The Saawariya Reaction

10 Nov

Love, in the movies of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is an emotion that needs to battle its way out – always past silence, sometimes the uncaring world.

In his debut feature, Khamoshi – the Musical, Manisha Koirala is a singer whose voice touches the world but not her deaf and mute parents (digression: Nana Patekar + Seema Biswas = Manisha Koirala but Demi Moore + Bruce Willis = Rumer Willis? Damn.) who live in a tiny universe of their own making. When they occasionally run into the outside world, the results are not always happy.

In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Aishwarya Rai falls for a golden voiced Salman Khan but finally chooses Ajay Devgan, an inarticulate man who solemnly croaks his way through a Hindi classic and is unable to confess his love for her even when trashed out of his mind. While the former event takes place in the secluded heart of a fantasy fortress that straddles a Gujarat-Rajasthan desert, the latter unfolds in the open spaces of the world at large (ostensibly Italy but everyone knows phoren is phoren so whatever).

In Devdas, nobody in the movie is left in any doubt whatsoever that Shahrukh Khan is in love with Aishwarya Rai, but when push comes to shove, he is unable to tell her what she needs to hear. And when he does tell her, she is unwilling to listen. Symbolically, the last scene of a movie brimming with images of an idealized Calcutta/Bengal, is a massively decorated gate clanging shut, imprisoning the hapless Paro inside as Devdas is left in the uncaring world outside.

In Black, Rani Mukherjee is not only deaf and mute, she is also blind. She exists in a darkly beautiful world, a faux Shimla that she can feel but not see, that we can admire on celluloid but not touch. We are mutually excluded from each other’s experiences.

And now, Saawariya.

A few days back, I wrote that going by the logical progression of his movies, I was afraid this one was going to be completely dedicated to the visuals at the cost of everything and everyone else in the film. It doesn’t afford me any particular happiness to be proven right (hey, I sat through it!) but I must say I enjoyed this movie far more than most others seem to have because I think I got exactly what I expected.

A beautiful spectacle. Period.

I know there were people who went in looking for the love story of the ages – it was definitely marketed that way – and the fact that the movie is based upon a Fyodor Dostoevsky short story, White Nights, might have fed into that angle. With all due respect, these people have either never seen a Bhansali movie before or hadn’t really paid him any attention when he spoke about his work.

Around the time Devdas was made and various people were going up in flames about the considerable liberties he’d taken with the story, I distinctly remember his inner Marie Antoinnette making an appearance and saying something along the lines of, “If they want the original, let them read the book!” His mouth might have said “adaptation” but his intent was always “inspiration” (and I don’t mean it in the Hitch/Partner way either). Forewarned is forearmed, etc. so it wasn’t a shock when I sat down and found that Dostoevsky’s contribution to this movie was the bare plotline and a Russian touch for the set decor.

I can’t blame him really. The one definite example I have of a book that was faithfully converted into a movie is The Fountainhead, where Ayn Rand turned up on the sets to assert her rights as creator even though she’d no prior film making experience. It is a book that I would recommend to everyone, just for a chance to engage with the ideas it throws up whether or not you agree with it in sum total, but as a movie? It sucked rotten eggs.

These are two different mediums and they have different demands. And if a director has decided to adapt a movie then s/he ought to go for whatever it was about the book that caught their attention rather than try for a “faithful adaptation”. The only kind of book that allows a “faithful adaptation” is a badly written book. If it’s well written, then it’s likely to have a few tricks and parts that will speak to you as a reader. Just because movies and books are both mediums for storytellers, it doesn’t mean they’re interchangeable.

Of course, you could do all the above and stay true to your vision… and still fall flat on your face.

A lot of people would say this is what has happened to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya. I would disagree.

Oh, it’s a bad movie, all right. All the things you’ve probably heard about – cardboard characters, hammy acting extraordinaire (dude, Ranbir, I don’t care what Bhansali told you, leave that weird head shaking thing out of your repertoire. With that baby face, psycho is an expression that suits you better than… um, how to put this kindly? Simple-minded? A bit ‘special’?), really bad dialogue, weak plot points, etc – are all true. It’s also positively glacial in pace although it might just be the quality of the film that makes one think they’ve been in the theatre for quite half their life already and could they please now just go home to die?

But I really think this is the movie Bhansali set out to make.

Saawariya is the ultimate peak (or so we can all hope) of the Bhansali sensibility. The ‘St. Petersburg by way of Venice situated in the RK Studios backlot’-land which his characters inhabit fits in perfectly with the progression of his movies so far. Here, the characters might try to communicate with each other through song and dance just like other Bhansali movies – but the real barrier is not between them. It is between the outside world and them.

Saawariya-land exists out of our ken in a way that other Bollywood-lands do not. Quite apart from the technical aspects (the entire thing was shot indoors without ever letting an infidel ray of natural light touch the Vision), this is a land imagined by a prostitute, which automatically locates it in a space that the majority of us can not or will not enter. Other movies have entered the brothel in search of a story – but the imagination is a whole another ball game.

Doesn’t it make sense then that the hookers are the only ones who really resonate in this story? That Sakina (Tranquility) and her beau wonderful, Iman (Faith) – their story, their motives, their bond – remain indecipherable to the end? That Ranbir Raj is an object of desire who belongs to no one and nowhere?

