If there's one thing that people will agree on after they see "Fiza", it is the fact that the three leads of this film - Karisma Kapoor, Jaya Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan - deliver absolutely phenomenal performances. Perhaps the second thing that audiences might concur on is that this is perhaps the most depressing, morbid film since "Dil Se". The problem here, though, is that in an attempt to portray an intense story based on real life incidents from his past, Filmfare editor-cum- story writer - cum - screenplay writer - cum director - Khalid Mohamed seems to be a bit too pre-occupied with the commercial viability of his project.
In a nutshell, the first half of the film revolves around Fiza (Karisma Kapoor), who for the sake of her and her mother's (Jaya Bachchan) peace, takes the decision to set out and find her brother Amaan (Hritihik Roshan), who has been missing for six years after a terrorizing night during the '93 Bombay riots. Needless to say, Fiza find Amaan. The second half of the film takes a turn and focuses on Amaan's difficulty in coping with re-integration back into his old world.
Karisma Kapoor is the real star who carries this film. This is one performance-oriented role where she does not have to sport a whole lot of the "deglamourized look" (now a status symbol of acting abilities) and where she has a lot more to do than just cry (another old status symbol). Karisma delivers and then some. Whether it is Fiza's maturity and wisdom or her subsequent vulnerabililty and helplessness when her world crumbles - Karisma portrays every shade of her character with the perfection of a pro.
Jaya Bachchan takes the role of the mother, something that might not look like so great of a prospect on paper, and breathes life into it to form a well-developed, three-dimensional character. This isn't your run-of-the-mill, "where is my beta?", sobbing mother. This mother can (as she says) sneak into her neighbor's apartment and try out some cosmetics or get up and do an impromptu dance to a song playing on TV.
And what can be said about Hrithik Roshan except that he re-affirms his superstar status? It is difficult to believe that this is his second film when you watch the vulnerable, blood-stained Amaan running through the streets and then realize that this is the same actor playing the brooding, introspective Amaan in the second half. Forget the Best Newcomer Award; he might just be a strong contender for Best Actor (one wonders whether Khalid Mohammed's influence might just win "Fiza" a nice little kitty of Filmfare Awards...).
The supporting cast for the most part make their presence felt. Neha, as Amaan's girlfriend who is not able to wait for his return, shows a great deal of controlled restraint in her few scenes and is particularly noteworthy in the scene where Amaan apologizes to her character. Manoj Bajpai, who plays the leader of a terrorist group, breezes through his role with his usual skill. Asha Sachdev, as Fiza's neighbor, is as good in the comedy scenes as she is in the heartbreaking "Na Leke Jao" funeral sequence. Bikram Saluja, as Fiza's boyfriend, and Isha Kopikkar, as Fiza's best friend, pretty much just demonstrate that they are two good-looking people who are capable of simple dialogue delivery.
The dialogues of the film by Javed Siddiqui are poetic and intelligent without being "preachy" and moralistic (eg. Fiza's confrontation scenes with the various authority figures she approaches for help; or her confrontation scenes with her brother). Another star of the film comes in the form of Santosh Sivan, who uses camera angles and techniques that actually make one sit up and notice them, something nearly unheard of in Hindi films. He allows the audience to feel as if they are silent observers journeying along with the lead characters and moves the story forward even at times when the screenplay seems to be dragging.
The overall problem of this film is that it carries the story of what can be made into an outstanding "art film" but chooses to rest in the position of a somewhat mediocre "commercial film". When Khalid Mohamed is original, he shines. But there are times when he reverts to formula and nonsensical masala in a vain attempt to entertain the viewer. Karisma's dance sequence at the "1800's" discotheque (also known as Mumbai's popular "Fire N' Ice") is just plain stupid and out of context with the rest of Fiza's character. Wouldn't she just tell her boyfriend and the entire club off without the entire song and dance? To Mr. Mohamed's credit, though, the rest of the songs are not as obtrusive and even the sizzlingly shot Sushmita Sen's dance number provides just the right mood for the background action.
The Johnny Lever comedy sequence also seems contrived. True, it gets connected to the plot somehow (with the goonda's who appear) - but still - there had to have been another way to advance the plot minus Mr. Lever. Weren't the heart-warmingly original and much more hilarious sequences between Jaya Bachchan and Asha Sachdev enough for some lighter moments?
And then we have the ode to "Kaho Na Pyaar Hai": a loooooong sequence of music dedicated exclusively to those teenage (and maybe even older) girls that like to swoon over muscleman Hrithik's biceps. What comes off as "yummy" to some comes off as distracting to the plot. And this is some pretty intense training for somebody who's mission is to hide in a building and shoot two men.
This is still a film that is a cut above the usual fare if mainly for the performances, dialogue and music. For a first time director, Khalid Mohamed has not done a bad job, but it is upsetting that a film that had the potential to be one of the greatest in Hindi film history is forced to settle for a lower status. Khalid Mohamed is intelligent but needs to express more of himself than adhere to the rules and regulations of Bollywood. Witness the brilliant montage sequence at the end of the film. At the final moment - the ringing of the bell and the echoing of the question "Next?" - seems to ask us how long this will continue and who will be the next victim of a society that is swayed by secularism. Why can't Khalid Mohamed have given us more of such moments? Or maybe he will... Next?