Nov 20, 2010
Guzaarish is an affected film with a contrived plot and a severe Jesus complex. It is obsessed with how it looks, walks and poses. But in this self-conscious world lives and breathes a class act — Hrithik Roshan. He creates an emotional core so powerful and compelling that the film’s flaws pale in his brilliance.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali must remain eternally grateful to Hrithik. He has saved this pretentious film — by believing in his character completely, and investing it with real emotions and feelings. A man who is so body-beautiful, nimble and sharp, stretched and taut, goes limp and engages just his face to communicate anger, frustration and pain, often without uttering a word.
Mr Roshan, take a bow. You have just earned your first National Award. And we are in love with you again, Mori and other sorry affairs are all forgiven, forgotten.
GUZAARISH IS set in Bhansali’s alternative world, a few storeys above Black. It’s partly in heaven and partly on the edge of earth, by the sea, in beautiful, overcast Goa. Here stands a lone, imposing mansion – wood-panelled, blue-grey walls, Grecian statues. This is the abode of a beautiful, lonely man, Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan). The house represents Ethan in many ways — braving the elements, but cracking.
Ethan was once the greatest magician in the world. He is now a quadriplegic — paralysed from the neck down for 14 years. But, most significantly, he was and is, Jesus Christ — with soft curls, a pained smile, and a stylish fedora.
Ethan hosts a radio show, Radio Zindagi, on which he inspires and plays corny songs. The film opens with a song about “aching, breaking, worthwhile, smile”, while Ethan’s nurse Sophia (Aishwarya Rai), her back and brows arched, takes sharp right-angle turns and goes about cleaning and feeding him. Her long, dark silhouette with red trimmings, born out of Bhansali’s fetishes and obsession with perfection, is instantly annoying. She is part Jane Eyre, part flamenco dancer. But above all, she is Mary Magdalene.
Next we meet Devyani (Shernaz Patel), Ethan’s lawyer. Strapped to the blood circulation table (Crucifixion), Ethan asks Devyani to file a petition that he be allowed to die. Euthanasia, mercy killing, ichcha mrityu. She walks off in anger, calls his doctor. Dr Nayak (Suhel Seth) tries to talk Ethan out of it, but Ethan is determined. Devyani eventually relents, goes to court, but the judge dismisses Ethan’s plea. Blue-greys spread, reds shrink.
Sophia, who has given 12 years of her life to Ethan, is angry. She huffs and puffs and leaves his room. Alone, his lifeless, crooked hands in his lap, Ethan tries to fight a fly, shake it off, but the fly persists. So he smiles, lets it be, on his nose. This is the point in the film where the weepies in the audience kneel down beside Ethan’s bed, tears in eyes.
One young man, Omar Siddique (Aditya Roy Kapoor), barges into this status quo world. He wants to learn magic, but he also harbours a secret. Ethan begins teaching Omar his famous tricks, and we get a peep into Ethan’s past — we meet little bright-eyed Ethan and his Mama, and then watch him levitate and play with fire and water in front of gaping audiences. We also get Hrithik’s first truly transgender dance.
Ethan talks of sex sometimes, says he fantasises about Sophie’s legs. But nothing in his past suggests promiscuity. Just the love of devotees for the master. And it’s the same now, too. Sophia and Ethan share a bond, and there is an alleged kiss. But in Bhansali’s celestial setting, no relationship is spoilt by real intimacy. Just empathy, adoration, redemption. Hints, however, are dropped about a gender identity issue – today, Ethan is with a stunning woman but is an invalid; in the past, when he performed, he danced like a lissom gay god.
Goaded by Devyani, Ethan launches “Project Ethanasia” on his radio show – callers tell him he inspires them, and say no to his request to die. But one phone call from his former assistant, Estella (Monikangana Dutta), changes many hearts. In flashback, we see Ethan and Estella’s performances which are cultish rituals, learn about the tragic accident, and meet Judas.
Devyani appeals to the judge again, and this time takes Ethan along. The judge says the case will be heard in Ethan’s house. That night Sophia takes Ethan and Omar to a night club – music is playing and stiff Sophie can’t help herself and starts dancing. This could have been a nice moment, but it’s spoilt by Aishwarya. She contorts her face to convey having fun. Aishwarya may swim great lengths in perfect rhythm, but she can’t float.
Next day begins Jesus’ trial before Pilate, with Ethan sitting at the foot of a long staircase. Mama arrives, pleads his case, but his request is denied.
Sophia’s personal life interferes, she disappears. Returns all bruised but free, free to save Ethan. And then the apostles gather for the last supper.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish tackles the complex issue of euthanasia, and he looks at it entirely from the individual, humanitarian angle. To make his case acceptable, he invokes Christ and his apostles. This adds mystique and makes it easier to see his point of view. It’s interesting that Bhansali has chosen this setting to also gently question the concept of suffering that is central to Christianity.
Bhansali idolises Hrithik throughout and uses several tricks to weave a halo around Ethan – he gives him rousing backdrops, light falls around him in divine, warm rays, and godly apparitions appear on walls behind him. It is appropriate, therefore, that just like Jesus saved the world, Hrithik saves Guzaarish despite all its sins. Hrithik conveys sadness, desperation and love of life all at once. When his eyes ask, “Don’t you see how much I am suffering”, there is only one answer.
Yet, to make any sense of the world where Bhansali conducts Guzaarish is a challenge. When Sophie walks into the kitchen, she lands in Sicily. When we meet little Ethan, he’s a cherubic urchin from Dickens’ London. Bhansali’s two-tone world where everything sits perfectly, is antiseptic. Aishwarya suits this setting. If she were less icy, less Ms Perfect, if she had blood in her veins instead of sparking water, she’d be a misfit. Nafisa Ali is not bad, Suhel Seth is comical and Shernaz Patel makes faces. Aditya Roy Kapoor is cute.