June 17, 2009

Why I couldn't hate Saawariya

I must admit that I am not a die-hard Sanjay Leela Bhansali fan. I didn't like 'Devdas'. And even after 'Black', that i loved, wasn't too sure with my expectations from 'Saawariya'. Although I have always worshiped the music of his films, and by the time this movie was released on Diwali 2007, its music had already murdered me! Felt I could listen to its 'Daras bina nahi chain' forever...
Catched the evening show on the first day itself. By then, there were news already from different sources that it is a 'terrible' film and people are leaving the theatres mid-way. Within the first fifteen minutes into the film, it was clear why. I was watching it in a single-screen theatre in Pune and my fellow audience were generous in their use of adjectives to complain about it. Some screamed as if it were a horror film. And for the next two hours I was trying hard to survive their hatred directed towards the screen. But as the end credits rolled and I came out of the theatre, I was smiling. I could easily understand why people are hating it, but I could not.

In the next few days, the Indian media ripped it off. Critics and common men, all hated it. And I have this feeling that the Hindi film industry people, those not associated with this Columbia Pictures presentation, silently approved. It appeared, we had just witnessed one of the worst films in cinema history. I was not too comfortable with it. And waited for atleast someone to come forwards in defence of this film, any one critic, or someone with the knowledge of cinema. Sadly, I am still waiting.

Not that I can't see the flaws in the film. Not that there weren't moments that I actually found difficult to accept, both logically and cinematically. Not that I was so mesmerized by the music that I loved the film. No, I didn't love it. But I thought that it didn't deserve the hatred it received.

Filmmakers keep trying, throughout their careers to refine and define their expression. Some are gifted with unique cinematic language, many learn by emulating others and many more can not do it at all. It is indeed rare, for a filmmaker, Indian or otherwise to have an expression of his own, something that is seen only in his films, something that becomes a genre in itself. And in Hindi film industry, with all due respects to the filmmakers here, I truely don't find makers with their own personal flavour apparent from their work. Even the best of our films have not necessarily been original in their content and treatment. For those who disagree, I won't cite examples from successful trend-setting films, that actually borrowed ideas from the west, but I would rather name a filmmaker, who in my opinion, did have an expression of his own. He had his personal flavour in all his movies and could achieve the finest balance of heart and head and of art and technique. He was V. Shantaram. Watching his movies will make it clear what unique expression I am talking about. And, in this generation, I find Bhansali as the one who has the unique voice of his own, and the conviction to stick by it.

Please do not think that I am comparing him to Shantaram. That would be unfair, indeed. I just wanted to make this point and stand for this man. In fact, after 'Saawariya' I feel he should stick to this kind of cinema, because this is 'his' cinema - deeply personal and strange. And whether he makes a good or a not-so-good film, Bhansali actually succeeds in creating an atmosphere, a mood that, I suppose, has never been portrayed on screen. If he devotes his entire life doing this, I am sure, he will leave behind him some works that will be known by his name. And yes, it will include some flawed films.

'Saawariya' was a flawed piece of art. But it was definitely a piece of art. I am sorry to say this, but most of the films made in our industry do not even qualify as a work of art. And for its conviction, its madness, its defiance and its effect on me- that lasted even after that Diwali night, I fail to hate 'Saawariya'.

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