So okay. This work of porcelain art does not have the in-your-face flamboyant quality of Bhansali's Devdas or Black where almost every shot reached a crescendo like an erupting volcano; every passion peaked like a mid-summer sun melting the universe. And every movement denoted a high-powered drama. Saawariya is Bhansali's most tender ode to love yet.
Taking Fyodor Dostoevsky's minuscule play, the film creator builds huge but un-imposing emotions classified by dollops of awe-inspiring studio-erected architecture that represent feelings rather than physical forms. This is the magical director's most subtle mellow tender and slender creation yet. The almost-defiant theme-defying staginess of the work assails your senses with the pleasurable persuasiveness of English odes sung in a summery manner that's both baroque and modern, dead earnest and tongue-in-cheek. Prakash Kapadia's dialogues lets Ranbir's character (no doubt the plot's pivot) speaks in a language that's 'today' and yet timelessly lovelorn.
The plot, if one may call it that, is a story of unrequited love told in shades of blue that go far deeper than the skin. Bhansali's narrative spins its sensuous web around chance encounters in and around a square, set in a timeless land where clocks chime to the rhythm of a besotted heart and neon signs straight out a bright Broadway play, read cheeky homage to cinema from the past, including of course Raj Kapoor. Ranbir Raj(that's Ranbir's name in the film) sings and performs at a club called Raj's Bar….that is when he isn't chasing the enigmatic somewhat-scattered and constantly-searching Sakina (Sonam Kapoor) across an arched bridge that symbolizes the end of hope and the beginning of love. Sakina, if you must know, is on an eternal wait. A stranger (Salman Khan) walked into her home and life, walked out and promised to return. That lacuna between longing and fulfillment is filled by a young man who dances, sings, makes faces, and writes love letters, protects Sakina from the rain, but alas, cannot protect himself from the heartbreak that awaits him under the bridge.
Ranbir is arguably the most prized discovery of Indian cinema since Hrithik Roshan. There is not a thing he cannot do for the camera, and do with a fluid flamboyance that pays a nudging tribute to legends who linger in our mind and hearts. You can see huge chunks of Raj Kapoor's persona from Sri 420 and Chhalia hovering over Ranbir. You can also see a grinning but glorious homage to Rishi Kapoor in the way Ranbir bursts into a song and dance in celebration of love at club filled with cheering onlookers. And Ranbir's whole relationship with his outwardly-harsh landlady (Zohra Sehgal, gloriously spirited) is a wonderful recreation of the bond between Raj Kapoor and Lalita Pawar in Anari. Ranbir's is a dangerously extravagant and bravura performance that could've toppled over under the weight of the character's inherent exhibitionism. But the 'joota here isn't japani' and the 'dil' is most certainly 'hindustani' as Ranbir with his director's help takes us back to the most lyrical moments from the classics. Including Pyaasa (the enchantingly tragic number 'Pari' is a poignant but optimistic homage to Guru Dutt's walk through the red-light area in the song 'Jinhe naaz hai hin par woh kahan hain').
The emotions that run across the gossamer frames of this fragilely structured play-on-celluloid are woven with the delicacy that one associates with Kashmiri carpets. Ironically, though requiring more attention than all his earlier works, Saawariya is Sanjay Bhansali's simplest story to date. The age-old boy-meets-girl format is taken to the plane of purest expressionism, as the narration puts together nothing more and nothing less than a series of chance encounters between the troubled girl with the umbrella and the trouble-busting boy with the unceasing grin. These enchanting encounters drenched in a deep shade of blue, furnish the slim but haunting plot with the feeling of a play where the characters forget they are on stage.
The film's consciously created staginess is its biggest virtue. It lends to the mesmeric frames an edge of an otherworldly reality. The wispy characters may or may not exist outside the prostitute-narrator Rani Mukherjee's playful playground of a mind. Maybe she is making up this bluesy and beautiful tale of one-side love. Maybe the boy-man she took under her wings is just a figment of her imagination. The disarming delicacy with which art directors Omung & Vinita Kumar and cinematographer Ravi Chandran build on the blue foundations of the film's ravishingly romantic imagination lifts Dostoevsky's play to a stratosphere of poetry. Monty Sharma's profuse but constantly stirring music adds an entirely new dimension to the story of waiting and suffering. As expected in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali creation the film is bathed in visuals that overpower the senses by conveying the smothering sensitivities of a heart that beats only for the one it loves. Take note of that sequence where Sonam runs across a gauntlet of perpendicularly hung carpets beating a dust storm out of their beautiful fabric. What a sublime moment of sensual eruption!
Bhansali's heroines often run to and away from love through corridors filled with the most exquisite visual representations of their heart's discontent. In Saawariya Sonam Kapoor knows not what she runs away from…or what she'd run into. She is Nutan in Bandini; she is Nandini in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam waiting for her fugitive beloved to return. She is Waheeda Rehman in Pyaasa running though 'gallis' of disrepute in search of pure love. She is that alluring bewitching and beguiling part of Indian cinema that seemed to have lost its way in a contemporary bustle. And Ranbir? He is the star-discovery of the new millennium. Extraordinarily gifted and not afraid to let it all hang out. Rani Mukherjee's characters pays a hugely entertaining homage to Aroona Irani's in Raj Kapoor's Bobby. She teases and loves Ranbir's character to death just as Aroona had with his father four decades ago. By acquiring a poetic and theatrical irrelevance, Time in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film becomes that unhampered entity that is neither moldable nor perishable.
Time and space in Saawariya are those two birds in flight that adorn the skyline without knowing why the skyline or the sky or for that matter any of those components that make up the universe exist. Saawariya is like a dream where the characters themselves live in a dream world. Escape from this world is akin to death. No one dies in Saawariya. Nothing wilts. Not even love when it is taken away from the boy-man who loves to entertain the unhappy girl-in-distress, just like Raj Kapoor did in Mera Naam Joker.
This is a film about the continuing creative process. The more things change the more we discover life in cinema to be a mirror of all those thoughts and feelings that we think are buried too deep for contemporary filmmakers. Sanjay Bhansali takes us on a voyage through a world of majestic make-believe carpeted with feelings that resemble lilies in the pond floating invitingly for the eager hand that reaches to pluck. But before that, the dream ends. Finally, you wonder if the lovers, the love, and the lovers' separation in Saawariya really happened. Or were they all a part of an elaborate but intangible dream?