Guzaarish: A Review

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Guzaarish – Dir: Sanjay Leela Bhansali; *ing: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwariya Rai, Shernaz Patel

Watching Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s opus Guzaarish, one has to wonder: wouldn’t it be just so awesome if one, like, fell down head-first into an open sewer and ended up paralysed from the neck down? Wouldn’t that be perfect, because one could then get really hot hired help (“I’d like that sponge bath now, Nurse Clooney”) and totally have a hot romance; and, oh, those pesky things like not being able to walk or bathe or feed oneself, well those are pretty darned darkly romantic on a Bronté-esque level aren’t they? What, that doesn’t sound enticing, or even altogether, sane? That’s odd, because the way Bhansali makes out being quadriplegic as so tragically dreamy, one is almost surprised that viewers of the film aren’t going at their limbs with a hacksaw en masse.

In Guzaarish, SLB continues to explore his curious and somewhat offensive affinity for disabilities in the Christian community (Khamoshi – Joseph and Flavy are deaf, Black – Michelle is blind), like looking at some distant fairytale affliction that the ‘other’ is saddled with for us to ogle and feel sorry for. Here, it is Ethan Mascarenhas (Roshan), a former superstar magician who is the central victim-with-a-heart-of-gold. Paralysed from the neck down after a magic-related accident, Ethan is cared for by Sophia (Rai) a supposed nurse who likes to flounce around in billowy skirts ala Frida Kahlo minus the uni-brow and, you know, depth or intellect. One fine day, Ethan decides he’s had enough of flies sitting on his nose and a beautiful Goan babe messing around his privates – he wants the courts to allow him to be euthanized. Or, as the film groovily puts it, Ethanised! Clever derivation that, no? His lawyer/best friend Devyani (Patel) is incredulous but sportingly files the petition anyway, whereby it is summarily rejected by the court thanks to the efforts of the smarmy, sniveling git of a state lawyer who very sensitively declares that the petitioner must be off his rocker for wanting out since his life is so super cool. Other than the being utterly paralysed of course. Some further pointless flashbacks and fortune-cookie philosophy sessions later, another petition is filed and things look hopeful for Ethan, and all’s well that ends well as he is mercifully allowed to die. No, wait, actually the petition is rejected AGAIN. So Ethan does what any sane man would do: gets the hot nurse to marry him so that she can shove him off the mortal coil the next day. Happy honeymoon!

One’s response to Guzaarish might not have been this acidic if Bhansali had allowed his subject to actually unfold in a suitably sensitive, subtle manner. Unfortunately, it seems the man wouldn’t know nuance if it came and clubbed him over the head. Instead of quietly letting us into Ethan’s world and revealing little by little the enormity and utter hopelessness of his situation, Bhansali loads the film with gauche, pointless melodramatic flourishes that rob the narrative of emotional weight. ‘Look, well-lit pretty people in ethereal locations suffer too’ he seems to be saying, except it’s hard to give a toss about that when the director’s so busy trying to make the suffering look as prettily photogenic as possible. As far as one can imagine, there is nothing remotely romantic about being quadriplegic and wanting to die; if your subject is this real, it needs to be expressed realistically, grittily, not like magical-realism on crack.

One feels for Roshan, who struggles valiantly against the vagaries of the script; the actor is consistently better than the material. Rai is… Rai, seemingly unable to stop posing for a nanosecond. The rest of the cast is bulldozed by Bhansali’s dubious intentions. Ultimately, though, one must arrive at the conclusion that as a matter of fact, the film’s very basic premise of Ethan being a ‘star’ magician is hideously flawed. If you’re a magician in the west, you can get to be like David Copperfield and be allowed to share the same breathing space as Claudia Schiffer. In South Asia, you pretty much just get peed on and pelted with chocolate cake at a six year-old’s Pokemon-themed birthday party.

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