By Subhash K. Jha
Film: "Guzaarish"; Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Monikangana Dutta, Suhel Seth; Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali; Rating: *****
Breathe a sigh of relief. During a year when cacophonic crassness masquerading as comic entertainment has been sanctioned by critics and the masses, "Guzaarish" comes along to remind us that excellence is alive in our cinema.
Ironically this wonderful work of art, nuanced and magical in its portrayal of an unstoppable spirit's quest to juice life to its fullest, is about dying. If the journey towards death in art can be so mystically explored, then let's embrace mortality as a stepping stone to immortality and a film about dying as a sign of cinema not dying on us. Not yet.
Only those who suffer the numbing pain of isolation would know what it feels like. Dilip Kumar in "Devdas", Guru Dutt in "Pyasa", Meena Kumari in "Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam" and Nutan in "Bandini" communicated to the audience the indescribable pain of solitude.
Ethan, as played by Hrithik Roshan in "Guzaarish", is so bemused by adversity that he can actually look at his own suffering with dispassionate humour.
"Guzaarish" is a joyous, rapturous and ecstatic celebration of life. Those familiar with the art of Sanjay Leela Bhansali know how ably and ecstatically he transports his characters into a universe of seamless drama played at an octave where most cinematic symphonies crack up and topple over into high-pitched extravagance.
Not Bhansali's cinema. Played at the highest possible scale, his drama unfolds in wave after wave of rapturous splendour. His characters occupy a space that defies definition and seduces audiences into celebrating a state of sublimity and splendour. Ethan's inert physicality is alchemized into an ambience of animated joy. His spirit dances and sings at the sheer pleasure of every moment that is given to him to live. He radiates joy. We feel his profound happiness at the gift of life.
No film in living memory has brought out the sheer blessing of being alive with such spirit and glory. While Shah Rukh Khan's "Devdas" in Bhansali's opulent opera was a character broken in spirit, Hrithik's Ethan in "Guzaarish" is irreparably damaged in body. But his spirit soars, his eyes light up like thousands of stars every time Sophie walks in.
That Sophie is played by Aishwarya Rai is a stroke of genius that goes a long way in giving "Guzaarish" its flavour of exceptional elegance. No other director brings out the quiet grace and the understated beauty of this screen diva's personality with as much intelligence and spontaneity as Bhansali. In "Guzaarish", Aishwarya is far more delicate and nuanced in conveying the unspoken pain of a love that has no tomorrow than she was in "Devdas".
Aishwarya imbues her role with a resplendent grace. Love in "Guzaarish" is expressed with subtle smirks, gentle smiles and hints of a smothered passion that could erupt any time, if only destiny didn't choose to be so mean to the spirited.
The scenes between Ethan and Sophie, the backbone of Ethan's spine-challenged life, radiate an inner beauty and wisdom and underline the director's enormous understanding of the self-negation that a love relationship requires.
"Guzaarish" is Bhansali's most tender and evocative film to date. It layers the pain of a dying body with the passion of an unstoppable spirit as manifested in Hrithik's skilled and effortless performance as a quadriplegic who pledges to make every moment of his limited "sau gram zindagi" pleasurable for himself an those around him.
Barring Amitabh Bachchan in "Black" there has never been a better performance in a Bhansali film than Hrithik's in "Guzaarish". He grabs Ethan's role and makes the dying character come alive in delightful waves of provocative histrionics. And if we're talking chemistry between Hrithik and Aishwarya, then let's get one thing clear - this ain't "Dhoom". It's something far deeper and satisfying.
The other performance that catches your attention is Aditya Roy Kapoor's. He is natural and vivacious and in-sync with the film's spirit of celebrating life. Monikangna Dutt is a looker. In her limited space, she lends some appeal to the proceedings. Suhel Seth, Shernaaz Patel and Rajit Kapur also make a lingering impact in a film that you carry home with you in an inviolable place in your heart.
A word about Bhansali's music score. The songs communicate the rich tapestried emotions of lives that are determined to smile through an extraordinary tragedy. Every piece of music and song in "Guzaarish" echoes the film's incandescent soul.
The film's technical excellence, particularly Sudeep Chatterjee's cinematography, is not dazzling and flamboyant in the way it was in "Devdas". In "Guzaarish", the appeal is far more delicate and subtle. The deep but sober colours on screen reach out to you to enrich your life in ways that cinema was always meant to, until it was waylaid by the hooligans and imposters posing as filmmakers.
"Guzaarish" is the real thing. A big, beautiful, dazzling emotional movie experience. You won't see a better film this year.