Tag Archives: Saawariya

Movie Review: Guzaarish (2010)

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.

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Movie Review: Aladin (2009)

AladinPoster3 Stars (out of 4)

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There aren’t many kid-friendly Bollywood movies released in the United States, and those that have opened here, like Saawariya and Roadside Romeo, have disappointed. Aladin is a delightful update of the classic fairytale that will amuse the whole family.

In this live action version of the story — which differs significantly from the animated Disney film — Aladin (Ritesh Deshmukh) is a lonely college student. His parents died under mysterious circumstances when he was young, and he lives alone in the book-littered home of his deceased grandfather. Fellow students tease him because of his name, demanding that he produce a genie from a lamp like the fairytale dictates.

Aladin’s crush on Jasmine (Jacqueline Fernandez), an American exchange student, appears destined to go unrequited until she buys him a lamp from the “Ancient Thing Store” as a birthday gift. He’s goaded into rubbing the lamp which, naturally, contains a genie.

The genie, named Genius (Amitabh Bachchan) is close to retirement and is eager for Aladin to use his three wishes before his genie contract gets renewed for another million years. The duo sets about trying to woo Jasmine on Aladin’s behalf. But Genius doesn’t know that Aladin is in danger from an evil ex-genie named Ring Master (Sanjay Dutt), who’s eager to regain his powers and take over the world.

One of Aladin‘s best features is that it looks terrific. The fictional town of Khwaish is a perfect fantasy city: narrow cobblestoned streets that wind uphill through buildings made of sand-colored bricks. Dance numbers are colorful and the special effects are relatively seamless.

As for the characters and plot, writer-director-producer Sujoy Ghosh keeps the story true to tradition, while giving it his own spin. Deshmukh does a great job as Aladin, a likable guy with such simple desires that he’s incapable of misusing his new-found power.

Ring Master is also a fitting villain. His motives are clear, and he’s got a group of creepy circus-inspired henchmen to help him, including a lion tamer, a firebreather and, inexplicably, a Star Trek Klingon.

The writing in Aladin is solid, especially for a Bollywood comedy (see my review of Deshmukh’s other recent film, Do Knot Disturb). Several scenes are laugh-out-loud funny, and there are no extraneous plot threads or characters.

For parents of children who don’t understand Hindi, Aladin is a good introduction to movies with English subtitles, even if it is long at 2 hrs. 12 min. The story is familiar, so all that’s required is that the child be old enough to read English with some speed: third or fourth grade, perhaps. There’s no objectionable material, and no “gross” kissing (this is Bollywood, after all).

One note to parents who themselves aren’t familiar with Bollywood films: it’s worth telling kids that Amitabh Bachchan, who plays the genie, is one of the coolest guys in Indian cinema. He was an action star when he was younger and has always been a lady’s man. It’s the only way to explain why a man old enough to be a grandfather is rapping about “shorties.”

Movie Review: Chandni Chowk to China (2009)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Akshay Kumar has found his niche: playing bumbling guys who fall in love with pretty girls while outsmarting villains. He’s played that type of character recently in Welcome, Tashan and Singh Is Kinng, and he does so again in Chandni Chowk to China. Kumar’s good in that kind of role, but I’m ready to see him branch out.

CC2C stars Kumar as unlucky vegetable cutter Sidhu, who gets tricked into leaving the Indian town of Chandni Chowk in order to save some Chinese villagers from a tyrant named Hojo (Gordon Liu). The story is predictable — Sidhu eventually figures out that he’s been duped but takes on the villagers’ problem as his own — but it’s told well.

For the most part, the film is successful. The story is accessible, the fight choreography is well-executed, and the Chinese actors in CC2C are better than non-Indian actors in Bollywood films typically are. Even the movie’s corny running gag (Sidhu’s convinced that the god Ganesh has taken corporeal form as a potato) is surprisingly funny.

But CC2C falls short in a number of ways. Deepika Padukone is underutilized, even though she plays two roles. Worse, every time she appears on screen as the thief Meow Meow, her arrival is marked by an annoying “meow” sound effect.

The sound mixing is the film’s biggest problem. There’s a lot of noise, with sounds of a yelling crowd layered on top of high-pitched music. In a theater, that kind of cacophony renders some of the dialogue unintelligible and is, at times, even painful to listen to. (The theater where I attended the movie usually has pretty good sound, so I suspect the fault lies with the movie’s creators.)

Chandni Chowk to China isn’t great, though it is amusing and certainly better than 2007 Bollywood-Hollywood collaboration Saawariya. But its uneven production and cookie-cutter story will probably keep it from becoming a mainstream hit in America, which is surely what distributor Warner Bros. was hoping for.

Chandni Chowk Photo

Best Bollywood Movies of 2008

In 2008, the Indian film industry proved that it’s still the most reliable source for romantic comedies. International settings made Dostana and Kismat Konnection stand out from the crowd, while Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi closed the year on a high note.

Taking a slightly more serious tone, U Me Aur Hum effectively combined comedic and dramatic elements in a touching story about love and responsibility.

Beyond the romantic comedy genre, historical epic Jodhaa Akbar featured gorgeous cinematography. Rock On!! took the movie musical format in an exciting new direction. And Black & White thoughtfully addressed the subject of terrorism. I only wish it had been India’s official entry into the Oscar competition for Best Foreign Film, instead of Taare Zameen Par.

But the most accomplished, satisfying and entertaining Hindi-language movie of 2008 was another romantic comedy: Bachna Ae Haseeno. The high quality of the acting, cinematography and story-telling gave the film universal appeal. Actor Ranbir Kapoor redeemed himself after an awkward debut in Saawariya, and Deepika Padukone’s charming performance demonstrated that she might be Bollywood’s best young actress.

Movie Review: Saawariya (2007)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Based on a Dostoevsky short story, Saawariya follows a lonely musician’s efforts to woo a young carpet-weaver as she awaits the return of another man. The movie looks gorgeous, thanks to the saturated blues of the sets and costumes. Unfortunately, the two lead characters are boring and unlikable. Slow motion shots of the pair running in the rain are supposed to convince the audience of a romance that doesn’t otherwise seem to exist.

PG (brief nudity, violence); 142 minutes

This review originally appeared in The Naperville Sun on November 16, 2007