“Dying is nothing new in our life, but then living is nothing newer.”-wrote Sergei Yesenin, the young Russian poet in his suicide note.
The same feeling seems to be echoed in GUZAARISH by Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan), a great magician, who turned quadriplegic after an accident. In the 14 years of a quadriplegic’s life, he has died every moment; so now he wants to be free, be emancipated. Thus he appeals for euthanasia or mercy killing in the court of law.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali has always used disability to tell compelling human stories. Be it the deaf and mute couple in KHAMOSHI or the blind, deaf and mute girl in BLACK and now the paraplegic magician in GUZAARISH – all of them have one thing in common, they make us believe in the triumph of the human spirit amidst all adversities.
Guzaarish salutes all those quadriplegics who have lost the use of their limbs but not their spirit. They are not dark, defeated people. Some of them are very entertaining, bright people paralyzed in body but liberated in spirit. They can’t feel anything in their body, and yet they are so buoyant.
The film unfolds like a lyrical poetry on screen. Since the subject is dark and grim, Bhansali consciously chooses a larger than life canvas. That’s why his hero, magician Ethan lives in a beautiful Victorian Villa in picturesque Goa. His nurse and caretaker of 12 years, the gorgeous Sophia( Aishwarya Rai) seems to be walking down straight from a Jane Austen world in her Victorian attire. Hrithik Roshan with his cherubic look, is at his all time best as Ethan Mascarenhas. Aishwarya looks so ravishing that it really doesn’t matter, even if she doesn’t look like a nurse.
The film is a true testimony of how much pain Sanjay takes before each shot, to make his sets and actors look beautiful. He selects a contemporary, realistic issue, but with his visuals creates a magical realism on screen. Indeed, superb camera works by Cinematographer Sudip Chatterjee.
But it is sad that the film opened with only 30 to 40% theatre occupancy in its first week, despite of releasing with 1000 prints.
Shobhaa De, celebrated writer and page three columnist has taunted in a national daily, saying that in a country where most people can’t pronounce Euthanasia and even lesser number understand the meaning, Bhansali will require a magic wand for a miracle in the box-office .
Dear Madam, if the literacy level of a country is low, does it mean that one has to cater to the lowest common denominator? Then the quality of our cinema will be like the television programme Rakhi Ka Insaaf. Madam, please spare us the horror.
Sensitive films like Guzaarish will always contribute to the growth of Indian Cinema.
But box-office pundit like Amod Mehra preaches that Rs 60 crores should not be spent on films like this, since it cannot draw mass audience to the theatre.
Vinod Mirani , another trade veteran, also seems to be Cynical about the film’s box-office success. He thinks that such films should be made in a tenth of Guzaarish’s budget.
“The budget should be the main consideration if one is making films for personal gratification and not the masses…because you can’t show awards in the balance sheet.”- He emphasizes.
These kind of unkind remarks really shock me. Why these high priests of bollywood remain silent over senseless films like BLUE, which rightly bombs at the Box-Office, even after spending 100 crores? Why they do not preach then against mindless expenditure?
At least, in the case of Guzaarish every penny spent is visible on screen. With its grayish blue texture, each frame of the film looks like a painting. So what if Sanjay takes a whole day to take one shot. He delivers, yet he is often accused of making overtly flamboyant and whimsical movies?
Doesn’t Sanjay have the right to make a personal film?
Sanjay defends himself, “I create the world I live in. Guzaarish, is about the pain and isolation I faced after Saawariya”.
He elaborates – “It was the toughest time of my life. Suddenly everyone disappeared, and that included the people who had worked with me on Saawariya for two years. Because of the suffering I began to get seriously interested in the subject of mercy killing. I began to read up as much as possible on the subject. My research showed that mercy killing was prohibited by law in many countries including India .Almost a year of studying the super-sensitive subject; I concluded that every human being should have the right to die with dignity. The pain and suffering and the dignity with which I bore them prompted me to make a film on mercy killing.”
Though not completely original, Guzaarish, is inspired by The Sea Inside (2004) by Alejandro Amenabar and Whose Life is It Anyway (1981) by John Badham. However, this doesn’t degrade GUZAARISH in anyway. Everybody has some source of inspiration.
The story revolves around Ethan’s fight for his right to die. The court rejects his plea. Since he works from his home as a radio jockey, his lawyer friend Devyani gives him the idea to create public opinion and get support for his right to die, through radio. Thus , project Ethanasia is launched.
The film makes one cry. Despite of the content being so dark and grim, the audience remains engrossed every single moment in the magical realism on screen. Here lies the success of the director. Only the songs don’t add to the magic. Composing the song himself, I feel, is a bit of hara-kiri by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. His films are always remembered for their melodious songs and their brilliant choreography, but Guzaarish fails to pull the audience with its songs.
All the characters, from Omar Siddique (Aditya Roy Kapoor), the young boy who comes to learn magic to the feisty lawyer Devyani ( Shernaz Patel), the Doctor ( Suhel Seth) or Ethan’s mother ( Nafisa Ali) are so lovable. Every actor has justified his or her role.
Only a couple of questions arose in my mind while watching the film.
Firstly, why Ethan’s magic shows are held in extended restaurants instead of auditoriums?
Secondly, why should Ethan’s old mother stay away from a paraplegic son? The logic of the son not wanting the mother to stay with him doesn’t seem strong enough.
However, in an otherwise, so beautiful film a few things like this can be overlooked.
Here is a brilliantly crafted film dealing with an issue, which has a universal appeal. The most wonderful part of the film is that though it talks about euthanasia, it glorifies the beauty of life. Death is inevitable so Ethan tells to live life; to love truly and kiss slowly.
True to its Victorian setting, the film ends as if with an echo of the famous line of the great Victorian poet Tennyson’s poem Ulysses- “to drink life to the lees.” And you come out of the theatre humming the beautiful lyric by Vibhu Puri – “Sau gram zindagi yeh, sambhaal ke kharchi hai”.
I completely disagree with the trade analysts and Shobhaa De on the film’s box-office success. Anyway, UTV- the producers of the film have a deep pocket and know their business very well. They knew why and where they were putting their money.
With the word of mouth publicity, the film is surely going to pick up. In the long run, UTV will not only recover the cost but will get laurels too. The film has already collected Rs. 25 crore in its opening week and reached within top 10 positions at box office in UK.
Indeed it is tough to live up to so many expectations. But all power to you, Sanjay – you keep making films from your heart. At Institute of Moving Images, we love your work and care for you.