By now it is common knowledge that Abhishek Kapoor’s Fitoor – directed by Kapoor and written by him and Supratik Sen – is a modern day adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. How modern are the days though? Kapoor situates it in present day Kashmir, beginning at the close of the more volatile 90s and then moving on to today’s times. But it is very much a climate in need of a revolution much like Dickensian Paris or London. Another Dickens work is read out here – the famous opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities – as Noor (Mohammad Abrar) and Firdaus (Tunisha Sharma) grow up together. Noor and his brother-in-law are here to fix the terrace of Begum Hazrat’s (Tabu) palace but all Noor gets is admonishment from Firdaus for the hole in his shoe. Kapoor wastes no time in laying out the class divide even as Noor and Firdaus are drawn closer to each other.
The shoe reference crops up another time when Noor (Aditya Roy Kapur) moves to Delhi, to pursue his artist ambitions where his art dealer Leena Becker (Lara Dutta) tells him joote ghis jaate hain yahan tak pahunchne mein. But Noor is here not by his own accord. He is here thanks to a mysterious sponsorship that finds him. There is a beautiful throwaway moment after he settles down in Delhi when he hears a lot of noise, laughter and celebration in the dead of night, and smiles. A welcome change for him after his bleak existence and surroundings in Kashmir. He laps this up as the best he can do coming from where he does. Freedom is all about just being able to live and breathe for him. His life is puppeteered with one hand of his controlled by Begum Hazrat who spurs him on to aspire for bigger things in life as means to Firdaus (Katrina Kaif) and another controlled by the mysterious aid. This is all supposed to sit well with the politics of Kashmir, lives of its people controlled by kingmakers and breakers on either side of the border. But Fitoor is a micro-story and not Haider. The Kashmir macro-story increasingly comes across as window-dressing to the romance and is never developed enough for us to care. At one point Zeb Bangash and Nandini Srikar sing the lilting Honedo Batiyan in an Indo-Pak summit as Firdaus and Noor grapple with their feelings in the background. This is all enchanting on paper but we never fully get these arcs. The initial childhood portions are too rushed to register any of the characters motivations. In allowing Noor to breathe, Kapoor forgets to let his scenes do the same. Comically enough he has a couple of scenes that are interrupted by a ringtone. Not that these were the scenes that mattered but they illustrate Fitoor’s problems.
Tabu, predictably, is the pick of the actors but there’s a lingering thought that Kapoor has given a little too much life to Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham, who is supposed to be skeletal outside and dead inside comes across as royal at times in Fitoor. Yes, she belongs to the elite and the powerful but her own entropy is supposed to have consumed her. In Fitoor, it leaves her only with dark circles. We know from Daawat-e-Ishq that Kapur can summon the officious act with charm but he leaves much to be desired in the department of intensity. In those moments, his eyes try to flare up but the result is only a deep dark furrow on his forehead. Yet he and Kaif combine for some scintillating chemistry. It is the repressed soul act that lets both of them down taking the film along.
Fitoor does look beautiful and that’s not just because of Kashmir. It is probably what a graphic novel of Great Expectations would look like for Kapoor and cinematographer Anay Goswamy adopt those aesthetics. Every frame is carefully color corrected and while Kashmir is Kashmir, Noor’s life in Delhi appropriately reflects the class leapfrog he has managed. The other aspect that shines here is Amit Trivedi’s excellent soundtrack. It may be a predictable sound for this setting with saz, santoor and rabab but they work together beautifully with Swanand Kirkire’s words. Trivedi’s songs, more than the writing, adds weight to the proceedings at every turn. A pity that the film doesn’t rise to the class of its music.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)