Perhaps the biggest disservice Abhishek Kapoor’s Fitoor does to its source text Great Expectations, is that it completely misses out on the subtle-yet-biting humour from the Dickens masterwork.
Now, one may argue that sarcasm (especially of the deadpan, self-deprecating kind) comes naturally to the Brits, while we Indians are yet to learn how to loosen our pants and chuckle, particularly at our own expense.
Sucking the humour out of Great Expectations is akin to sucking out its soul; and hence, watching Fitoor right after reading Great Expectations is quite like trying to wash down a F.R.I.E.N.D.S. marathon with Zee TV’s Nikhil Chinnappa-Cyrus Broacha starrer ‘Hello Friends’, which, for the uninitiated (who could be a lot of you), is a lame copy of the cult sitcom.
The opening scene of Fitoor has a terrified Pip (Noor) meeting a gruff convict, an interaction that would go on to change Pip’s life forever, and Ajay Devgn plays the latter. (And that’s really not as funny as it sounds on paper; once he’s off screen, we miss him only as much as we miss the ‘A’ in his last name.)
Soon enough (and after sufficiently skimping through some interesting characters and parts of the text), young Noor meets the Hindi film version of two of the most influential characters of Dickens' story, Estella and Miss Havisham.
We know immediately that the attempt will be to make a timeless love story, because young Firdaus makes her entry in slow motion, astride a galloping white stallion. In a white Kashmir winter, young Noor spots Paradise, and falls in eternal love. (In more ways than one, you can’t wait for the lad to grow up.)
Tabu, playing the older Miss Havisham, is a mixed bag. Her performance is bewitching, but also a tad bit effected. That intense complexity of the original character is completely lost through the entire film. The most solid part of Tabu’s presence in Fitoor is the fake beauty spot above her lip. It has been placed there with so much love that you notice it in every scene, even in the ones where we have Aditi Rao Hydari playing a young Miss Havisham. (Kudos to the makers for getting Tabu to dub for her as well. Not once did Miss Rao Hydari seem like a bad choice to play a young Tabu.)
Very soon, young Firdaus leaves for London (so that there’s a good excuse for her Indian accent to turn into Katrina Kaif’s now-famous British twang.)
Conversely, 15 years later, young Noor’s unmissable Kashmiri accent grows into Aditya Roy Kapur’s laboured Urdu, (but the strapping young man does have the screen presence and physique to hold his own in this rather beautifully shot film.)
We’re told that Noor, an artist, sculpts more than just his own body. And his art eventually sees him find his way to Delhi, where Firdaus now is, after returning from London. (Here we also see Lara Dutta in an inexplicable cameo, grinning like she’s in on some joke that we aren’t aware of.)
In Delhi, we also finally meet Katrina Kaif’s auburn hair. Like Estella in the book, Katrina Kaif presence in the film is only fleeting. She looks lovely and extraordinarily confident, but the Valley comes crashing down when she opens her mouth to speak, because even after all these years of facing the camera, she is unable to completely sync her spoken dialogue with the visuals of her lips moving.
Great Expectations is primarily a growing-with-life tale. While Fitoor is an intense Hindi film love story. Hence, once our lead pair finally meets, we get some sparks, some courting, a separation and a forced track about a dashing young Pakistani politician. (Rahul Bhat, last seen in his terrific performance in Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly, is quite convincing here as well. He could well be the new Ronit Roy, with his career being given a fresh lease of life.)
Fitoor’s narrative is so slow that at one stage it seems to be moving backwards. From the point at which Noor and Firdaus part, to the point where they finally get ‘together’ in the last scene of the film, virtually nothing happens. Yet, it isn’t an outright disaster. It is meant to be poetic and heart-breaking, and a more accomplished lead cast could actually have helped achieve that. Kapur and Kaif try hard, but some things just aren’t meant to be – something that also happens to be a big learning from Great Expectations. The film is also consistently one of the best looking Hindi films we’ve watched on the big screen in a while.
In fact, the film suffers most because it calls itself an adaptation of the Charles Dickens book. By itself, it is the kind of film that’ll doubtlessly have a limited audience, but it will still find its share of takers. Because, in our romance-starved lives, love always finds takers.
However, unlike the other British text adaptation set in Kashmir, namely Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider,Fitoor sorely misses out on nuance and subtext. Everything beautiful in the film can be seen (in the gorgeous lead pair and in Anay Goswamy’s cinematography) and heard (in the artificial but lyrical dialogues). But that’s it. Pip’s journey, Estella’s detachment, Miss Havisham’s ghostly life – the essence of every one of these pillars of the book are lost in the film.
So, apart from one feeble attempt at a joke (and it can be called that only relatively speaking), the film is likely to be remembered as nothing more than an exquisite but humourless bore.
The most unintentionally comic scene in the film comes about when Aditya Roy Kapur repeatedly yells 'doodh mangoge toh kheer denge, Kashmir mangoge toh cheer denge' - that line immortalised on celluloid by, well, Arbaaz Khan. (Noor yells this at a character whose father is named Salman, no less.)
It's interesting, because with the Kashmiri girl Firdaus intending to marry a Pakistani, what we essentially have is Katrina Kaif playing an anti-national. And we all know that particular crime deserves the strictest of punishments, which she receives, because she has to settle for a man-child in the end. It is, perhaps, the most Dickensian moment in the film, and that's really not a good thing, if you think about it.