Fiza is the kind of movie that every critic prays will never come his way. For a critic's job, after all, is to criticise. And Fiza offers little scope for criticism.
Fiza is also, on a more personal level, the kind of movie I hate to watch. Cocooned in my secure little world, I don't want to know that out there in the big, bad world, and especially in India, there is violence and madness of a dimension that is unbelievable. That people are being killed in mindless orgies of religious fervour. That young lives are being led astray because when they meet this violence in their daily lives, there is no one to tell them that this too will pass.
So why Fiza? Because it is film critic Khalid Mohammad's debut as director? Because it offers today's heart-throb, Hrithik Roshan, for the first time since his thundering January debut, Kaho Na... Pyar Hai? Because it presents Karisma Kapoor in a role that makes you wonder whether this is the same girl who gyrates so sensuously to Govinda's tunes? Or because it gives you Jaya Bachchan in a performance that brings tears to your eyes?
Fiza, because it gives you all this and much more. All that Fiza does not offer you is hope, and that perhaps is the truest thing that can be said about this ruthlessly tight film that draws from reality as only the oeuvre of a journalist can.
Set in the riot-torn Mumbai of 1993, when people were too scared to even look out of their windows, Fiza is about Nishat Bi (Jaya Bachchan), her daughter Fiza (Karisma) and her son Amaan (Hrithik), who laugh away even their poverty. Till one night when Amaan is persuaded to join his friends who are out stalking Hindu victims. From hunter to victim is but a short step, and before he knows it, Amaan finds himself first a murderer and then a fugitive seeking shelter with a terrorist outfit run by Morad Khan (Manoj Bajpai).
Nishat Bi and Fiza, who firmly believe that Amaan is alive, keep their vigil for six long years. And then Fiza decides to look for her brother. When she finds him, it is as a terrorist near the country's border. Fiza brings Amaan back with her to Mumbai, but the boy is unable to return to a normal life.
He picks up the gun again and returns to Morad Khan's gang. His mission this time is to kill the two politicos they believe were responsible for the 1993 riots, one a Hindu, the other a Muslim. And he carries it out successfully.
Delhi theatre owners say they have not seen the kind of rush Fiza is generating at their advance booking counters for years now. Not unnaturally, the rush is attributed to young Hrithik's charisma. And he does not let down the entire nation of movie-goers who have been waiting for his second release for eight months now. His performance is polished, and you can see why Mohammad bagged him even before KNPH established him. The vulnerability that he allows to lurk in his eyes is what makes his performance memorable.
But Fiza is not about Hrithik, Fiza is about Fiza, as played by Karisma Kapoor. As the young girl who is sick of the suspense and disruption that her brother's disappearance has caused in her family's life, as the obstinate daughter who will not listen to her mother's plea to let her keep hoping for her son, as the determined sister who keeps on in her hunt for her brother despite all odds and then seeks to keep him on the right path, this is a new Karisma, and one that delivers a superbly flawless performance.
Worthy of mention also is the cameo role played by Asha Sachdeva as Ulfat Jaan, Nishat Bi's friend. The scenes where the two bicker endlessly with each other come to a compelling close when Nishat Bi dies, and Ulfat Jaan mourns her going in Na leke jao mere dost ka janaza hain, written only as Gulzar can write.
Now for my duty as a critic: Fiza did not need Sushmita Sen's Mehboob mere number in it-the Bambaiya dance number, in what is supposed to be an authentic Gujarat-Rajasthan border area, put an unnecessary brake on the proceedings. Nor, for that matter, did it need Bikram Saluja, who plays Fiza's lover, Anirudh, though Saluja has turned in a competent performance.Nevertheless, go watch Fiza.
Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.