After the extreme reviews that Saawariya had provoked, I had to see the movie for myself— if only to see how bad it was. But I decided to go with an open mind. Since I had been vacillating over this decision for a long time, I discovered that the movie was no longer showing in any of the Central London cinemas, and as I just needed an excuse to go to Southall, I saw it at the Himalaya Palace cinema there.
The first thing I did after the watching the movie, was to come back and read up Fyodor Dosteovosky’s White Nights just to see what inspired SLB. White Nights is a very simple tale told with passion and talks about sentiments of longing and unrequited love. Sentiment is the only thing that is completely lacking in Bhansali’s version, and it makes for rather tedious viewing. There is grandeur in the sets, but no soul in the story telling. I think the only reason I survived the movie was the succulent Tandoori chicken I sneaked in from Poornima’s next door!
While the tale begins with a confession that such a place exists only in Gulabji’s (Rani Mukherjee as the narrator) imagination — one nevertheless fails to connect with the backdrop. The architecture in one of the sets looks lifted right out of a drawing in a Russian fairy tale book. It suddenly turns into a Venice-like view with gondolas rowing across a dark canal. It snows and rains without warning. You also have jarring neon lights proclaiming RK Bar, Sheikh Omar and Clifton Place. You can’t relate to a tale where the era or period is not clear— what do you call a film where people say ‘OK Bye’ at the end of each conversation, and talk Hinglish with ‘sad ho gaya’ and ‘happy ho jao’ interspersed in each dialogue? The sets may be grand, but the characterization of the protagonists seems to have been completely marginalized.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s admiration for Guru Dutt’s work is well known. And his film does score points in the manner in which the light and shade are used. The entire sequence is a tale of six nights, as in the original story, and you do get a wee bit tired of seeing his obsession with blues and greens. So while the backdrop is picture-postcard perfect, the costumes wonderfully colour-coordinated— even potholes are symmetrically placed— the entire effect is too artificial to touch the heart. You long for some real people and places to be around.
I cannot blame any of the actors. They have all done their jobs admirably well. Alas, if only the director knew his craft of story-telling. Sonam Kapoor has been styled to look like Waheeda Rehman of Guru Dutt’s films and it succeeds thanks to all the light effects. She does have screen presence too. But she does need to work in the dance department if she wants those comparisons to continue. Ranbir is cute and has an impish charm. His towel act is completely out of place and I wonder why he agreed to that nude shot in the first place. Someone tell Bhansali that Ranbir looked much better clothed than in a towel, and the scene wasn’t at all necessary to combat SRK’s six pack. But both these newcomers are completely wasted under SLB’s colossal waste of celluloid. Ranbir would really work well in a teeny bopper romance — he has both the looks and the charm to carry it off. Sonam is beautiful and needs to be in a more frothy role. Rani Mukherjee has carried off her role with elan. Zohra Sehgal is the only one who makes you smile. Begum Para and Salman Khan are completely wasted.
Except for the title track, nothing seems to be memorable in the music department. Wonder why Sameer had to resort to rhyming like “sajeela, hateela, Shakila, Jamila and dheela” of all things! And the songs irritate in the first half as they tumble out one after another incessantly.
To sum up, Sanjay Leela Bhansali probably made this movie to be recognized as one of India’s best cinematic geniuses who knows his craft. So I guess his film will be taught to all the FTII graduates in Pune on how to arrange lighting and on his brilliant cinematography. But even years later, people will wish he had approached at least Karan Johar to help him in the scripts department. His film is a perfect plastic rose bereft of any fragrance.
On the ongoing controversy, all I will say is that Om Shanti Om and Saawariya are films of two different genres that cannot be compared. But the only similarity is that they both are indulgent products of their directors to pay shoddy tribute to the directors they admire. Both don’t work— as they both lack a soul.