Cinema, they say, is supposed to be a medium that is first and foremost visual with sound (dialogue in particular), to be added to complement and layer the visual. Maybe that is why it is often said – show, don’t tell in your storytelling on celluloid. Guzaarish goes the other way – in spite of some awesome imagery, the film follows the dictum of tell, don’t show and by the end you’re left frustratingly disappointed at what could have been a potentially brilliant, sensitive, poignant and heart-warming film failing so dismally in engaging you or moving you. Sadly, the film is more theatrical, obvious, superficial and predictable rather than an emotionally satisfying cinematic journey.
Goa is home to one of the greatest magicians of his time, Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan). Presently hosting a Radio Show that spreads magic and hope and laughter through his irrepressible wit and humour to every listener and caller, it is difficult to imagine that this is a man who has been immobilized with a spinal injury for the last fourteen years of his life. Ethan is aided through every moment of his present life by the epicentre of his world – his Nurse, Sofia D’Souza (Aishwarya Rai). On the fourteenth anniversary of his accident, Ethan decides to seek control over his own life. He makes a petition to the Court that shocks the world and leaves Sofia in an impasse that challenges the very foundations of their relationship and their love…
Having shades of Whose Life is it Anyway? and The Sea Inside and while more controlled and reined in compared to the overblown Black and Saawariya, the weak script and the theatrical and stilted dialogue, especially those in English, are clearly the culprits here. Scenes are designed with dialogue more for giving audience information rather than how they might actually have happened. As mentioned above, the thrust throughout is on telling you things rather than showing them. Ethan is supposed to be a RJ who teaches others to live life but instead of seeing this through scenes with his listeners and how he is able to make them change their depressed minds, thus bringing out his character, we see a caller who goes through his whole life history with Ethan telling him how Ethan saved his life and how now he is a happy husband and father. And this after Ethan recognises him immediately so knows his story anyway. Similarly his old flame Estella telling him she married her present husband because he told her to do so following his accident. In fact, even in the flashback scenes there is nothing to suggest that Estella and Ethan were in love apart from one awkward kiss in the middle of his magic show as we see absolutely no interaction between them, hear from Ethan (yes he tells us) Estella was his assistant and lover and Estella completes the picture for us by telling Ethan the rest of the story which is what Ethan knows anyway but we have to be told and given the information, you see. The film is full of telling moments such as these. The only time you really see Ethan in action as the RJ is when he starts the vote campaign of ‘Ethanasia’ for support to be able to die with dignity. On top of that, the issue of mercy killing too is dealt with much too sketchily. The changeover of characters in supporting Ethan for his mission from earlier being against what he wants to do to being with him is abrupt to say the least. And on either side of the interval, again without showing us anything, we are to suddenly believe there is now big public support for Ethan and his cause.
The other big problem of course is the world that Sanjay Leela Bhansali creates. While, no doubt, having his stamp, you find it difficult to relate to it in terms of time and space and what’s more, it ends more in the realm of the theatre. The set piece of the court room scene in Ethan’s house just doesn’t work and is easily the most theatrical scene of the film while the scene with Sofia’s husband and her is the nadir of the film. The magic scenes too are too few and are neither spectacular in terms of magic (depending more on special effects than actual magic) nor in terms of choreography, thus failing to properly utilise Hrithik’s incredible dancing ability. The villain and henchman responsible for Ethan’s accident are straight out of a 80s film and once that is revealed, it’s no big deal guessing who Omar Siddiqui is. Also Omar is there for the sole purpose of learning magic. Barring one trick, again this angle is totally left unexplored and yes, we are expected to believe it has happened and he is now good enough for his first magic show.
Still, Hrithik is the life of the film and gives the film its few moments rising consistently above the script even if the film fails to make you connect with him emotionally. He makes the most of a challenging and physically demanding role even if the stilted dialogue defeats him many a time and does much with his body neck upwards but as you are not involved in his story, even his fine act in the finale farewell party does not quite give you the emotional wallop it should have. In fact, the pile up of people on his bed at the end leaves you gobsmacked! Aishwarya is simply ok, Aditya Roy Kapoor embarrassing, Shernaz Patel theatrical, while Rajit Kapoor easily gives the most hammy and worst performance of his career. Some of his funny face making has to be seen to be believed. Monikangana Dutta makes no impact as Estella and neither really does Nafisa Ali as Ethan’s mother.
Technically, Sudeep Chatterjee’s great camerawork deserves a special mention. The framing, lighting, exposure are all spot on and for once, proper use of the DI process is made. The songs go somewhat with the film but don’t really lift it with their picturisations while the background score gets louder and louder as the film progresses to desperately hammer in the ’emotions’. The Production Design (sets, costumes, props) creates the usual Bhansali never never land as in most of his films. On the editing front, the film drags on endlessly in the second half and actually might have worked better with sequences like that of Sofia and her husband cut out. Here is one instance where even the show, don’t tell device has not worked.
All in all, Guzaarish is disappointing to say the least.
Hindi, English, Drama, Color