While there have been numerous versions of 1861 novel Great Expectations brought to the silver screen, Bollywood has weighed in with a new adaptation. While much of the story can be mapped to the original, several nuances of the Charles Dickens classic tale about the personal growth and development of an orphan boy are jettisoned in order to focus in on the Pip-Estella-Miss Haversham love story.
Just as in the original, themes of wealth and poverty, love and loss, honesty and secrecy permeate the story; however, the tapestry of this tale is woven with a slightly different yarn - one that reflects the backdrop of a country that lives in several centuries simultaneously. Perhaps this is why a film based on Great Expectations works in this milieu - the cultural conflicts between modern and traditional provide just the right setting for a tale about social advancement, wealth, and class.
A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin. - Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
Filmed around the beautiful Dal Lake in the Srinagar in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Fitoor begins just as Great Expectations does - with an escaped convict capturing our young hero Noor (Mohammed Abrar) and threatening him for want of a meal. Despite his poor upbringing, this orphaned Kashmiri boy manages to scrounge up some food. When the police show up in search of the escapee, the convict quickly disappears into the night and out of Noor's life. It is a brief encounter that, years later, will change Noor's life.
Later, when his brother-in-law takes Noor along to help make repairs to the house of the wealthy woman Begum Hazrat (Tabu), Noor meets and becomes infatuated with Begum's daughter Firdaus (Tunisha Sharma). Noticing Noor's interest in her daughter, Begum extends an invitation to Noor to visit regularly as a playmate to her daughter. Noor's interest in Firdaus grows. However, a bombing in town changes everything when Begum suddenly sends Firdaus away to Delhi.
Despite the passing years and the complete absence of Firdaus from his life, he continues to pine away for her.
"I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be. Once for all; I loved her nonetheless because I knew it, and it had no more influence in restraining me, than if I had devoutly believed her to be human perfection." - Pip, Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
Having demonstrated artistic talent early in life, Noor pursues art with a passion and years later is visited by Begum who becomes his first client by purchasing one of his many art pieces. Soon a lawyer arrives with news that Noor has been granted an art scholarship in Delhi. Knowing that Firdaus is living in Delhi and wanting to take advantage of the grant, he packs his things and heads off to Delhi where he soon meets Firdaus and a cast of characters who introduce him to the youthful hustle and bustle of life in a big city.
Noor makes his interest known to her, but Firdaus makes herself emotionally unavailable. She declares that she will soon be engaged to another and so there cannot be an alliance between them. When Noor's love finally breaks down her resistance, she leaves him to return to Srinagar. He soon follows, heartbroken and confused.
Aditya Roy Kapur's Noor is honest yet still somewhat enigmatic. His obsession with Firdaus never fades, it just evolves. His emotions pour out into his work as he creates art using a variety of mediums and scales, creating an eclectic collection that reflects a personal journey with many twists and turns.
"I am what you have made me. Take all the praise, take all the blame; take all the success, take all the failure; in short, take me." - Estella, Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
Beautiful Firdaus (Katrina Kaif) is great at making lots of friends but the strong connection she maintains with her mother makes her somewhat emotionally unavailable to build deeper relationships. Even while she is in Delhi, hundreds of miles away from her mother in Srinagar, Firdaus allows her mother to manipulate her choices and movements. When she does finally make her own decision, she seems to immediately regret it and tries to act as if it never happened or, at least, didn't matter in the grand scheme of things.
Katrina Kaif is well-suited to the role of Firdaus as she is able to be charming even when she is standoffish. Her directness comes across more as honesty than abuse. Having only experienced the love of a manipulative mother, she somehow manages to be quite loveable in her own right.
"Love her, love her, love her! If she favours you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces—and as it gets older and stronger, it will tear deeper—love her, love her, love her!" - Miss Haversham, Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
As Begum Hazrat, Tabu's world revolves around two things: her daughter Firdaus and Begum's past. She is obsessed with a past shrouded in an all-consuming darkness that has all but crippled Begum. Raising Firdaus has given Begum strength to nurture and pass along important - though perhaps somewhat twisted - life lessons which shape the decisions and personality of Firdaus.
As Firdaus pulls away from her mother and draws closer to Noor, Begum Hazrat's health declines. Once Firdaus returns to her mother, Begum's strength returns.
Despite the challenges in her life, Begum manages to maintain a firm grip on her place in society while influencing the lives of those around her to reflect her worldview. She has managed to become a strong, powerful woman. It is probably no coincidence that writer/director Abhishek Kapoor chose the name Begum Hazrat. Begum Hazrat Mahal (1820-1879) took charge of the affairs in the state of Awadh, made her son ruler, and played a major role in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 - all after her husband, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, was exiled to Calcutta.
The one weak point in this film is in the demise of Begum Hazrat which is a departure from the iconic fireplace scene of Great Expectations. While there are similarities - and the burning of Noor's sculpture does introduce the fire element - Begum's final scene was a bit too contrived for this viewer.
"...suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape." - Estella, Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
Great Expectations purists will no-doubt raise complaints about the flaws in the storyline of Fitoor - especially with such a small role for the Abel Magwitch character played by Ajay Devgn in a surprise cameo. But this is not about translating the Charles Dickens story scene-for-scene to the screen.
Abhishek Kapoor has taken a well-known story, given it a uniquely Indian flavor and successfully delivered these classic characters in new avatars. For fans of Dickens, it is a film not to be missed. For those unfamiliar with the Dickens story, it is a great new introduction to a famous love story from one of the greatest novelists of all time.
The following playlist features the trailer and making of videos for Fitoor.
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