The title of the novel on which this film is based is ‘The Extraordinary Story of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe’. It is by Romain Puertolas, a former French border guard whose job included investigating immigration fraud. He draws from his experience on the border to write about what it means for a person to be without documentation, without official allegiance to a country.
The wardrobe, the suitcase, the passport, the fake currency - all accessories of immigrants from the developing world trying to get into the developed - are turned into narrative devices of a comic story, tinged with sadness.
Ajatashatru Lavash Patel (Dhanush), Aja as he is called, is a magician from India, who travels to Paris, the city of magical love. His Indian passport is genuine, but not his 100 Euro note. While in Paris, he promises a pretty American girl, Marie (Erin Moriarty), that he will meet her at the Eiffel Tower the next evening. Meanwhile, he has no place to stay and falls asleep in an Ikea Wardrobe. As fate would have it, the wardrobe is transported in the dead of night to London.
British immigration finds him out, destroys his passport and leaves him stateless. Managing to escape from one hostile European nation to another, he decides on a different brand image for himself. He turns into a stowaway, travelling in a Louis Vuitton suitcase to Rome.
The luggage in which Aja travels to Italy happens to belong to a famous actress, Nelly Marney (Bérénice Bejo).While she is having a bath in her hotel room, he emerges from the suitcase. Treating a strange Indian man in her personal space as a perfectly natural phenomenon, Nelly engages him in an extended conversation, and asks him a very important question: ‘Are you a refugee’? Her definition of statelessness, as encapsulated in the term ‘refugee’, is a political and humanitarian one, unlike the conventional border guard’s description of ‘illegal immigrant’, a phrase which interprets the notion of a human being wanting a better life, as a crime.
The movie is child-like in its approach, and actor Dhanush conveys this sense of innocence very well. But it is also, at times, a naive and sentimental story that bores you. The parts of the film that show Aja, before and after he comes back to India, is shot in typical expatriate style, with Indian actors, both adults and children, hamming away to glory. There is plenty of Indian exotica, but fortunately we don’t get to see the Indian rope trick. In short, this is a disappointing movie.