Film Review: Guzaarish

Directed by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Monikangana Dutta, Shernaz Patel, Nafisa Ali and Suhel Seth

All pictures courtesy of the official Guzaarish website:

I am one of those people who needs to regularly engage in something to be good at it. Whether it is dance classes, or going to the gym, I need to commit to whatever I am doing and make a habit of it, so that eventually, I cannot live without said habit (good or bad!) Recently, time and circumstance have both conspired to make blogging difficult for me – not only did I end up missing a few films that I wanted to see (yes Action Replayy, I am talking about you amongst others) but I haven’t had a chance to write and have really missed it. And of course, the longer one does not do something, the more difficult it becomes to get back in routine.

So with Guzaarish, I was determined to see this film on the weekend of release and blog about it in a timely fashion. Half expecting the cinema to have a queue spilling out of it due to the release of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows – Part One (which I also can’t wait to see!), I got to the cinema a little earlier than usual only to find there was not a soul to be seen aside from the ushers, as HP was not showing here. I was also the first person to get a ticket for Guzaarish and I secretly hoped I would have the cinema to myself (it has happened once before when I went to see Lage Raho Munnabhai!) but I was joined later by a few people (though why in an empty cinema, they felt the need to sit in my line of vision is beyond me – and this meant I had to leave my warm seat and sit somewhere else!) Thankfully, they all kept quiet throughout the screening which in hindsight, was a good omen…

Guzaarish is the story of Ethan Mascarenas (Roshan), a magician who is paralysed from the neck downwards and is cared for by his beautiful nurse Sofia (Rai Bachchan). Despite being an inspiration to many, Ethan has a guzaarish (wish) which is to die when he wants to, to end his suffering. But he finds opposition, not only from the Indian legal system but also from Sofia who has given up her own life to care for him. Will Ethan get his guzaarish to die on his own terms and with dignity?

Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB) takes the audience into his own world and creates a place he seems to know inside out. The film is eloquent, well paced and has a nice flow to it so that despite a rather depressing premise, it is compelling and entertaining. What I particularly liked was the dark streak that runs through the film where the characters go to a dark place and explore it rather than work around it. Despite the odd (forgivable) cinematic liberty taken here and there, Guzaarish feels very real and is at once modern and timeless, both in its setting and as a film. It seems after over indulging himself with Saawariya, SLB has taken a step back and resisted the urge to go overboard (though his ambition still reaches for the skies) and as a result, we have pockets of opulence (styling being one example) but these don’t overwhelm the film – instead they add to the film’s appeal.

I thought the story flowed naturally and liked the way we were introduced to the film, seeing Sofia tending to Ethan as he wakes up on a particular day. I also liked the way the film remains character centric and touches on many topics but doesn’t go into depth on them – this is very much a film about Ethan rather than euthanasia and ties in with my earlier observation, where Guzaarish doesn’t go round the houses avoiding the issues it raises but goes straight through them. The only part I wasn’t too sure of were some of the flashback sequences – though it is great to see Hrithik performing contemporary dance, I think it would have been interesting to see what happens if the film hadn’t made this concession to appealing to a commercial audience – that is to say, if the viewer would have been left to imagine how Ethan reached his current position, the film would have been even darker and edgier. Having said that though, the flashback sequences don’t harm the film in any way.

The cinematography is amazing in the film with Ethan’s house looking like an oil painting at times. I also love how SLB plays with lighting in his films, especially candle light which he uses to stunning effect. I also liked the editing that kept the film moving along and neatly underscored key emotional moments in the story and I also loved the extreme close ups of Ethan and Sofia – Hrithik and Aishwarya step up to the challenge of showing off their talent in such shots rather than allowing their beauty to do the work for them and this is a satisfying result for the film and the viewer. I loved the other worldliness of the house and the grey/blue tones used in the film, I felt there were many subtle references to Black, Devdas and Saawariya but these were so slight and undercover, they never overtake Guzaarish‘s own individual stamp. I was in heaven with the styling of the film with Aishwarya looking amazing in Sabayashchi – I loved the peasant blouses which were modest and seductive at the same time (transparent sleeves and large cutouts on the back) and the long skirts which contained a variety of trims and patches (paisley, brocade) and I especially liked the red and black skirt that Aishwarya wore for the Udi song. I also loved Aditya Roy Kapoor’s wardrobe of print shirts, linen suits and separates teamed with chappals and the crazy curly afro. I thought his bow ties were a nice touch and the perfect foil to Hrithik’s wide tie and hankie in pocket look (which is what I would personally wear).

