Friday, November 19, 2010

Film review: Guzaarish

Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, Shernaz Patel, Rajat Kapoor, among other
Showing at: E-Square, Inox
Stars: **1/2

Stung by criticism for his last film Saawariya, one knew that Sanjay Leela Bhansali had immersed himself headlong into his next, Guzaarish, tackling a theme close to his heart - that of human suffering born out of extreme physical handicap. You sit back waiting to be taken through a memorable roller-coaster of emotions, assured in the knowledge that the director -whatever his other weaknesses -will never fail to pour all his energies and passion into his vision.
The emotion of pain is what drives Bhansali's masochistic universe, but in his operatic world, removed from reality, and too self-consciously dolled up, one feels a certain disconnect with his characters and their situations. At least his last Saawariya, with its theme of love and separation perhaps allowed an abstract, poetic representation of the feelings. But this otherworldiness in Guzaarish creates a gulf between the film and the audience, where you are never truly able to feel for the characters.

When the film starts, you see Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan), struggling with his life as a quadriplegic. A great magician at one time, Ethan's world crumbles when one of his tricks goes wrong and he's bed-ridden for life. It's been years now, and Ethan with all his troubles is carrying on well enough, when he suddenly announces that he no more wants to live and makes a plea for euthanasia.
To this bleak world, Bhansali brings a beautiful nurse, Sophia (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) who has been serving Ethan for years now, and continues to do so with a protective, single-minded zeal. The other character to the mix is Devyani (Shernaz Patel), Ethan's best friend and lawyer -fighting his case. Together, they have a nice rhythm going and the film too moves fluidly. The first jerk in the plot is the unlikely entry of Omar Siddiqui (Aditya Roy Kapoor) as an apprentice. Kapoor, who was recently seen in Action Replay, brings too much of his yuppie-ness to the role, and his mocking tone and expression are altogether unappealing. When he's introduced, you think he would have a definite role to play in the proceedings, and some of his actions even suggest this. But like most characters, he's used merely as a prop in Bhansali's canvas.

The singular lack of an emotional arc - both in the growth of the characters and the narrative as a whole - is Guzaarish's biggest failing. Bhansali brings you to the third act directly, and goes headlong into a purging exercise. The script asserts that Sophia has been serving Ethan for 12 long years, and that he's lived the life of a quadriplegic with dignity and so on. But this emotional journey is never truly felt and Ethan's own trauma and why he wants to die, his motivations and so on, are sketchy at best. Bhansali doesn't let you invest in any of the other characters either. For example, Sophia is given a serviceable back story of a husband who beats her up (Makrand Deshpande -refreshing choice), but beyond that, you have no idea what this gorgeous woman, wearing flowing gowns and lovely stone earrings is doing with Ethan.
The tragic twists are all cliched, and there is no thought or idea that the film dealing with such a theme leaves behind. There are all the feel-good, pop spiritual messages peddled around, as one would expect from a dying protagonist.

Yet, expectedly, the film looks beautiful. There are moments of sheer magic, literally and otherwise, and Bhansali once again manages to extract superb performances from the leads. In spite of the limitations of the script, Hrithik Roshan is exceptional in his role of a man who lives life on his terms. It's a controlled, believable portrayal. Aishwarya Rai is more alluring than she has ever been, and it's only Bhansali who can get her to act in such an uninhabited, natural manner.

Overall, the film is not the profoundly emotional experience one might have hoped for. It's got some merits, but Bhansali doesn't quite touch the high notes.


Anonymous Dilesh said...

Interesting review. I do disagree with some points...

I think Omar's role was important. Borrowing your term, every character is a "prop" in the story of Ethan, to bring out his entire personality. Omar's character is key to the storyline that Ethan has forgiven the perpetrator, Omar's father, he is not bitter about life, he is not saying "why did this happen to me", at the same time, he has not become unworldly, he has normal emotions of pain and anger (wanting to drop the vase), but he overcomes them. I am not sure I would call it a "masochistic universe" either. Accepting pain and keeping the chin up is very different from enjoying pain.

I also liked the focus of the film on Ethan, rather than delving into the side story of Sophia.

I thought the courtroom drama was overly melodramatic and theatrical. It could have been better scripted.

I didnt like Aishwarya Rai as much. I think Vidya Balan or Rani Mukherjee would fit the character better.

Overall, I liked the movie. It was a weak script, lot of cliches, but if you ignore them, at least he tried doing something different.

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