November 20, 2010

Defining Its Maker

Friday morning, a friend sends me a text: “Dude, are you going for ‘Guzaarish’. Do tell me whether I should watch it or not.” Half an hour later I was in the theatre. It was fifteen minutes past the scheduled time, and we were still waiting for the projectionist to start the film. Someone joked: “The print hasn’t reached yet. Bhansali is still working on the film.”

This is the problem with being Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The world knows about your painstaking ways of making a film, your obsession with attaining your ‘vision’, a virtue that is not common among Hindi filmmakers. The world knows you work hard, and many things that you do are really good. But you are still joked at. In fact, one thing that the world surely doesn’t know is what to expect from you. ‘Guzaarish’, in my opinion, is an answer to that.

I have always felt that ‘Saawariya’ was not as bad as it appeared, and the harsh reaction it generated. And was hoping, the director would make sure his next offering is decent. Now, that next film is out and the three reviews I have read are extremely favourable, lauding it as one of the best films in recent times. One regular reviewer of a popular daily has been replaced by some other ‘critic’, with the promise that the original reviewer will be ‘back next week’. It seems the media is trying to compensate for the harsh reactions three years ago.

Why, for instance, none of these reviewers have objected to the garish make-up and the distractingly generous cleavage-revealing look of the leading lady, who plays a nurse? Why, haven’t they written about the inconsistent writing, that goes awkwardly out-of-control with the first scene of the second half? Why, for god’s sake, have they ignored the fact that there is more than just ‘inspiration’ taken out of the Javier Bardem starrer ‘The Sea Inside’? One critic, after admitting that the film is also inspired from ‘Whose Life is it Anyway?’ and ‘Prestige’, goes to the extent of saying: “Just because you trace the source of the inspiration does it anyway demean SLB’s ‘Guzaarish’? It most certainly does not. The film is a masterpiece…”

A masterpiece! I confess it left me teary-eyed in a scene or two. Hrithik Roshan did look sincere, if not impeccable. The wants of most characters were well in place. And the film appeared to be making an earnest effort to inspire us with love and life. But a masterpiece?

Perhaps the critic is not wrong. My pillow-side pocket dictionary defines ‘masterpiece’ as ‘someone’s best work.’ The critic might be right because perhaps this is the best Bhansali can deliver. He is definitely not as bad as ‘Saawariya’ and he will perhaps never make a film better than ‘Guzaarish.’ It is not a terrible film. And SLB is not a terrible filmmaker. He is just an artist past his prime, caught within his own world of diminishing objectivity and ‘inspiration’. Correct me if I’m wrong, but ‘Guzaarish’ seems to be the precise definition of its filmmaker.

As for my reply to my friend, and my advice to you, here it is: “Nothing great. But you should watch it.”

P.S. Just before the film, watched the theatrical trailer of ‘No One Killed Jessica’. It left me stunned. Waiting eagerly for you, Mr. Gupta.


  1. Hello Satyanshu,

    This comment is not related to the post though...still after your recommendation I watched The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke and it intrigued me to watch the other his other film 'Cache'..Both of these movies have these strange, vague..and unresolved things left at the end which is pretty different, distict and refreshing form quite a few of the better directors...

    How do you analyze these endings ..or its just that I was bowled over coz I had seen nothing like that before..

  2. Hi Ubiquitous,
    I haven't watched 'Cache'. But I would talk about the ending of 'The White Ribbon'.

    SPOILER ALERT (Please stop reading if you haven't watched The White Ribbon):
    Who was the culprit? If the films ended with that, it would have been reduced to just another who-dunnit. This film was clearly above that. It was more like a timeless novel. And timelessness comes with open-endings.
    I believe the ending is perfect, because it sums up the film. If you realize, the film starts with unfortunate events happening, one after another, all caused by human evil. Each subsequent event is darker than the one preceding it. There is a continuous 'foreboding' of 'something worse is going to happen'. And when the film ends, it is as if the worst of all - the War - has arrived to make us forget all preceding dark events. Like life, which is strange, and vague, and does not end, the film 'moves on' from its core suspense to an open end, because resolving that suspense was never the intention of the film. The intention was to create a small universe within that village, where all evils happen, but happen like it happens in life. Wonderfully blending drama and suspense, this film is actually asking a bigger ethical and moral question - Is there any end to human evil? And how long can you keep tying white ribbons to guide us morally? A clear-cut ending could have never achieved this.

  3. This was like an all new kind of experience ...Do watch "Cache"...I wont say a word...but u'll like it for sure..!!

    Haneke has been a revelation to me...!!!

    Do suggest similar movies..Keep writing !

  4. Have to say that the most striking and deeply felt portion of this movie experience was the theatrical trailer of "No one killed Jessica" !
    The film itself was slightly underwhelming and at quite a few junctures , the film seemed like compromising on cinematic integrity for aesthetic ones ..the high point were the honest acts from most of the cast .. Hrithik didn't score much with me probably because he was matched right up against Javier Bardem in my mind :)

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  6. Hi Satyashu,
    Talking about The White Ribbon; i read somewhere that the film portrays human evil and gives us the root of birth of Nazis. I thought it well defined the end i.e. the children would later on in life become the Nazi leaders.

  7. @Saket: I think that is a very opinionated POV. I would not restrict its universality. It talks about human evil, in general, IMO...

  8. precisely! not brilliance but a must watch! weak but straight from heart. impeccable acting by Hrithik. I liked all the way through. "Liked". Certain scenes were making you burst out of your body...feeling paralysed and desperate to strike. But an unprepared lawyer opposing Ethan was all in all an Unprepared SLB...all in all this is where the script writing brilliance is well is the issue opposed and then the opposition a few more sopts like this where SLB got defeated. Saawariya was, for me brilliance, slow but yes brilliance.

    But in the end..i i said...guzaarish is a film straight from heart..."lifting" is sad but...yes...i felt the pain...but still.."lifting" is sad.

  9. and yes...NO ONE KILLED JESSICA is *hopefully* going to be bold and brilliant! crossed fingers!

  10. and i must not fail to add, that the music of guzaarish is so fullfilling.

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  12. @ Prerna: agreed with all you say... in fact Bhansali all of us seem to be saying the same thing. Bhansali is an enigmatic filmmaker... and enigma is not always a virtue....

    I loved the music. But the sad thing is after the movie I don't feel like listening to its music...

  13. My regards sir,
    When I returned after watching Guzaarish,I was awestruck and blessed by the phenomenon(SLB) that I have followed for more than a decade now.But when i read your blog,I felt challenged to re-visit the conviction for discovering the film from a critical angle.I returned but with a single complaint from the genius.How could a visionary like Bhansali allow his critics to influence him to an extent that it not only induced in him a fear of rejection but also interfered with his artistic independence?The ‘generous cleavage revealing’look of the leading lady that the filmmaker chose was quintessential to what i just wrote,considering that it came from a man who openly expressed his shyness in shooting for the video of ‘Baahon ke darmiyan’(Khamoshi),in an interview with Simi Garewal.It only hurts because the artist was never a “public appeaser”.
    But the artistic freedom is so evident in so many other sections of the film,that you almost feel like you are framing an innocent For eg. The humour in the film was typically Bhansali.How many directors in the contemporary cinema today have the guts to extend their personal liking for something as inconspicuous(for the masses) as a tune to the extent where they make their actors enact the beats of a melody with the natural passion and madness of a person who can only enjoy such luxury when away from the ridiculing and judgemental eyes of the world?Watch Sophia play the imaginable drums and guitar in the beginning of ‘Udi’,something that made me exclaim a blessing for the only man in this industry who can pull off something so giddy with such panache and grandeur.