Print Edition - 2016-02-20  |  On Saturday

The boy from Dal

  • The new Fitoor is certainly easy on the eyes, but far too flimsy at its core to affect—supremely disappointing performances by its two main leads is just one of the reasons it doesn’t work
- Preena Shrestha
The script has made no effort to contextualise the story—Kashmir appears to have been chosen because it would look good on camera, the same way Noor has been made an artist because it would allow for some sexy bare-chested painting shots, nothing more

Feb 20, 2016-Most will agree that the spectral figure of Miss Havisham, bitter and twisted by tragedy, trapped in a reality of her own making, wherein the “stopping of the clocks had stopped Time”—particularly the description of her shrivelled form decked in yellowing, disintegrating wedding finery—comprises one of the most enduring images from Great Expectations. And if you’ve loved the book by Charles Dickens, you’ll be happy to learn that the actress Tabu, in the recent Hindi screen adaptation of the tale, more than does justice to a character that has been variously interpreted and portrayed in film and other media over the years. The rest of the movie, however, is a different story altogether. Though the source material would seem made for a Bollywood rendition, given how it is replete with drama and all-consuming romance, and though director Abhishek Kapoor (Rock On!!, Kai Po Che)clearly wanted to create something beautiful and deep and moving, he has only succeeded on the first count. The new Fitoor is certainly easy on the eyes, but far too flimsy at its core to affect—supremely disappointing performances by its two leads is just one of the reasons it doesn’t work. 

It is 15 years ago, and we are in the frosty, snow-clad surrounds of the Dal Lake in Kashmir Valley, where young Noor (Mohammed Abrar) lives with his sister and her husband in a humble little wooden cottage. Noor has a gift for art, always buried in his sketchbook, and often helps his sister make prints for textiles—as well as doing other odd jobs—to supplement their income. On one fateful occasion, he is made to accompany his brother-in-law to work on the estate of Hazrat Begum (Tabu), an eccentric, reclusive heiress with a mysterious past that many have speculated over but no one can say much about with any real certainty. It is here that Noor meets the Begum’s daughter, the pretty and rather stuck-up Firdaus (Tunisha Sharma), whom he falls for at first sight. And to his surprise, both Firdaus and her mother appear to take an instant shining to him too, and he is soon hired as a stable-boy. Noor can barely get over his luck: he and Firdaus are spending more and more time together and growing ever closer—a friendship the Begum, for reasons unknown, simultaneously encourages and dissuades. Until one day, something happens to pull them abruptly apart. 

In the present day now, and Noor is all grown up (played by Aditya Roy Kapur) and has set up a little gallery of his works at home. In much the same way as the major turning points in his life have transpired thus far—seemingly as per someone else’s design, with little input from his side—he suddenly receives an opportunity to take up an art residency in Delhi, all expenses paid, at the generosity of an unnamed sponsor, though he suspects the Begum might have had something to do with it, being that it was following a visit by her that the offer arrived. He decides, nonetheless to accept, since it means he might run into Firdaus (Katrina Kaif) again, whom he’s heard is in Delhi too. Sure enough, within a day of his having landed in the city, they’ve already met and reconnected, and things are going very well. But Noor is soon to find that there is more to the Begum and her daughter than meets the eye, and that he may have been made a pawn in a warped game playing out since long before his time. 

As mentioned earlier, Tabu is absolutely wonderful here, a performance that—for obvious reasons—harkens back to her stint not too long ago in Haider, another retelling of a literary classic, where too she had been in top form. She steps into the Begum’s skin with such graceful ease: every gesture purposeful, but not in a way as to divest the proceedings of spontaneity—the actress manages an impressive balance between theatrical intensity and believability. She dazzles every time she steps into the frame, her voice, her body, all given to a complex, captivating portrayal that switches between benevolent and snarling cruelty and back again in the blink of an eye.

Unfortunately, although we do get to see more of Tabu in the second half of Fitoor as compared to the first, there is simply not enough of her overall—what we have instead are long, dull stretches of watching our two leads trying (and failing) to drum up some semblance of chemistry. Kapur fares the better of the two—luckily he happens to be playing a character who is, in general, passive to a fault, which means we can somewhat explain away his performance as being of the “internalised” variety for the most part, although his limitations become clear as day in crucial scenes nearing the climax, when he simply can’t deliver the goods. 

Far, far frustrating are Kaif’s limitations; the actress is really little more than a glorified hanger for some beautiful costumery here. Wooden as can be and just plain out of her depth in a role that called for much, much more expressiveness, her performance is by far the weakest element in Fitoor, and she is eclipsed by even the supporting cast, which includes, among others, Aditi Rao Hydari and Rahul Bhat. 

The inadequacy of the young leads is probably one of the reasons Kapoor relies so disproportionately on montages set to songs to progress the plotline. Mercifully, the songs are actually good, and the montages pretty to look at. Anay Goswami’s cinematography is clearly one of the film’s few strengths: he offers us some gorgeous images in the form of steely-white Kashmiri winter landscapes, warm autumnal views of characters frolicking among the valley’s distinctive chinar trees in all shades of red and brown, and of course the interior scenes, moodily lit and gorgeously textured, sizeable credit for which goes to the production design team. 

Of course, there’s only so much of scenery you can drink in continuously for a more-than-two-hour run time before your brain glazes over, especially given that the script has made no effort to really contextualise the story and use those specific settings to its advantage—like Haider, for example, also set in a similar time and place, was able to do so well. Kashmir appears to have been chosen simply because it would look good on camera, the same way Noor appears to have been made an artist simply because it would allow for some sexy bare-chested canvas-painting shots; neither premise—the turbulent politics of Kashmir, or the creative process—has been explored in any real or insightful way, only skimmed superficially for their most aesthetically pleasing aspects. 

Still, all that could have been forgivable had we been given a couple that we really felt something for, which is not the case here. Partly owing to dialogues that are inclined to constant poetic turns and clichéd rhetoric to the point of ridiculousness, and of course, the simple inability of the actors to convey any sort of convincing connection—and the director to pull that out of them—we just don’t care much. Fitoor might be beautiful on the surface, but it’s hollow at its core. 


Published: 20-02-2016 09:43

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