It's evident that the media hates Bhansali ever since he gave us Sanwariya. There is no solid ground to stand on when you enter Bhansali's world, no cliches, no Indian stereotypes. It's a make-believe world with jewel colours and a melancholic sky. Everybody is good and in turn, deserving of goodness. And women are goddesses - the fallen ones are fallen, for reasons beyond their control. It is hardly surprising that this movie was trashed unceremoniously - it really isn't a memorable movie, nor is it a time-pass one. It's an interpretation of a story from the world that exists inside Mr. Bhansali's mind.
There is a strong element of Christian symbolism in Guzaarish. Hrithik Roshan, with his beard, flowing locks and beatific smile is Jesus Christ. He performs miracles (he's a magician), he has a crucifix (his body), there is a Judas (a competitor) in the story and two Marys - the mother and the 'fallen woman'. Reviewers and viewers have caught on to that. So let's plunge straight into the story.
Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan) has spent the last 14 years as a quadriplegic under the care of a nurse, the very devoted Sophia (Aishwarya Rai Bachhan). In his glory days, Ethan was an acclaimed magician performing some fascinating feats with his assistant, the lovely Estella (Monikangana Dutta in a very brief role). Now, Ethan is a radio jockey who encourages people across the radio waves, to love life. So it comes as a surprise to his lawyer Devyani (Shernaz Patel) and subsequently the world, that he wants to petition for the right to die. Meanwhile a young aspiring magician, Omar Siddiqui (Aditya Roy Kapoor), sets foot into the world of Ethan. The movie traces the happenings within the crumbling Mascarenhas Villa, symbolic of Ethan's life, and swirls into the dilemmas of euthanasia.
Hrithik Roshan, who is an epitome of movement, does well in a role where all movement is conveyed by his face. You are reminded time and again, of Roshan's physical fluidity in the flashbacks where Ethan performs magic and in dreams where he dances with grace and agility. However, in his facial expressions, Roshan does tap into Rohit from Koi Mil Gaya. This is the real dampener to what could have been a fine performance.
Aishwarya Rai Bachhan's Sophia, with her straight back and measured strides performs Sophia flawlessly. You instinctively expect her to give in to her customary screech, but she surprises us by imbuing a powerful depth to her voice especially in the scene where she argues with Devyani, the lawyer.
Shernaz Patel is a pleasure to watch except when she does the occasional wide-eyed incredulity. Suhel Seth, playing Ethan's doctor is quite the cherubic angel with greying curls. Rajit Kapoor's performance is exaggerated, perhaps as he is one of the two characters who are not pristine white. Aditya Roy Kapoor is adorable in his earnestness.
While I had an overriding impulse to shout 'Pack Up!' in quite a few places where the film could have ended, my grouse is with the scenes leading to the last scene and that cene itself. I don't need to see Sophia's husband to understand their relationship - a few bruises on the same lovely face would suffice. I would have preferred a non-romantic end - this one looked force-fitted to take advantage of Roshan's and Rai-Bachhan's chemisty. I'm quite sure that as an audience, we can accept Ethan and Sophia as patient and nurse with the camaraderie, the tiffs, the inside jokes and not a hint of romance. And the cathartic vase-shattering could have been done much, much better.
Although Ethan's quips and rejoinders were good, the speech that he harps on about loving life is generic. The sudden rushing of kith and kin to touch Ethan in the last frame was downright comical and I presume, unintendedly so. In terms of appearance, Sophia is modelled on Frida Kahlo. But in the last scene, it's more a 'Kahlo in a man's shirt'. The disshevelled appearance in the previous scene worked, the realism of the man's shirt didn't.
Guzaarish is lovingly shot. The camera is a character, an observer - stark in the courtroom, sometimes off-kilter, sometimes up-close to Ethan's face, sometimes stepping back in anticipation of Sophia's wrath, and sometimes deliberately disorienting as it looks down from the ceiling of photographs. It also captures a soft nostalgia when it pans the corridors, courtyard and rooms of Mascarenhas Villa.You can smell the mustiness.
If I have to remember Ethan Mascarenhas and Sophia, the characters and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the director, it is not in the fleeting scenes that the press latched on to. Not the scene with the fly, not the one where Sophia bathes him, not the one where she dances with abandon, nor their made-up game of verbal simulations of intimate nature.
Watch the scene where the immobile Ethan wearing rose-tinted glasses is being transported to the court in a convertible. Ethan asks Sophia to take off his hat so he can feel the wind in his hair. He revels in the sunshine, passing through a world where movement is taken for granted. Ethan sees a collage of movement - from boys swimming in a pond to a housewife chasing chickens in her yard to the flapping flag on the convertible to a bunch of kids riding pillion on a bike - until his eyes rest on a static scarecrow in the midst of a wind-rustled field. His eyes brim over. Sophia reaches out, wipes away the tear and lights him a cigarette.