Fitoor – A Review

Abhishek Kapoor directs Katrina Kaif, Aditya Roy Kapoor and Tabu in Fitoor, a story adapted by Supratik Sen from Charles Dickens’ The Great Expectations. Kapoor last adapted the Chetan Bhagat’s three mistakes of my life into the brilliant Kai Po Che and given what he milked out of a less than stellar source material the expectations would have been sky high given Dickens’ rich and fertile literary ground that Kapoor had to play with. Does Kapoor and team meet the great expectations or do they drift aimlessly into the abyss like an untethered kite? Read on to find out more.

Kapoor and Sen have stayed quiet true to the original, Aditya Roy Kapoor is Noor or Dickens’ Pip, Katrina is Firdaus, Estella in the original and Tabu is Hazrat Begum the eccentric Mrs. Haversham . Besides these three there are a lot of other characters from Dickens’ Novel that find themselves adapted into the Indian context in Fitoor.

When we first meet Noor and Firdaus we see a beautiful and ethereal Firdaus and an awestruck and an inadequate feeling Noor. Begum Hazrat sees the first inkling of puppy love in Noor’s eyes and seems to encourage it by asking him to come to the Mansion more often but then following the violence in the valley which kills Noor’s sister the Begum sends Firdaus away to London to study leaving Noor longing for her. Years later Noor a budding artist is given a scholarship from a mysterious benefactor who he assumes is the Begum herself.  Moving to Delhi Noor meets Firdaus and confesses his love which she rejects as she is set to be engaged to Bilal. This is the biggest departure from The Great Expectations because where in the novel we clearly see that Estella is cold and unloving, Firdaus is seemingly struggling to decide between Noor and Bilal. This is also where the story wobbles because it becomes about this love story more than the over-arching theme of growth of Pip/Noor.

Aditya Roy Kapoor who caused me incessant grief as the drunken mess in Yeh Jawani hai Deewani surprises with a restrained performance. He has intensity in his quiet demeanor that is perfect for this performance. Katrina Kaif as Firdaus is beautiful but fails to bring a sense of haughtiness that is essential for the character of Estella. Without the cool aloofness the climactic realization of love does not carry the same weight that it would have. Tabu as Begum Hazrat is exceptional. There is a sense of discomfort that you feel when you see her approach young Noor, there is a tragic beauty in her when you see her lie on her chaise smoking a hukka. Her demeanor and actions at the beginning of the story make sense when you are given the back story to her failed attempt at love. Hers is the best written character amongst the main three. Her penchant for wearing ostentatious jewelry only makes sense when you find out her back story.

It is rare that one would complain that a Bollywood movie needs to be longer. But that is exactly what was needed; at least another 30 minutes and the second half could have carried more weight than just stumbling to a satisfactory conclusion. As in the novel the guilt of Mrs. Haversham at manipulating Pip and Estella, the connections between Pip’s benefactor, Estella’s biological parents and Mrs. Haversham’s Fiancé who jilted her and how all of this ties back to Pip and the eventual reconciliation between Pip and Estella would have made for a more compelling second half than Kapoor and Sen manage with Fitoor. But it is not to be and we must judge Fitoor for what it is and in that it is a solid attempt at adapting a one of the most influential literary works which Kapoor manages to with a justifiable degree of success. The cinematography is gorgeous and the production value of the highest kind when it comes to Noor’s works of art. Buoyed by strong performances from Aditya Roy Kapoor and Tabu it is a very competent film that leaves you wanting more. While it lacks the intensity of Haider a Shakespearean adaptation also set in Kashmir Fitoor is not lacking in allegories. Maybe I read too much into the movie but I could definitely see an Indo-Pak-Kashmir metaphor happening and it is commendable that Indian directors are aiming for a subtext no matter if the end result is sub-par at least they are trying.

 

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Haider – A Review

 Vishal Bharadwaj directs Shahid Kapoor and Tabu in Haider an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This is Bharadwaj’s third attempt at adapting the noted English playwright’s material after Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello). Bharadwaj has a knack for contemporizing Victorian stories in the Indian context and doing so very effectively. With Maqbool he set the story in the Mumbai underworld and with Omkara he exploited the criminal-political nexus of the heartland by setting the story in Uttar Pradesh. With Haider he takes the troubled prince’s story and sets it in the strife ridden state of Kashmir and the words that begin Hamlet “there is something rotten in the state of Denmark” couldn’t ring truer.

Kay Kay Menon plays Khurrum (Claudius) who marries Ghazala (Gertrude) played by Tabu after the “disappearance” of Haider’s (Hamlet) Father Dr. Hilal (king Hamlet). Shraddha Kapoor plays Arshee (Ophelia and also Horatio as Hamlet’s friend). Irrfan Khan plays Roohdar (the ghost of Hamlet’s father) delivering a message from his father about the deceit of Khurrum.

