3.5 Stars (out of 4)
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Despite knowing in advance that Guzaarish (“Request”) is a story about a paralyzed man trying to end his life, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional walloping the movie administered.
Guzaarish is heartbreaking without being manipulative. The characters occupy various positions on the ethical spectrum. In a movie about empathizing with someone else’s decision even if you disagree with it, it’s easy to identify with all of the characters and find their motives believable.
Guzaarish opens with a montage set to the song “Smile” (popularized by Nat King Cole), showcasing the details of Ethan Mascarenas’ (Hrithik Roshan) daily life. Ethan is paralyzed below the neck as a result of an accident fourteen years ago, and his days now consist of being washed, dressed and fed by his nurse, Sofia (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Unable to use his hands to shoo away a fly that lands on his face, Ethan does as the song suggests and smiles.
In addition to being permanently immobilized, Ethan’s organs are shutting down. His diminishing lung function causes him to gasp for breath between sentences. Ethan asks his best friend and lawyer, Devyani (Shernaz Patel), to file a petition asking the court to allow him to commit suicide.
Everyone opposes the idea: the doctor who saved his life after the accident; Sofia, who’s cared for him every day since; his friend, Devyani; listeners to the radio show Ethan broadcasts from his bedroom; his new apprentice, Omar (Aditya Roy Kapoor), to whom Ethan passes on secrets from his days as one of the world’s top magicians. The court rejects his initial appeal, but Ethan is determined to take control of his own destiny.
The movie is not just about Ethan’s struggle, but how his decision affects those around him. One of the most powerful scenes takes place between Sofia and Devyani. After Sofia blames Devyani for enabling Ethan’s suicide pursual, Devyani reminds Sofia that she didn’t know him before the accident and can’t understand the life he lost. Devyani repeatedly walks toward the door, only to return with one last point in defense of her friend.
Guzaarish isn’t all tearjerking melodrama. Ethan copes with his disability through a mix of gallows humor and randy flirtation, begging straight-laced Sofia to show him the “sexy legs” he knows are under her floor-length skirts. When Sofia finally cuts loose and dances one night, it takes Ethan completely by surprise.
Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali adds details like Sofia’s long skirts to play up the Portuguese influence in Goa, where Guzaarish is set. Ethan’s beautiful but dilapidated mansion is also built and decorated in Goan-Portuguese style.
Guzaarish‘s arresting visual style keeps with Bhansali’s once-opulent, now-lonely aesthetic. The mansion’s blue color-scheme is similar to the super-saturated colors the director used in Saawariya, and the expansiveness of Ethan’s home is reminiscent of interiors in Devdas and Black. Regardless of subject matter, Bhansali’s movies are gorgeous to look at.
The director also has a flair for highlighting Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s otherworldly beauty. With her pale skin and dark hair accented by bright red lipstick, there are moments in close-up where she looks more like a painting than a real person.
The few scenes in Guzaarish that don’t work are unnecessary side stories that are mercifully short. Characters — such as Ethan’s former assistant and his one-time rival — are introduced late in the movie without any previous mention and don’t have a role in the story apart from a brief flashback. Their interludes do nothing to advance the plot or reveal more about Ethan’s character.
Those distractions aside, Guzaarish‘s compelling story and breathtaking visuals make it a definite must-see.