Once upon a time there was a movie that touched the senses, the soul, and the heart. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Saawariya” is an eternal film that transports the viewers across time and space into a world that exists just beyond our ordinary lives. The film is like an ethereal spirit that lovingly brushes the back of your heart in the dark and leaves a haunting impression upon your soul.
The movie has been brought to us by the man who may arguably be India’s best director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The director has been responsible for some of the most beautiful cinema that Bollywood audiences have seen. Movies such as “Khamoshi”, “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”, “Devdas” and “Black” have left an indelible mark on Hindi movie fans all across the world. His previous movies have been praised for his artistic vision and uncompromising dedication to the craft of movie making. If ever there were a director that Raj Kapoor has passed the baton to, it is Mr. Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The director is known for his perfectionism in everything from cinematography to the music score. “Saawariya” is a highly anticipated film by fans, as people wonder whether the director has been able to create another masterpiece or not.
The movie is co-produced by Sony film’s Columbia Pictures and has been given a PG rating (for a bit of nudity) by the Motion Picture Association of America. This highly touted and anticipated film releases worldwide on Diwali (November 9th, 2007) and features the debut of Ranbir Kapoor (Raj Kapoor’s grandson and son of Rishi Kapoor), Sonam Kapoor (Anil Kapoor’s daughter). The supporting cast includes Zora Sehgal with appearances by Salman Khan and Rani Mukherjee. Special mention must be made of the biggest character in the film, which sometimes overshadows even the flesh and blood actors: the small, magical, sleepy blue/green hued town that provides the canvas on which Sanjay Leela Bansali paints his characters over the course of four nights.
The film centers around a lovable vagabond that appears in town one night, and quickly wins over the heart of “working girl” Gulabji (Rani Mukherjee) who falls in love with the charm, innocence and seeming naiveté of Ranbir Raj (Ranbir Kapoor). He has no family, no history, and seeks the love of those around him to fill the solitude that exists within his heart. After winning over the hearts of the town’s prostitutes by re-assuring them that angels will take away their sorrow, he captures the heart of Lillipop (Zora Sehgal) by bringing back the happiness that she lost when her son left her thirty seven years before. He does this by offering her that which she has not had in a long, long time…a warm and loving hug. Once he has befriended the most unlikely of characters, he happens upon a beautiful woman that steals his soul away within the breath of his lonely darkness. Raj, is used to fighting life on his own, and is willing to box with sadness/fate even though life may try it’s best to knock him down. Once he sees Sakina (Sonam Kapoor), he truly feels that he for once is not alone. He is enamored, thrilled, crazy, and mad with a love and passion that makes him write Sakina’s name on the walls across town. Little does he know that though he has fallen in love with her, her heart belongs to another man and she only sees poor Raj as a friend with whom to share her loneliness until her beloved returns. Imaan (Salman Khan) has stolen Sakina’s heart, but had to leave her behind until he can return to her on the eve of Eid. Raj’s heart is torn to shreds as he tries to convince his beloved Sakina that he is truly the man for her. Unfortunately, he finds that the woman he loves has no room in her heart for him. Will Sakina choose Raj over Imaan? Will Raj be heartbroken by losing Sakina to Imaan? Will Lillipop break out into song and dance? Will Gulabji sacrifice her secret love for Raj, so that he can be happy? For the answers to those questions and more, I’m afraid you’ll have to go out and see this beautifully filmed movie.
“Saawariya” is as much a story about the magical town that surrounds the actors as it is about the characters themselves. Sanjay Leela Bhansali and cinematrographer Ravi K. Chandran have draped the entire town in blue and green hues, giving every scene a wispy ethereal look that leaves the audience enraptured. Each frame/scene is like a painting and the viewer doesn’t know where to look first. These hues combine with the magnificently detailed sets designed by art director, Omung Kumar. If there’s any one complaint, it’s that each frame has so much going on in the background that it can get a bit distracting at times. It’s a testament to Mr. Bhansali, that he has tried a completely different technique in filming this movie. The closest comparisons I can make to “Saawariya’s” distinct look are to films that are directed by Hollywood director Tim Burton who prefers filming completely on indoor sets as Bhansali has done in this film. Though the sets seem visually realistic, the viewer is left quite conscious of the fact that something is just a bit off. This works to the film’s advantage as the town takes on a magical look. It becomes both “everywhere” and “nowhere” within India. In fact, the town is never even properly identified within the movie. The hues which are provided by space lights (the first use of these atmospheric lights in a Hindi film) and the use of blue/green paint, add to the creation of a character which I call “magical reality”. Everywhere you look, there are artistic flourishes such as neon signs in subdued hues, a statue of Buddha, Mona Lisa drapes, Persian rug patterns, and a beautiful bridge with a river running underneath it all combine to form the centerpiece of this emotional tale. Bhansali’s dedication to his craft is evident throughout the movie, and he re-affirms himself as the best director that India has to offer.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Saawariya” is as much homage to his distinct style of filmmaking as it is to the bygone Raj Kapoor movies of yesteryear. In fact, Ranbir Kapoor’s character Ranbir Raj’s anscestry can be traced back to the beloved vagabond clown that Raj Kapoor performed in movies like “Shree 420”. He’s pure, friend to all, beloved by all, a loser in love, yet never gives up hope for a better future. The legacy of Raj Kapoor can be felt all through the movie, culminating in Ranbir and Sonam’s re-enactment of the RK Films logo (sculpted after the famous scene of Raj Kapoor holding Nargis as she looks up at him)
Ranbir Kapoor rises up to the challenge of living up to his grandfather’s legacy by delivering a multi-layered nuanced performance that covers the broad range of emotions that is the human psyche. He makes you laugh, he makes you cry, but most of all he creates a distinct character that charms the audience. He’s not afraid to be cheeky, and by that I don’t mean, ahem, cheeky in any sense but the literal. For you see, not only does he act well, he makes what may very well be Bollywood history by being the first male actor to flash his sculpted nude behind. I can almost imagine the sighs from the ladies in the audience when they see him in all his cheeky glory. Don’t worry though, it’s not a cheesecake shot, but rather filmed very artistically by the director and showcases the character’s ability to be completely free and happy in his love. (Female viewers in India may be a bit disappointed, as the scene will probably be edited by the Censor Board).