For you and I, dear heart, love is an everyday emotion that is capable of reaching dizzying heights. For the denizens of Saawariya-land, it is a fetish, thrilling in its novelty. Unfortunately, the problem with fetishes has always been that it’s of great interest to the person who has it; to the rest of us it can be anything from ho-hum to disgusting.

What I saw was a spectacle all right – and I’m not talking about the sets here.

So did I like it? Well, I didn’t dislike it. It was an interesting experience to walk in for a movie and walk out having seen a peep show. Or perhaps this whole post has been an attempt to convince myself that I didn’t just waste three hours of my life. You decide. :mrgreen:


Posted by on November 10, 2007 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Video


14 responses to “The Saawariya Reaction

  1. desigirl

    November 10, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    ‘simple’ chappie, eh, ol’ Ranbir? figures! You could add him to your equation of Demi + Bruce, Nana + Seema etc.

    So, getting down to the res, is this flick even worth the free Orange Wednesday ticket price or not?

  2. Asanka

    November 11, 2007 at 4:06 am

    East or West, Devgan is the BEST!

  3. luckykabutar

    November 11, 2007 at 10:16 am

    You might have wasted 3 hours in the theater, but I had fun reading your opinions. Honestly its been a good 2 years since I’ve seen a hindi flick and walked away with a sense of satisfaction. What do you say?

  4. Amrita

    November 11, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    DG – free tickets? You got the wrong person babe, I’d watch Ishtar if it was for free 😀 It’s pretty but I wouldn’t take my little kid to see it. So make it a date movie – you’ll have lots of time to get ahem, creative in the dark 😛

    Asanka – well, that puts my mind at rest.

    Luckykabutar – (damn, that’s a great name 😀 ) glad my pain was not in vain 🙂 Well, LRM was pretty entertaining – and better than the original imo – while RDB impressed me at first outing although I felt manipulated in retrospect and Chak De was very satisfying in some ways. And the smaller movies like Johnny Gaddar and Ek Chalis ki Local brought me satisfaction in other ways. But yeah, we haven’t quite seen anything I’d nominate for the defining movie of the decade or anything.

  5. headmistress

    November 11, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    your review is spot on – I saw it tonight, and am still somewhat confused as to what I thought of it. I can understand what SLB was trying to achieve _ I agree that the slightly surreal, lacklustre mood of the whole film was very deliberate on his part – I guess he’s trying to evoke that intense, introverted withdrawal of the original narrative – but it just doesn’t translate here. I ended up feeling as if I’d had some hazy patches of amnesia instead.
    The set too – I’m a sucker for useless pretty things, which was pretty much why I wanted to see it, but… OTT much? Bollywood can always bring out some fantastically opulent sets, but this did slip towards tacky christmas decorations, esp that bloody bridge.
    And the kids. Sonam, you’ve got your looks girl, but the family line’s not the job for you. And Ranbir…ok, he’s a veritable Adonis, oh my, but I don’t need to see it all! Not on the big screen! Not with my mum! And the whole hyper-cute puppy dog thing, he did it well but it soon started to grate.
    Even so… it grew on me… on the long journey home. And I want to see it again, but I can’t figure out if it’s because it was really a lovely film, or just because I can’t remember what I just saw, and need to figure it out again :/
    ps sorry for such a long comment!

  6. Raja Sen

    November 12, 2007 at 3:11 am

    The latter, darlin, so completely the latter.

  7. Amit

    November 12, 2007 at 4:18 am

    I’d like to believe it is a typo and not a genuine mistake.

    Marie Antoinette

    You’ve used one ‘n’ too many.

    Rock on…!

  8. Saakshi O. Juneja

    November 12, 2007 at 6:36 am

    “I didn’t just waste three hours of my life.” – You sure you went for Saawariya and not OSO cause as far as I remember the film is abt 2 hours and 10 mins or so. 🙂

    BTW, have to say I totally disagree with you. 😉

  9. tania

    November 12, 2007 at 8:35 am

    saawariya i really a good film ever u can get amazing songs

  10. desigirl

    November 13, 2007 at 10:57 am

    Creativity in the dark? Whoa! Am married, remember? That sorta puts paid to all creativity, darkness or light.

  11. Diana Hsieh

    November 14, 2007 at 1:29 am

    You wrote: “The one definite example I have of a book that was faithfully converted into a movie is The Fountainhead, where Ayn Rand turned up on the sets to assert her rights as creator even though she’d no prior film making experience. ”

    In fact, Ayn Rand worked in Hollywood in various capacities for many years before the movie version of _The Fountainhead_ was made. Her pre-Fountainhead screenwriting credits include “You Came Along” and “Love Letters.” Her sale of her screenplay “Red Pawn” — never made into a movie, unfortunately — allowed her to quit her much-hated job in some wardrobe department to write her first novel _We the Living_.

    Like you. I’d recommend the book version of _The Fountainhead_. Whether you ultimately love it or hate it, it’s a self-defining read. (I’ve never seen the movie for fear that it might ruin my images of the characters in my head though!)

  12. the mad momma

    November 14, 2007 at 10:35 am

    you put your heart into this one didnt you ams?! its so well written and spot on… come back soon!

  13. Beth

    December 12, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    So late to the game am I…. I can understand why you’d want to convince yourself you didn’t waste your time. It’s not the worst movie ever, no no – but for me it was unsatisfying the very moment it stopped (actually before – when it became clear Sakina wasn’t going to get over Imaan even though he was, at best, absent). It was pretty while it lasted – and that’s not nothing – but then it was over and I ceased being interested.

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