts, or anyone else’s. He is finally free.
There are laudable elements here to be sure, but not enough to recommend. The backstory and resolution of Niki’s plot are tonally inconsistent with a film that is mostly a magical realism premise stretched too thin and featuring a color palette that is straight out of Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. As stated above, I could watch an entire film about Tanya, her deteriorating marriage, her deceptive in-laws, and her attempts to keep her economic betters find out that she has fallen from grace. Overall, however, don’t let this movie’s cover fool you like it fooled me: if you want a feel good movie with a weird rape/incest subplot that appears without warning in the final 15 minutes, this is the film for you, but you really should see a doctor instead.
-Mark “Boomer” Redmond