Film Review: Saawariya


Film Review: Saawariya


Producers: SLB Films and SPE Films


Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali


Cast: Salman Khan, Rani Mukherji, Ranbir Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Zohra Sehgal, Begum Para


Rating: 2/5


Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s celluloid dream meant to be expressed as lyrical poetry is, sadly lifeless and like its colour theme, monotonous. Continuing the tradition of acontextual characters, locations and stories from his last film, Black, Bhansali attempts to explore the emotions of love and pain in its starkness and bare intensity. Shorn of a context, physical or mental, Bhansali assumes the film will become the purest statement of the joy of new love and angst of unrequited love. But he is sadly mistaken. And it proves to be a costly mistake.


Saawariya is inspired by Fydor Dostoevsky’s short story White Nights, a story of a young, lonely chap who finds love and loses it in four life-changing nights. To say that SLB owes Visconti anything would be far-fetched as neither are their styles similar nor are their voices and neither has SLB paid a tribute to Dostoevsky in his magnum opus about found and lost love.


SLB remakes a film made twice before (Lucio Vischonti’s ‘White Nights’ and Robert Bresson’s ‘Four nights of a dreamer’) and continues his obsession with European cinema but sadly he borrows only the textures because his own soul is unstintingly Indian and more so melodramatic. The form does not support the content despite the best of intentions. Both are detached and speak a different language constantly getting in each other’s way. 


In his attempt at laying bare all the threads of undying love SLB exceeds himself in loud presentations and deliberately lyrical movements, rhythms, patterns inorder to complete his poetry. Characters function in a void of a two-bit character description and make up the rest with perfectly choreographed movements masquerading as normal actions. This does not include Rani and Salman’s presence both of which are inexplicably presented in clichéd half-hearted blue-toned light without any attempt to weave any beauty in their characters.


The film belongs to Ranbir Kapoor throughout, though he could have done with a better debut given the talent and freshness he displays in the tedious scenes. Sonam Kapoor is pretty and looks lush in those silks and velvets she keeps endlessly swirling but shy, reticence and effervescent is all that she has to be. She succeeds in making the character believable but it is also the textures of the sets and Ravi Chandran’s fabulous lighting that helps her throughout. 


Rani Mukherjee plays the good-hearted prostitute for the third time in her career and one wishes to see the end of not only her portrayal but also the monumental cliché of the angel-hearted whore in Hindi films. She is inexplicably loudly made-up and given a role that must have been supremely uninteresting to her for her to perform so mechanically. Salman Khan seems to be present as a mere lucky mascot appearing and disappearing in a whiff. But did he have to be so scruffy and puffy while he was there? Zohra Sehgal and Begum Para were distinctly meant to add the retrograde flavour of ancient times, stuff of legends with myriad colours of nostalgia. But sadly their characters are nothing more than caricatures, adding to the incredible wastage of the film.


The film, though largely a grandiose attempt at passionate, exhilarating expression remains unsuccessful in touching the chords of its audience, it still has its moments. The scene where the young couple tide the potholes together, and in the end when she leaves him to go away forever are handled with a sensitive and creative alacrity that is distinctly Bhansali.


The film has outstanding cinematography with the excellent shades, shadows, greens and blues filtering through crevices and corners and filling the ambience with a dreamy, still-in-time look. Yet making the lead pair look fresh as daisies even in the middle of moonless nights. Art direction is breath-taking in its imagination but holds no charms within the telling of the story as it takes away its charms rather than presenting it with some. The acontextual Venetian set with cardboard havelis and picturesque resto-bars and snaking bylanes all leading to the mythical bridge is a fabulous example in artistry but could also be held as the major betrayer of the film. Maybe, if only it had been set somewhere much more realistic…


The music of the film is good in parts with an upbeat title track, a superbly mellifluous ‘Jabse tere naina’ and the romantic ‘Yoon Shabnami’ that merits repeat audience although the latter holds distinct influences of Devdas and Hum Dil De…


Saawariya is not cinema, neither is it mainstream entertainment. It is one man’s vision and creative expression of love and pain sung with a borrowed language in an original voice. It is a personal journey which does not have much to understand but lots to feel. Maybe, different ears will respond differently, it is a different voice after all. But don’t be too disappointed if the voice does not reach your hearts.