As is quite clear from its title, Fitoor (Obsession) is a love story. So poor but artistic Kashmiri boy Noor (Aditya Roy Kapur) falls in love with rich and haughty girl Firdaus (Katrina Kaif). They get together, move apart and then come back together again. However, they leave the viewers rather cold and unconcerned despite mouthing some seemingly passionate lines like “ Khud se azaad ya to maut karti hai ya ishq (You can get liberation from the self either through death or love)”. Fitoor wants desperately to be a grand, epic romance but depends way too much on its stunning Kashmir canvas to achieve that than characters and story that you can empathise with.
Though inspired from Charles Dickens’ classic Great Expectations it doesn’t quite make you flow along unquestioningly with the sequence of events, nor does it make you root for the protagonists and their class struggles, as did the novel. The proceedings flummox, the happenstance baffles and each of the leading characters and his or her motivations remain utterly unconvincing. There is as much of brusqueness with which Firdaus brushes Noor off as the abruptness with which she runs right back into his arms. Her mother, Begum Hazrat (Tabu), sensing Noor’s love for her daughter, leads him on and yet makes him stop on his tracks. Why? Of course all the loose ends are tied up eventually, explanations are offered but it is done clumsily and stretches credibility.
Is it the story that has become dated now or is it lost in adaptation? Does situating it in Kashmir become its undoing? Visually, the landscape is sanitised of both of militancy and the armed forces. There are throwaway references, lines like “ sabko jannat ke hisse chahiye (everyone wants a piece of heaven)” and an odd bomb blast brings in the necessary twist to the plot. But largely what we see is an airbrushed, gorgeous Kashmir, in whites and greys, all snowy and wintry. It’s the pretty chinar leaves and beautiful, frozen raindrops that dominate Kapoor’s film. Painterly images, great cinematography alright but it is still way too hard to accept a visual obfuscation of the not-so-pretty reality when it does drive your story right from the beginning. Can you de-politicise Kashmir thus and yet not quite let go of it for your plot’s convenience? Kapoor seems to be caught in that bind.
There is an interesting moment when there is an amalgamation of the love for the woman with the love for the motherland when Noor pointedly shouts “ Kashmir mangoge, cheer denge (We will rip you apart if you ask for Kashmir)” at a Pakistani delegation member who Firdaus is betrothed to. But it is too fleeting and nippy to be impactful. The lovely song “ Hone do batiyan ”, however, is aptly used against the backdrop of Indo-Pak talks shown in the film and simultaneously talks of love and politics.
Dickens Pip may have had Abel Magwitch help him for good reason but it is unimaginable that a young Kashmiri Noor could move so swiftly from penury in Srinagar to be with a swishy set of youngsters in Delhi. He moves into the high life with sheer ease and is accepted in turn with open arms by the Capital glitterati while you rub your eyes in utter disbelief. He buys expensive cars, exhibits in prestigious galleries and flies to London just as easily only to find later how his life had been a lie.
Katrina is good so long as she has to just be herself. So she dances, smiles and flirts cutely but the minute a dramatic scene comes up that patent “moist eyes and dewy lips” act draws attention to her utter inadequacy as a performer. Aditya has to look completely mesmerised by her and deeply unhappy in love which he does adequately. An air of mystery, artifice and affectation, coquettishness and stylised speech — Tabu’s Begum is a world of her own, often hard to fathom but she holds the viewer in her grasp and Fitoor eventually turns out to be her film than that of Noor or Firdaus. It’s her enduring love that has more pain and intensity than the plastic emotions of the film’s lead. Or for that matter the director’s love for the Kashmir panorama.