There are times when I don’t mind spoilers for the plot of a film and there are films that get better the second time around because I know what is going to happen. Happy moments for a character are bittersweet to view simply because I know he will die or his love will leave him. I knew the ending going into Guzaarish, which made the story that much sweeter and that much sadder.
Guzaarish, directed with just a touch of magical realism by the great Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is the story of Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan) – a magician who became quadriplegic (i.e. he can’t move his arms or legs) in an accident that occurred 14 years before the film starts. He’s made the best of it. Ethan has a radio show (“Radio Zindagi” or “Radio Life”) and he wrote a book about not giving up hope. He has a devoted nurse Sofia D’Souza (Aishwarya Rai) and some good friends but when the film opens, Ethan’s health is failing and his pain is growing worse. He wants to end his life but because of his condition, he can’t do it on his own. He wants euthanasia and Guzaarish is the story of how he gets his wish.
The story is well-crafted, moving from the small dramas that loom large in Ethan’s world – like a fly settling on his nose or refusing to take his medicine - and then panning back to take in the larger world before zooming into Ethan’s memories for some really gorgeous and fantastical magic acts. Everything is set up to give you a picture of Ethan’s life as it is and what was taken from him to help you understand how he arrived at his decision – his need - to exercise his will over his life.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali, as usual, creates a mesmerizing visual field. The film is set all in Goa and mostly during a rainy, cloudy season. The green of the plants and the red of Aishwarya’s outfits pop against the grey skies. The interiors are all beautiful and the costumes are superb, especially Aishwarya Rai’s long flowing skirts, the length of which become a little joke between Sofia and Ethan. Everything is beautiful but then you would expect a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film to be, so let’s move onto the really good stuff – the performances.
Hrithik Roshan is phenomenal. I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say that he’s the best actor working in Hindi cinema right now. While his body was limp and lifeless, Hrithik’s face and voice were a mess of emotion. He was more expressive as a quadriplegic than other actors (I won’t name) are using their entire bodies. There was more drama in Ethan sitting in the backseat of a car watching a world he can’t participate in any longer than in almost anything else I’ve seen this year. Okay, I’m exaggerating (a bit) but Hrithik nails the combination of joy, envy, sadness, and acceptance that makes Ethan and Guzaarish so compelling – the switch from his fluid and magical movements in the flashbacks to Ethan locked in his body and the chair were heartbreaking.
Ethan Mascarenhas is the centerpiece of the film but that doesn’t mean that everybody else is absent. Aishwarya Rai is luminous as loyal nurse Sofia D’Souza. (And not to worry, everybody, Aishwarya does dance… and play air guitar. And she’s adorable while she does it.) Sofia is sensible but has a soft heart and it’s a lot of fun to see her and Ethan interact. Aishwarya and Hrithik have that old magic chemistry. He gets frustrated and cranky and takes it out on her but she knows what he is up to and doesn’t put up with any nonsense. She knows when he’s being fussy and when he needs to be coddled. I really hope we see them together again. While I would put her role in Raavanan as her best this year, Guzaarish is a close second.
Shernaz Patel was great as Ethan’s lawyer friend Devyani Dutta and Aditya Roy Kapoor was acceptable as magician wannabe Omar Siddique, who comes to Ethan for help learning magic. And two small roles for Monikangana Dutta as Ethan’s assistant and (especially) Rajit Kapoor as Devyani’s rival in court.
Guzaarish is not an easy film to watch - euthanasia is still a taboo subject. Here in America and I guess in India, as well, but what is art for if not for exploring the edges of morality. Where else can we play out a story like this?
There are more individual scenes and things – the smoking, the religious imagery - I would love to discuss but I’ll save it for later, after more people have seen the film and can join in, or until after I swirled them around in my mind some more.