Every film begins with the disclaimer that all characters and events in the film are fictitious, but few take those words as seriously as Fitoor. From Kashmir to dark circles, almost nothing in Fitoor resembles what any of us recognise as reality. It's a world seen through Instagram filters in which everyone behaves as though they know there's a soaring orchestral score following their every gesture.
While this is pretty enough for the first few minutes, this fake splendour may soon become tiresome. This is the point at which you should keep in mind that despite the allegedly real, human actors on screen, Fitoor is a Disney film. Think of it as a cartoon because that, essentially, is what Abhishek Kapoor's new film is.
Kapoor takes the basic plot of Charles Dickens's 'Great Expectations' and places it in present-day Kashmir and Delhi, with a stopover in London thrown in for fun. The film opens with a 24-year-old Noor (Aditya Roy Kapur) looking terribly upset and setting fire to a giant slingshot. This is not from Dickens and don't worry, it's not supposed to make sense just yet. (It doesn’t really make much sense even as the film wears on, but that’s a later problem.) There's an explanation and it lies in the flashback that takes us back 15 years, to Srinagar, when Noor was a nine-year-old boy.
All of Noor’s twenties are informed by what happened over the course of a year, when Noor was nine. It was then that he first caught the eye of the eccentric Begum (Tabu, hidden somewhere under ostentatiously fake jewellery and a few inches of warpaint), and her adopted daughter Firdaus (who grows up to be Katrina Kaif). Noor fell for Firdaus from the moment he saw her. Just in case we miss the point that this is puppy love, there’s an actual puppy that Firdaus cuddles at one point in this kiddie courtship.
Then one day, a bomb explodes in Srinagar and in front of his eyes, Noor’s elder sister, who had been like his mother, is killed. He, however, is more disturbed by Firdaus being sent to London to study. The Begum whirls around little Noor, spouts a few lines of poetry and tells him that he needs to make himself worthy of Firdaus. Also, don't get dead, she tells him. It's good advice, if you can get past the Begum's crazy eyes.
In an effort to meet these great expectations, Noor grows up to look like Aditya Roy Kapur, which is a job worthy of applause (especially when Kapur strips down to low-waisted pants and strides around aimlessly but manfully). He’s awarded a scholarship to go to Delhi for an “art residency”, which is basically code for being shirtless at home, attending posh parties and treating art exhibitions like press conferences.
Lo and behold, Firdaus, all grown up and glossy, is at one of these parties. Just like when he was nine, Noor stares at Firdaus, and Firdaus tells him not to stare. But he keeps staring. If that isn’t true love, what is?
Unfortunately, there are a number of flies in Noor’s ointment. One of them is the Pakistani gent to whom Firdaus is engaged. Noor’s idea of fighting for Firdaus is to yell “Doodh mango kheer denge, Kashmir mango cheer denge” at his Pakistani rival. It’s one of the many moments in Fitoor when you’re left wondering just what is reality in director Abhishek Kapoor’s world.
Another obstacle in Noor and Firdaus’s love story is the Begum, who is clearly taking make-up tips from kabuki (thus suggesting that while the aristocrats may not have TVs in their palatial homes, they sure as hell have internet). When she isn’t wheezing, and whizzing around on a wheelchair with a mysterious drip attached to it, the Begum spews ominous nonsense. She also has miraculous recoveries so that she can sashay around Noor’s exhibition in London and have absurd mental breakdowns. The Begum could have been a complex and beautifully devious character like Miss Havisham, made up of heartbreak and madness. Instead, her trauma and its effects are handled with all the grace of a cockroach that's had Baygon sprayed on it.
Back to Noor, the just-hatched artist from Srinagar who has become the toast of the international art scene. This is pretty incredible considering his lack of appreciation for FN Souza’s magnificent black canvases and the mostly ghastly artwork Noor creates. However, the collectors love it, we’re told and Lady Luck is smiling upon Noor even if Firdaus isn’t. To be fair, she may be smiling deep inside, but Kaif’s face is so irresolutely expressionless and unmoving that it’s difficult to gauge any emotion.
Kaif feels like a prop in Fitoor, but It’s not as though Firdaus doesn’t have a significant role in the film. She has the all-important task of choosing between two men: a successful Indian artist and a powerful Pakistani politician. If only we cared. If only she cared. Instead, Firdaus glides through Fitoor treating it like an extended Choc-On ad.
There’s very little that Fitoor gets right beyond its setting and some of the Instagram-inspired cinematography. The film's biggest problems are the lack of chemistry between Kapur and Kaif, and how spectacularly the film fails at scripting a love story. Romance, according to Fitoor, is a man staring unblinkingly at a woman and saying nothing. Not even a love scene — all the coloured filters in the world can’t hide just how badly both the actors are faking it — can redeem Noor and Firdaus.
As a fantasy, Fitoor is pretty enough, but it’s also hollow and lacks both credibility and emotional depth. The homes, whether in Srinagar or Delhi, look like the carefully-constructed sets that they are. Even the hotel in London is pointedly fake. The characters are two-dimensional and their relationships are unconvincing, whether it’s the lead duo you consider or the minor characters with critically important contributions to the plot. Not a single person in Fitoor seems real. There’s no sense of what kind of people they are under the fanfare and stilted dialogues.
Kapoor has the distinction of being a director who can reduce an actress as gifted as Tabu to an unconvincing, melodramatic mess. Tabu tries to salvage Fitoor, but she’s saddled with a script that is so painfully lacking in insight and maturity that it’s an impossible task. Aside from Tabu, the cast of Fitoor appears to have been chosen entirely on the basis of their looks and as a result, everyone down to the last extra is good-looking.
However, that goes only so far when there’s a (badly-written) story to be told. When these beautiful people attempt to act, the effect is usually embarrassingly bad. Add to this some awkward editing that struggles to handle all the sub-plots and you get a film that winds down post-interval like a toy with a dying battery.