Starring – Tabu, Katrina Kaif, Aditya Roy Kapoor and above all, Kashmir
Directed by Abhishek Kapoor
There is only one hero in Abhishek Kapoor’s massively disappointing and bogus adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. And it’s not Aditya Roy Kapoor. It’s Kashmir. The film, purported to be a romance between the bewitching Katrina Kaif and the besotted Aditya Roy Kapoor, romances just the Kashmir Valley. The rest is all mystery.
I recommend Fitoor be used to promote tourism in the Valley. As for Charles Dickens and Great Expectations, thankfully the author is not around to see how far his novel about forbidden love has been taken away from its roots.
Dickens’ title, as it turns out, proves prophetically ironic. You enter director Abhishek Kapoor’s snow-swept stunning world of stillness and turbulence, with a whole lot of expectations. You come away feeling cheated, betrayed and also angry for being led up the garden path, albeit a beautiful path lined with Chinar trees raining down their orange-coloured leaves with romantic fervor on lovers who are as handsome as can be.
But here is their heart?
It is easy to fall for Fitoor’s visual grace, the scenic splendor of Kashmir simply sweeps you into its folds. But damn it, where is the passionate love story that Katrina Kaif and Aditya Roy Kapoor promised in the posters and the musical pieces? Sure the two dance well together. But love is not a ballroom piece. Watching them trying to look intensely involved, I finally knew what a storm in a teacup meant.
Aditya Roy Kapoor’s wants us to believe in his character Noor’s desperate desire and eternal longing for Firdaus. But all we see is a petulant sulky pouty impoverished boy who wants his favourite toy off the shelf at an expensive mall. Katrina Kaif’s Firdaus is like a beautiful mannequin on display in a store (maybe the same aforementioned mall). Randomly and whimsically she runs off into snowcapped vistas so that Anay Goswamy’s camera can capture the beauty of Kashmir in all its panoramic beauty.
There are moments of heart stopping beauty in the film when Katrina Kaif is captured in the snowy splendor looking into a distant horizon, like Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Streep had the virtuosity and an inner strength to build her character’s mystique from within herself and project it outwards.
Kaif and her director are content to capture her physical beauty. The soul be damned.
Indeed the leading man and the director, the two Kapoors, seem besotted with Kaif’s beauty in equal measures.
Firdaus is portrayed as a femme fatale bringing unspeakable pain into Noor’s life. Alas, the pain never quite reaches Aditya Roy Kapoor’s eyes, let alone penetrated our hearts.
There is a third important character played by Tabu. She is Dickens’ Miss Havisham, her director striving stubbornly to transform the character into some kind of ravaged beauty named Beghum Hasrat with a past (Aditi Rao playing, ahem, Tabu) that I am sure Dickens had no knowledge of. No matter how hard Tabu tries—and it’s sad to see this once-effortless actress laboring over her legendary luminosity—she cannot look like Katrina Kaif’s mother.
Since writers Abhishek Kapoor and Supratik Sen have subverted so much of Charles Dickens beyond recognition, they might as well have turned Tabu’s character into Firdaus’ sister for synchronism sake, since compatible colors and palatable passion seem the driving forces of the narrative. (Further plot embellishments : the two sisters could both be lusting after Noor, the elder one secretly and sneeringly).
Hushed whispers, slanted meanings, and sighing rhetorics do not always add up to a passionate love story. Imagine Pakeezah or Umrao Jaan with their sensuously layered dialogues losing their way in a welter of words, running helter skelter with rhetorics meant to lure us into a haze of drugged surrender. That’s the feeling you get from the flow of poetic prattle in Fitoor.
The mood is meant to manipulate audiences into believing in an intense passion that remains elusive till the end. Come to think of it, why claim this to be Charles Dickens, when it is more like David Dhawan attempting to do a David Lean?
The ludicrous crashes into the luminous in Fitoor, rendering the film’s substantial physical beauty into nothing more(or less) than a series of beautiful postcard pictures glimpsed through a rapidly-moving train. We barely get to touch the three main characters as they indulge in a fabulously orchestrated shadow-dancing replete with stunning visuals, evocative music (Amit Trivedi) and a production designer who seems to have done the homework far more diligently than the director. Deepa Bhatia’s editing induces a compelling force into a narrative hellbent on being languorous.
Fitoor is like an unfinished melody where the composer gets a great snatch of tune into his head but is unable to use that snatch to create a semblance of a symphony. Everything in the film is about artificial whispers and cultivated conceits. The one attribute that I missed sorely in the storytelling was spontaneity. Every frame is calculated to impress. Every face is masked in a made-up magnificence. It’s like being part of Chinese opera with facial masks masquerading as emotions. By the time Tabu loses the plot, so does the film.
There is something unreal even about the dialogues that the characters speak to one another. Every line strains for effect. While Tabu and to a far lesser extent, Lara Dutta, Aditi Rao Hydari and Rahul Bhatt (making an impact bigger than Aditya Kapoor in his brief cameo) and Akshay Oberoi (drawing a character out of a seriously malnourished role) speak their meagre dialogues with conviction, Katrina Kaif and Aditya Roy Kapoor struggle with their copiously florid lines trying to make sense of the bombast.
Making matters worse is the fact that Aditya’s character serves as a narrator. His voiceover drawls across the narrative in a distracting drone. As for Katrina’s dialogue delivery, I’ve said this before, I say it again: she needs to understand what she’s saying before she can begin to communicate the complex emotions required of her as a leading actress.
Ajay Devgn shows up in a cameo that he probably hoped would show how much he cares for Kashmir. If only this film was not so taken up with exploiting the surface beauty of what a legendary poet once described as heaven on earth—and he hadn’t even seen Ms Kaif!
Fitoor is as much a paean to Katrina’s beauty as Kabhie Kabhie was to Raakhee Gulzar’s. But we never get to hear the true voice of Katrina’s character’s emotions. There is no poetry in her eyes.
Makes you think. When the actors don’t seem convinced about their conversations, how can they convince audience of the authenticity of the emotions? Furthermore, it is strange, if not absurd, that the troubled politics of the Valley does not touch the life of the characters. They live sanitized insulated lives, unhealthily inured in their own pain.
Like their response to the world outside, we come away from the film unmoved.
Fitoor is one of the most disappointing literary adaptations ever attempted in Indian cinema. Director Abhishek Kapoor had earlier done Chetan Bhagat’s 3 Mistakes Of My Life. This is less Dickens, more Mills & Boon. Kashmir has a lot to be happy about. Wish we could say the same about Charles Dickens.
So does Noor get his precious Firdaus at the end? Does anyone care for these two souls who look at each other with what we are supposed to interpret as a distant passion? It could just be the actors wondering when the shot would get over so they could run to their phones.
Moral Of The Story: It’s one thing to adapt Chetan Bhagat. To adapt Dickens is quite another. This is Abhishek Kapoor’s third films. And we can, with no apology to Chetan Bhagat, say the third is a mistake in his life.