Hrithik Roshan has fans. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan does too. And so does Sanjay Leela Bhansali, but I am not one of them. I found Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam illogical; Devdas was just indulgent moviemaking; Black made me want to run out of the cinema hall and Saawariya was a colossal waste of money. Yet I went to watch Guzaarish wishing to like it.
It’s hard to be indifferent to movies about serious topics such as the right to choose to live or die. It is also rare to be unmoved by them. You may not be emotionally touched by Guzaarish, but there are enough visual elements and some strong scenes to engage you.
After leaning on The Miracle Worker for the story of Black, once again Bhansali blends borrowed material such as Alejandro Amenabar’s The Sea Inside and John Badham’s Whose Life is it Anyway. Set in (almost present day) Goa, Roshan plays magician Ethan Mascarenhas. Gravely injured 14 years ago, when he was paralysed during a magic show, he is now confined to a wheelchair and can only move neck up. For 12 years, he has been cared for by his devoted and stern nurse Sophiya (Bachchan).
Ethan passes his time by watching TV, having the paper read to him and hosting a radio show called Radio Zindagi where he counsel’s suicidal and depressed listeners. He has also authored a motivational book called “Learning to Fly”. After 14 years of suffering, Ethan enlists the support of his lawyer and doctor to petition the court for his right to die with dignity. He is sure that death is preferable to the claustrophobia of his life. When his first plea is thrown out of court, his lawyer suggests rousing public support for his euthanasia plea. Thus Project Ethan-asia is launched.
As Ethan prepares for death, those around him learn to love life. His infectious zest for life puts a smile on the faces of all around him. Real magic, he says, is in making people smile. Even though the film is about a quadriplegic fighting for his right to die, Guzaarish does not hit the emotional high note, which you so eagerly await.
While some scenes come close to moving you, they are also accented by moments that leave you giggling or cringing. Like the hilarious rugby scrum-like group hug in the final scene or Bachchan’s air-guitar and air-drum playing. At the same time, some of the magic acts are well executed and the scene where Ethan demonstrates his discomfort to a sceptical lawyer is powerful. The most effective track is the quiet and dignified love story between Ethan and Sophiya.
With an underlay of composer Bhansali’s pretentious music (accompanied by comic and pedestrian lyrics), proceedings go more over-the-top. His films are burdened by this sensory overload. Some of it works, such as Sudeep Chatterjee’s lighting and cinematography, which bring alive the opulent sets and colour palette. Many scenes are beautifully framed. Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s costumes are exquisite, even if they are old-fashioned. Unlike his previous emotionally manipulative films, fortunately this time he does not succumb to the melodramatic. But his desperate attempt to appear other-worldly disconnects the viewer. We are unable to relate to a present day where women wear Victorian gowns, men dress in bow ties and people use rotary phones and cellphones in a house that looks inspired by Wuthering Heights.
While the screenplay keeps you interested, the dialogues fail to deliver a punch even in the crucial court trial scene. Plus, the performances are inconsistent. Aditya Roy Kapoor, as the apprentice magician dressed like Raj Kapoor, stands around trying to make an impact, but shows no range. Monikangana Dutta makes a three-scene appearance as Ethan’s former lover.
Bachchan seems to finally be coming into her own as an actor. As the devoted and silently in-love nurse Sophiya, she goes beyond the Victorian dresses and Frida Kahlo-inspired styling to deliver a performance that is the soul of Guzaarish. Roshan is saddled with a poorly etched out character. The script does not give him enough moments to earn the audience’s empathy. So, in the end, his living or dying matters not. But Roshan excels in the sublimely choreographed transparent ball scene and in his moments of complete joy.
A host of characters inexplicably and unnecessarily appear towards the end, dragging the film and further destabilizing already oscillating feelings towards Ethan’s bid for “Ethan-asia”.
While Guzaarish is better than Saawariya, Bhansali must realize that global accolades cannot depend on production design, costume design and cinematography, but on good storytelling.
Guzaarish released in theatred on Friday.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Part one of the last Harry Potter movie (or “part 6.5” of the series), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, adapts the first half of J.K. Rowling’s gloomy, intricate finale to her fantasy series to screen. Harry, together with Ron and Hermione, must uncover the secrets of three powerful objects that will help them defeat the mega-evil Lord Voldemort. But bereft of teachers, friends and hiding places, survival is the greatest test of all for the trio and their friendship. As Voldemort leaches the life out of the land, it glows in eerie, romantic grey-blue palettes, and the warmth and comfort of Harry’s childhood visions of the wizarding world vanish.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 released in theatres on Friday.