The story mostly plays around the themes of Hamlet and tries to be as faithful an adaption as possible under the constraints of the geo-political hotpot of Kashmir. Any movie based on Kashmir is sure to be divisive as you cannot take a neutral stance over the militant insurgency and the mistrust the people of Kashmir feel towards the militarization of what is essentially heaven on earth. Bharadwaj tries to tackle the AFSPA issue and that is where the movie stumbles. Bharadwaj tries to rely on AFSPA as a plot device allowing Khurrum to get his brother captured by the military and eventually killed. By trying to rely too much on AFSPA and to almost demonizing it is where the movie’s narrative pace fails. It becomes cumbersome and does not yield the results Bharadwaj might have wanted it to, however kudos to him and script writer Bashrat Peer for trying.

Shraddha Kapoor is a revelation as Arshee and playing Kashmiri comes naturally to her. Kay Kay Menon who has phenomenal talents to play the bad guy fails to excite me with this outing. He plays Khurrum with a degree of menace that is so on the nose that it becomes parody of the Claudius as intended by Shakespeare. The prayer scene where he is supposed to appear contrite ends up being even more contrived. Irrfan Khan is slowly become more unbearable with every outing and seems to have lost the earthiness that made him great in Paan Singh Tomar. There is nothing worse than an actor who thinks he knows he is better than everyone else and that is the vibe I am getting from Khan ever since his Hollywood foray. His Roohdar is unconvincing and for reasons best known to Bharadwaj or the editing team the whole plot with militancy is rendered under developed. Tabu does what she does best. She lights up the screen every time she is on it. Her physical presence is so commanding on screen that everything else shrinks in comparison. Her earnest Ghazala is another addition to an already overly impressive resume. She crafts her character so beautifully that every time she calls out to Haider as “Jana” it makes you think of your own mother (albeit less deceitful). Everything except Shahid Kapoor shrinks in Tabu’s presence. Shahid Kapoor delivers what is arguably the best performance of his career. This is the Shahid that we all know and love and was lost somewhere in the 100 cr race. The first time I ever took notice of Shahid was also in a Bharadwaj caper – Kaminey (also the first ever review I wrote so the partnership is special for a personal reason). His Haider is restrained and insane at the same time. The vulnerability and intensity in his eyes as he searches for his father and then avows to avenge his death is electric.  My favorite Shahid moment is during the song Jhelum when he exchanges photos with a woman looking for her missing son, it gave me chills and made me tear up for him.

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Bharadwaj, as legend has it learnt to be a music composer during college days to woo Rekha Bharadwaj. Here he provides the background score for Haider and it couldn’t have been done any better. His reliance on single instruments, be it the cello, the violin or even the stray strings of Sitar to underscore the uneasy silence that enfolds the valley is fantastic. There are places where the music rises with the rise in tension but then at the climax the strings fade from the concerto and the emotions alone drive home the point and this is the restraint that only a very self-assured story teller is capable of. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography is beautiful as it captures the beauty of the Kashmir valley in all its snowy glory. The only misstep is the inclusion of unnecessary songs; the only songs that deserve any place in the screenplay are the Jhelum re Jhelum and the acapella song by Shraddha Kapoor as she mourns the loss of her father. The song with Haider and Arshee frolicking in the snow and the gravedigger’s song are jarringly out of place and seem to be paying mere lip service to Hamlet. The song bismil bulbul is the strongest argument in favor of giving a personal flavor to an adaptation, the famous play in a play from hamlet is adapted to a dance performance commemorating the marriage of Ghazala and Khurrum and is written, sung and shot so beautifully that it defies comparisons.

Hamlet and other work of art are always open to interpretations and I believe that Bharadwaj has also tried to add a layer a subtext to his adaptation that leaves the audience to interpret the story based on their own prejudices. How I see it is as an allegory to the contentious Kashmir issue. If one were to supplant Hilal (Haider’s father) as King Hari Singh Bahadur and Ghazala as Kashmir itself then based on your point of view you could argue for either Haider as India or Pakistan and khurrum as the other . I know I could be way off but to me it is essentially why this movie is more than just a mere adaptation and the reason why Vishal Bharadwaj is regarded as one of India’s best and most original directors.

Haider in many ways seems incomplete or entirely too slow and meandering and by the end it seems to have gone nowhere, but that is the nature of Shakespeare’s Hamlet which unfolds as a tragedy with many time lapses and moments of insanity and introspection. Haider is a beautiful made film which unfortunately isn’t without a few flaws, but these flaws are easily overlooked when Tabu and Shahid Kapoor set the screen on fire with their brilliant acting.