It is on Ranbir’s acting “shoulders” that this movie rests as he has more screen time than any of the others. I have to say, that for his first movie, he has displayed an unusual grace both within his acting range and dancing style. If there is one minor complaint, it’s that a few of his expressions need work, as his unconventional looks sometimes result in expressions that make him look a bit foolish. It’s quite obvious that Sanjay Leela Bhansali has worked very hard in molding this young actor to produce such a stellar performance. So far, the movie has three stars: The first star in the film is the director himself, the second are the town sets, and the third is the discovery of a new star in Ranbir Kapoor.
But, what about Sonam Kapoor, you might ask? Honestly, she almost fades into the background at times and suffers from the usual lack of strong writing for female characters. Her character never comes across as more than a pining love-sick woman. The range of her performance is limited to laughing, crying or looking coquettish towards Ranbir and Imaan. What’s lacking is a certain finesse and nuance that should have been brought to the performance. It’s not to say that she is bad, it’s just that the viewer keeps expecting more than what her performance provides. She does bring the necessary innocence and beauty to the role, and her costumes are ethnically beautiful; however, one wishes that she brought a bit more to the film. Sonam has made a commendable first effort that is a bit overshadowed by the other actors. The one thing that she shares with Ranbir, is a very good chemistry that brings out the joyfulness of youth and first loves.
What adds to Sonam Kapoor almost being lost within this movie is that the supporting actors are all so wonderful. One of the most elegant of performances is provided by Zora Sehgal. Her character is heartwarming and she displays such emotion within her eyes. From the pain of extreme loneliness, to the weight of a life-time of experiences, she is the sensitive soul that balances our beloved clown Ranbir. Rani Mukherjee provides the glamour in a strong performance as the prostitute Gulabji who has the strength and courage to fight for her happiness, yet knows no end to the depths of her sadness as she lets go of the man she has fallen in love with. Her dialogue delivery is charming as she mixes up bad street-wise Hindi with skewed English. What’s that you say? What about Salman Khan? The actor is in the movie for perhaps a total of five minutes, but gives a very strong yet restrained performance as Imaan, the man who Sakina falls madly in love with. He proves that he is a superstar as he lights up the screen with his acting persona in each frame he is in. His is a pivotal character, upon which hangs the fate of both Ranbir and Sakina.
Monty Sharma’s situational songs and background score help move the story forward throughout the film. The title track, “Saawariya” is wonderfully visualized and powerfully introduces Ranbir Kapoor to the world. “Pari” is full of hope as Ranbir impresses Gulabji with his belief that things will always get better. “Masha-Allah” is beautifully realized by Bhansali and frames how a woman can completely take a man’s breath away. “Thode Badmash” showcases Sonam Kapoor’s beauty and visualizes how a woman can see the man she loves on so many different levels. “Chabeela” plays to Rani Mukherjee’s graceful dancing and expressive emotions. The choreography is very well done for this song, and is a must see. The music is enhanced by the visuals within the film and the viewer will gain a new found respect for the soundtrack by the end of the movie.
This is one of those films that will take you to the magical world that exists within director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s fevered mind. It’s a love story taken to another level. Unrequited love never looked or felt so good. The film is spellbinding, heartwarming, and yes, heartbreaking as well. Is it his best film? No, it’s not Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s best film. It is; however on par with his previous movies and will not disappoint his fans. The only thing that might go against it having mass appeal is that the movie is truly like a classical painting, in that the viewer has to open their mind and have the patience to appreciate true beauty. I highly recommend that you see the movie in a movie theater to appreciate the beautiful direction, backgrounds, and fine nuanced performances. “Saawariya” is a film that will prompt discussion, will be appreciated as a classic and will be one of those movies that will get better upon repeated viewings. It truly is like an ethereal spirit that lovingly brushes the back of your heart in the dark and leaves a haunting impression upon your soul. The film is a magical spectacle of visual and emotional delight.