At Rex, there are fifteen people in the audience at the night show of Fitoor and perhaps ten of those fifteen are up there in the balcony. Begum Hazrat (Tabu) tells Firdaus (Katrina Kaif)ki tum usko peeche rakho, aagay nahin – keep him behind you, not in front. Begum Hazrat is the wily Miss Havisham in this adaptation of Great Expectations, warning Firdaus to not fall into Noor’s (Aditya Roy Kapoor) arms and six-pack embrace, detouring away from the young Pakistani minister who is her future husband.
It takes some time for the lilting Urdu of the words to fade into raunchiness and then in staggered intervals, different parts of the hall burst into giggles. Predictably, it is a band of boys in Gandhi class who start giggling. I snort and nudge my movie companion so he gets the backdoor joke. Just when he titters there are yelps of laughter from the balcony above, at the idea that the gorgeous Tabu is telling Katrina about the relative benefits of a*** sex. All fitoors (obsessions, passions) seem hilarious and pornographic at this point.
There are many bizarre things about this film – it is a patchwork quilt of some competence and then some inanity. There have always been attempts to co-opt Kashmir into the nationalist discourse via Bollywood – remember Shammi Kapoor jerkily almost-toppling a shikara in Kashmir ki Kali. Between Kashmir and Delhi, there is Punjab or the dreamland of Khalistan where another separatist movement was ruthlessly squashed.
And not so far away is Pakistan, separated by not language, food or region but by the bloody partition. Yet in this terrain with so many conflicting movements and stories, the idea of the nation is the most aggressive propaganda work that Bollywood does. Noor has one moment of rebellion, but then Noor doesn’t yell azaadi at Firdaus and her fiancé Bilal, not even so he can retreat to his gym-studio. Instead he turns ridiculously nationalist and says Kashmir mangoge to cheer denge (if you ask for Kashmir we will tear you apart). Is he as cut off from the world as Miss Havisham/Begum Hazrat is supposed to be?
Sometimes Noor’s intensity comes off as stalking, like he should be wearing a t-shirt that says ‘Maine kiya pyaar, usne kiya FIR.’ He wears loose sweaters and kurtas that settle gently on his lithe body and even occasionally wears torn sneakers, till of course he has to dress for his part as a successful artist. Noor’s art is marvellously inconsistent. A shikara sinking like a Titanic of pink wires is his first work on Kashmir.
The stencil of the Chinar leaf looms large. A surprisingly decent ghostly painting of Katrina and then a larger than life photographic reproduction of her face, complete with the burgundy-coloured hair. The finale is a panicked horse with flaring nostrils a la M.F. Hussain. As Tabu says –tumhare kaam mein ab wazan aagaya hain, dil toot ne ke baad (your work has more weight, now that your heart is irreparably broken).
Tabu is marvellous. She has clearly not been the villain often enough. One can imagine her seductive voice saying –one more script adapting a serious (read Western) literary work to Kashmir.Arrey, I’ll do it for kicks. She is a classist and conniving bitch, right down to each fingertip and curl of smoke rising from her hookah. Begum Hazrat is frightened about being proven wrong about the world and about who she thinks are idiots. Hell, who isn’t? That’s my biggest fear!
While Tabu is effortlessly beautiful, Katrina is nervously pretty. You can almost see her fretting about how she looks. Oddly this makes her human and even charming. Katrina seems to have watched the Gwenyth Paltrow-Ethan Hawke version of Great Expectations because her clothes seem entirely inspired by the desire to imitate Paltrow’s leggy style. The film falters so much that it makes no sense to pick it apart. It is value-for-money Bollywoodness but what is irksome, even offensive, is that it is set in Kashmir. Maybe Great Expectations needs to be set in Sector 44 Noida, just so that we don’t expect too much.