Abhishek Kapoor’s Fitoor is adapted from Great Expectations, and it signals its debt to (and its deviations from) the novel right at the beginning. The film is set in Kashmir, which is described thus: “Jaise jannat kafan ki chaadar odhe so rahi thi.” The shroud, of course, refers to the soft blanket of snow, but there’s also the scent of a metaphor, the pall of death. If you remember, the scene where Pip meets the convict played out in a cemetary.
Appropriately enough, the convict, here, is a militant (Ajay Dvgan, in very distracting hair). The cops become the army. Miss Havisham’s grand mansion is perhaps the state itself. “Sab ko is jannat ke chhote chhote hisse chahiye,” Miss Havisham / Begum Hazrat Jaan (Tabu) cries out, when greedy relatives show up at her doorstep. The ice princess Estella / Firdaus (Katrina Kaif), meanwhile, is getting ready to marry Pakistani politician Bilal (Rahul Bhat). She’s incapable of love, but maybe this way she’ll finally get a life without… troubles? To Pip / Noor (Aditya Roy Kapur), Firdaus is inseparable from his home state. When Bilal takes her home after a party, he screams, “Doodh maangoge to kheer denge, Kashmir maangoge to cheer denge.” How dare Pakistan walk away with Kashmir!
I am all for dismantling classics and reassembling them in ways that reflect more modern times, but this kind of political allegory (there’s actually a character named Mufti) is a little too much for what comes across as just another spin on the rich girl / poor boy love story. (“Uske kaabil ban jaao,” Hazrat tells Noor, like a typical Hindi-film parent of a certain era.) I suppose it’s inevitable when a doorstop of a novel is stripped down to its bare essentials, and romance is certainly a big part of the Dickens story – but there are also issues of class and how changes in social status change a person. Pip was obsessed with Estella and with getting ahead. These major themes become scribbles in the margins – the arriviste Noor’s disregard for the simple, loving brother-in-law who raised him, or the scene where the young Noor meets Firdaus for the first time. She’s high up, on a horse. She looks down at this boy on the ground, with his torn shoes. We don’t get the scene where she climbs down, but she may well have descended the rungs of the social ladder between them. “Aankhen neeche,” the young Firdaus orders Noor, secure in the belief that he shouldn’t be looking at things that are above his reach. But when Hazrat hears of this, she gives Noor a job at the stables. It’s her way of ensuring his entry into the horse-riding world.
But when Noor and Firdaus become adults, this exquisitely photographed film turns quite ridiculous. I laughed out loud when, after a night of lovemaking, Firdaus leaves Noor a note in Urdu. The fact that Katrina Kaif, who can barely speak Hindi after more than a decade in the movies, writes letters in Urdu is right up there with stories about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. And without a good actress in this part, Noor’s self-destructive obsession has no anchor. We’re meant to be in a zone where Dickens meets Devdas, but we seem to be watching two bored supermodels go through the motions in a photo shoot for a high-end fashion magazine. (Noor becomes a shirtless sculptor – the kind who’s clearly trained the chisel and hammer on himself.) The Kashmir references turn increasingly forced, though I did enjoy the touch of reading out passages from The Tale of Two Cities. This film is the tale of two cities too, Srinagar and New Delhi. Per the director’s design, Noor and Firdaus couldn’t have ended up anywhere else, anywhere less… political.
There are lovely songs by Amit Trivedi. (They sounded better on screen, though I would have loved it if they’d managed to avoid stereotypical words like “Pashmina.” Would they talk about Kanjeevarams if they moved South?) And there are lovely lines and conceits, especially for Hazrat. If Miss Havisham had the clocks in her mansion stopped at the time she received the letter that destroyed her life, it’s a gramophone needle in Hazrat’s case – it keeps stopping at the same point on her LP of love-drenched ghazals. After a point, I didn’t want a movie about Kashmir, I didn’t want a movie about Noor and Firdaus, I just wanted to see Hazrat grow old and batty. Tabu doesn’t look that old, at least not as old as the Miss Havisham in my mind – and I’d have loved to see Rekha play the part, as she was supposed to. But Tabu is in her own league now as an actress, and I hugely enjoyed watching Hazrat toy with Noor. She knows – as he does, and as Firdaus never will – what it’s like to burn from within for someone. She taunts him. She flirts with him. She asks – rather petulantly, when he asks why Firdaus isn’t at the opening of his big London show – if it isn’t enough that she came. What was Abhishek Kapoor thinking when he cast Kaif against this force of nature? If he thought she’d match up, those were indeed some great expectations.
- fitoor = obsession
- “Jaise jannat kafan ki chaadar odhe so rahi thi” As though heaven were sleeping under a shroud.
- “Sab ko is jannat ke chhote chhote hisse chahiye” Everyone wants a piece of this heaven.
- “Doodh maangoge to kheer denge, Kashmir maangoge to cheer denge” a rabble rousing dialogue from the Sunny Deol starrer Maa Tujhe Salaam
- “Uske kaabil ban jaao” Become worthy of her.
- “Aankhen neeche” Eyes down.
Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.