I have always been in two minds about Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films which swing between the lavish and the stern... Consequently, I started watching 'Guzaarish' ('A Request') without much expectation. As the first frames appeared with a stunning as always Aishwarya Rai in the role of a nurse who looks like a porcelaine doll with perfect earrings and wine red lips, I confess the Westerner in me thought the film would not reel me in. To my surprise however, I gradually got used to Bhansali's visuals and initially peculiar use of melodrama. Soon, against my scepticism, the story, the characters and the subject built a bridge and I found myself gladly weaving my way through a Goan maze of majestic architecture, rainy scenery and questions about life itself.
As 'Guzaarish' unrolled before my eyes I could not help but keep wondering why Hrithik Roshan had never been given a role like this one. 'Krissh' was lots of fun, 'Na Tum Jaano Na Hum' had him as the ideally sweet romantic hero, 'Dhoom' showed off his muscles, 'Jodhaa Akbar' had him as an emperor in an opulent decor, 'Kites' as an Indian hunk for the world masses... To be honest, I had never given much thought to Hrithik's acting abilities. He sure could dance and he was as beautiful as a Greek god, no doubt about that. But could he pull off a role with more layers? Could his beauty be overlooked to show true depth?
Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik's character in the film) is a former star magician who has become a paraplegic as a result of an accident while performing. Ethan submits a petition to the court of justice to be allowed to choose his right to continue to live or not. The film explores the reaction of those close or not so close to him to such a petition.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali is to be congratulated for seeing in Hrithik not only his physical beauty, but also a certain "je ne sais quoi" beyond it that can even be felt in the lightness of Hrithik's voice. That very lightness craftily instills depth into his dialogue in 'Guzaarish'. The film's topic may seem like an utterly grave subject. This said, Ethan the magician talks about sex and pretty women as naturally as he does about death. In his natural demeanor one can sense self-humour, determination, love of life but also pain. I say: Bravo!
Another grand point about 'Guzaarish' is that unlike mainstream Western cinema, the film deals with a touchy issue, euthanasia, but never reaches an explicite conclusion on it. Each member of the audience is left free to ponder after walking out of the cinema whether one "believes" in euthanasia, and if one does, whether one would have the courage to admit it. There are no Hollywood step-by-step final scenes of euthanasia actually being planned or performed. As well as there is no scene of kissing in the touching love story between Ethan and Sophia (Aishwarya Rai). A love story that would indeed have nothing to envy to other intense romantic stories projected on the silver screen.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Amita Sehgal succeed at their casting abilities with panache. All roles are well portrayed, from Ethan's doctor (Suhel Seth), to his passionate lawyer (Shernaz Patel), to his moving maa (Nafisa Ali) and of course to his disciple, Omar, a vibrant young Aditya Roy Kapoor, who happens to be Ethan Mascarenha's biggest fan.
Another successfully managed point in 'Guzaarish' is the sprinkling of humour and happy moments in between melodramatic spells. Aish dancing at a bar, Sister Julia singing on the phone, Omar creating magic with a piece of wet paper... the film plays like an opera portraying a magical thunderstorm.
Beyond the question of euthanasia, the film's motto written in fine print might be to treasure the fine and happy moments as they come and to have faith in love, for it gives freedom.
Maybe Sophia's (Aishwarya Rai) jealous husband, a painter, should have learnt to paint a picture like 'Guzaarish', with dabs of austere Goya-like brushstrokes and impressionist hints of hope that one must catch as they appear before us.
Visit the film's official website
Release date: November 19th, 2010
Director: Sanjay Leela BhansaliScreenplay: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Bhavani Iyer
Cast: Aishwarya Rai, Hrithik Roshan, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Nafisa Ali, Suhel Seth, Shernaz Patel
Producer: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Ronnie Screwvala
Cinematography: Sudeep Chatterjee