In terms of performance, everybody is on their A-game here. I’ll come to Hrithik shortly but first, I have to mention Aishwarya who after Raavan, gives another amazing performance as Sofia. I don’t what it is about Aishwarya but when she is with Mani Ratnam or Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the woman is unstoppable. She conveys Sofia’s strength and vulnerability with apparent ease and is also convincing in the clinical way she deals with nursing Ethan through day to day tasks. What I really liked about Aishwarya’s performance was that on the surface, it feels like she has little to do but but in fact, she does far more through her silence than her dialogue and I felt that she had inhabited the character entirely. Her chemistry with Hrithik is evident and she more than matches Hrithik’s prowress on screen which makes for a compelling film. I also thought she was very good in the Udi song, with a totally uninhibited dance performance and I have to say Aishwarya’s performance in this film might just be my favourite female performance this year.

Aditya Roy Kapoor is very good as Omar, making a very good impression inspite of Hrithik and Aishwarya being on top form. I felt he was very good as the foil to Hrithik,(who cannot move in the film) with a energetic and earnest vibe to his part, constantly moving and almost fidgeting to show how much nervous energy he has (which we realise is due to the fact he is Ethan’s rival’s son). I think Aditya has the talent and potential to follow in the footsteps of an Abhay Deol and carve out a little niche for himself in Hindi cinema and one hopes to see him in more films. Supermodel Monikangana Dutta gives a very good account of herself and projects a wonderful fragility which I was impressed by. I also thought Shernaz Patel, Nafisa Ali and Suhel Seth all gave excellent supporting performances, each becoming a three dimensional character in their own right rather than just part of the background.

As expected, the main plaudits for Guzaarish go to Mr Hrithik Roshan, who gives what I feel is the Best Male Performance in a Lead Role this year. Hrithik puts every ounce of himself into this role and is constantly challenged by every scene, a challenge which he meets and conquers with astonishing confidence. I was really pleased that Hrithik that took a risk with this role and that the risk pays off – right from the offset, this is not a Koi Mil Gaya where we will see the superstar and the actor – instead, we see just Hrithik the actor here, bringing Ethan to life and making him a lovable but flawed character. I loved that Hrithik could be vicious and tender in the same scene and I thought he was very convincing as a paraplegic, hitting just the right note to make Ethan belivable. My favourite scene was when rain drips from the roof onto Ethan’s head and no-one comes to help him. I thought Hrithik played the scene note perfect and conveyed Ethan’s frustration, helplessness and anger perfectly. It is no surprise that SLB and Hrithik have wanted to work with one another for a long time and the result is one of the best films of the year and a reminder that SLB, Hrithik and Aishwarya may all make the occasional wrong choice or questionable film but when they are in the zone, the combination is simply unbeatable.

I really enjoyed Guzaarish and think it is a film that will get better on repeat viewing and it is also a testament to the powerhouse performances that this film can be viewed again and again. In a recent conversation with a friend, she said she felt it is very important for a director to have a strong aesthetic sense and obvious as this is, whilst watching Guzaarish, this phrase kept running through my head. I love the bohemian sensibilities SLB brings to the table and his mixture of opulence tempered with tragedy, when concocted correctly, makes for a wonderful film.

Furthermore, Guzaarish is definitely amongst one of the best films of 2010, and deserves to do well, both at the box office and in the awards season. Also, there is nothing like a cracking film to inspire me to get writing and back into the swing of things – if anything, at least  Guzaarish fulfilled my guzaarish….

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