Director: Abhishek Kapoor
Cast: Aditya Roy Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Tabu
Kashmir wrapped around in a blanket of snow makes for a gorgeous Gothic setting for Fitoor to unravel. As the camera gently strokes the exquisite emptiness typical of snow covered landscapes, we have already entered Noor's world who's a boy of about 10 or 12 at the time, in the middle of a strange encounter with a fierce looking man. Abhishek Kapoor jumps straight into the story which, as we are told, is an adaptation of Charles Dickens's classic Great Expectations. The novel, on one level, is a story of love seen through different prisms --- longing, heartbreak, revenge and even through a state of being bereft of emotion altogether. For those familiar with Dickens's prose, Fitoor's major undoing lies in the way the images on screen constantly clash with the images in our minds. Dickens's Pip, Estella and Miss Havisham have colonialised our imaginations for far too long for us to swallow even the slightest departure from text. But departures can be delicious under the hands of a master storyteller --- think Haider, Vishal Bhardwaj's onscreen translation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, which was also set in the backdrop of Kashmir. Sadly, Fitoor's beauty fails to transcend the borders of its landscape. Those familiar with the story would find it hard to stomach what they see on screen, and for the others, I'd imagine, there'd be many abrupt and unexplained ellipses in the narrative.
Granted, the novel has a colourless hero as its central protagonist and we are supposed to view his world through his eyes, through the colourful characters that thrust themselves into his life. Kapoor entrusts his Noor with a larger responsibility, in that he's meant to be a lot more than Pip's quiet, contemplative observer. But actor Aditya Roy Kapoor is not the man for the job. His chiseled physique, that gets ample display in the film (swoon away ladies) makes him more convincing as a model than as the artist he plays in the film. His vacant stares, his meltdowns, his lofty prose, all remain skin deep. On the other end of the spectrum is Firdaus, played by Katrina Kaif who, as one would imagine, would have the bearings to play the cold Estella, the girl who was raised by Miss Havisham to be a heart breaker. But Kaif only manages to be lifeless, not cold. Tears roll down their cheeks now and again, and when Dickens, in this very novel wrote, "Heaven knows, we need never be ashamed of our tears", presumably he wasn't talking about actors. Katrina and Aditya look like a million bucks in every frame, even as they appear to be dragging their feet through the roles. You neither feel their "pain of parting" nor take delight in their "joy of meeting".
And that leaves Tabu with the job of lifting the story that is already sagging under the weight of our great expectations. Hazrat Begum is not even half as sinister or macabre as Miss Havisham. Time has not stopped dead in its tracks in the Gothic mansion she has locked herself in. In fact, she seems to move around quite a bit and has a connection with the outside world. Noor's first meeting with the Begum is hardly Pip's chilling encounter with the wheelchair bound Miss Havisham. Even when she asks Noor to hum a tune because she hasn't cried in a long time, the moment only seems odd, not ominous. The piles of dried chinar leaves outside the mansion add more warmth to the frames than emptiness. There is no feeling of gloomy exile which is so inherent to Havisham's character. Begum's relation with her adopted daughter Firdaus remains peripheral and might seem even more abrupt to those who have not read the book. Towards the end, when Begum does indeed become a collapsing ruin, a la Havisham, it is more melodramatic than gut wrenching. It's tough to watch how even an actress of Tabu's calibre cannot defeat the sloppy writing and loose screenplay. The Urdu embellishments remain a misfit through and through.
As we follow the rise and fall in Noor's career, the story swings between Kashmir and Delhi with a little bit of London and also some Pakistan sprinkled in. In one of the most abrupt moments in the film, our dreamy eyed artist Noor has his three seconds of rebellion when he screams "Kashmir mangoge toh cheer denge" to Firdaus's Pakistani fiance Bilal, played by Rahul Bhat. And we see Pip becoming Devdas for a while. Unlike the novel, which is also about the discrepancies in social hierarchy, Fitoor is more about the romance. No harm in that provided one has the actors to pull off the emotional intensity of complex characters. On that account Abhishek Kapoor's adaptation seems more unconvincing than the synthetic snowfall in the film's climax.
What shines through the 130 minutes is Anay Goswami's painterly cinematography and Amit Trivedi's velvety soundtrack. Fitoor doesn't lack pace, it lacks the finesse and the depth. And we are left with not much to do except marvel at the white beauty of Kashmir, while the real Pip, Estella and Miss Havisham remain buried under that thick blanket of snow, perhaps occasionally stirring in their graves....