The Great Gatsby – A Review

Baz Luhrmann returns to familiar territory of star-crossed lovers and this time the landscape shifts to 1920s New York. Reuniting with his Romeo Leonardo as The Great Gatsby Baz Luhrmann tries to breathe fresh life into this great american novel which I unfortunately have never read. The movie stars Carey Mulligan as Daisy, Tobey Maguire as Nick, Joel Edgerton as Tom, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker and an almost unrecognizable Isla Fisher as Myrtle.
Not being familiar with F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel I went in knowing only that it was set in the 1920s era of debauchery, that it was about two star crossed lovers and that it was in the voice of Nick Caraway and in this case Tobey Maguire (and that thought made me squeamish because I am not the biggest Maguire fan). But I happen to love Leonardo DiCaprio’s choice in movies and Carey Mulligan in my opinion is one of the best underrated actresses working today.
There are a lot of era-specific references with the Wall Street boom, the end of the prohibition, loose morals, the plight of the working class and the excesses of the rich. Fitzgerald’s story seems to have influenced many writers and stories to have come afterwards and since this was the first time I was seeing Gatsby I immediately thought of Don Draper when Gatsby’s roots are revealed.
Luhrmann is known for his over-the-top style when it comes to set decorations, choice of music and even the camera angles he chooses, these choices render some of the story elements coming across as jerky and incoherent. The first party which Tom whisks Nick away to is a fine example of the Luhrmann excess. Garish red interiors to a saxophone player on the fire escape to signature zooming in of the camera. The point of the scene was lost on me until the point when Maguire starts’ mouthing what I assume is the prose from the novel verbatim. While I marveled at the beauty of the prose and am compelled to pick up the novel for a read I have to dock a point from Luhrmann as it is a clear sign of weakness that he has to rely on the exact prose to convey the story.
The movie takes off after the second party with the introduction to Gatsby, with the fireworks in the background and a grand symphony to herald the on-screen reveal of DiCaprio as Gatsby. DiCaprio is an actor who doesn’t cease to surprise, he could just as easily have caved into what is Luhrmann’s over the top style and played Gatsby as the self-assured suave nouveau riche gentleman but what DiCaprio does is infuse a sense of earnestness and honesty to the character that is absolutely endearing. You see the cracks beneath the veneer and you see Gatsby second guessing and enquiring in the most earnest way if the party is to everyone’s liking but then again you are left second guessing yourself if this is a man who is so sure in his ways that this candor and modesty is an act to make the guest feel welcome. DiCaprio’s performance is enough to convey the eternal hopefulness that he lives by dreaming that Daisy will be his , it is not required for Maguire to tell us that “he is the most hopeful man I’ve ever come across”. I could sit here and extoll what a wonderful job DiCaprio does here and how he is reason enough to see the movie but then that would take up a lot more words than I intend to write for the review. Just take my word for it- he is the warmth of Jack (titanic), the paranoia of Howard(aviator) and the slightly unhinged Teddy (Shutter Island) all rolled into one fine package and he looks better than ever in a finely cut suit. And that scene at Nick’s place where Gatsby comes over for tea with Daisy is so awkward and charismatic that you are instantly on team-gatsby and willing for him to win daisy over.


Of the other cast Carey Mulligan is sufficiently coquettish and breathes life into the character of daisy which could have just as easily become a despicable character given her ambiguous overtures towards Gatsby and the eventual fateful climax. Tobey Maguire is annoying but not for all the usualy reasons I find him annoying – he is annoying because of Luhmann’s incompetencies he makes Tobey the medium through which major passages from the novel are spoon fed to the audience. Outside of that he is alright. Joel Edgerton has a caricature of a character to portray and he does so well but isn’t given a lot of room to grow. Elizabeth Debicki surprised me the most in the short amount of time she is allowed on screen as Jordan baker. Not only is she a statuesque beauty who commands screen presence like the leading ladies of the yesteryears but her almost wry confidence is very intriguing and she was the one character I wanted to know more about . Amitabh Bachchan makes a Hollywood debut that should have happened sooner considering his talent, here as the oily creepy jewish mobster Meyer Wolfsheim is effective in the very brief screen time, but sufficient to prove that he has a better accent than his daughter in law. I wish he gets a meatier role courtesy of The Great Gatsby.

With Gatsby Lurhmann’s tried to recreate the 1920s via the production design and the costumes and most of it checks all the boxes. Catherine martin is sure to be one of the names at the top of the list come award season for her work on both the costumes and production design. With Shawn Carter a.k.a. Jay Z acting as producer and also musical contributor introduces one hell of an OST that will also feature a few contenders. In my opinion the top three songs are Lana Del Ray’s “Young and beautiful”, Jack White’s “Love is blindness” and Florence Welsh’s “Over the love” . I could and have listened to LDR’s young and beautiful on a loop.


While not perfect The Great Gatsby is perfectly satisfying because of the hopeful earnestness of Leonardo DiCaprio. He is the hero you cheer for till the very end , when he looks up from the swimming pool as the phone rings hoping that it is daisy calling. Watch this great american novel come to life courtsey one of the greatest working actor today watch The Great Gatsby for Leonardo DiCaprio.