Thursday, November 08, 2007

SAAWARIYA - Sanjay Leela Bhansali needs to get a new schtick

Sanjay Leela Bhansali faces a huge weight of expectation, having previously directed the critically acclaimed Hindi films, DEVDAS and BLACK.

DEVDAS is a stunning period film based on an Indian tragedy as famous as Romeo and Juliet. A young poor girl falls for a rich young boy. When they grow up they want to get married but his family intervene. Slighted by the insult, her family marry her off to a rich man and she attains a high position, while his family are beset by disaster. Devdas turns to alcohol in order to forget his lost love. He attracts the love of kind-hearted prostitute, but cannot return it. Finally, he dies of a broken heart.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali filmed DEVDAS in a very particular way. He used ornate, elaborate sets that almost felt claustrophobic. Much of the film was filmed at night, and beautifully lit. Enormous attention was paid to the costumes, music and choreography. The final result was a film that felt incredibly artificial - almost surreal. However, on balance, I really liked DEVDAS.

Much of the thematic material and the shooting style carries over into SAAWARIYA - a loose adaptation of Dostoyevsky's White Nights. Once again, we have a young man in love with a girl who is unavailable to him. He is a nightclub singer with a heart of gold. She is a young girl who stands on a bridge every night waiting for her lover to return. Once again, our young man is favoured by a prostitute. The shooting style is also similar. The whole film is shot on an elaborate, beautiful set, that feels claustrophobic and surreal. The acting style is melodramatic, but the attention to the costumes and colour-coding is impressive. The music, sung by Shaan, Alka Yagnik and Shreya Ghosal, is also wonderful.

The problem is that you do feel that you are seeing an attenuated version of the themes and styles of DEVDAS. And the story is simply too thin to support the run-time. The dialogues are hammy and the characterisation of the young lover as completely good is really very incredible and dull. Moreover, apart from a captivating supporting role from Rani Mukherjee as the hooker with a heart of gold, the debutant actors just aren't good enough. Ranbir (grandson of Raj, son of Rishi) Kapoor over-acts fiersomely as the young lover and dances in a sort of pastiche of Hrithik Roshan. Sonam Kapoor (the girl, duaghter of Anil) is beautiful but given little to do but be beautiful. Salman Khan has a mere cameo role.

All in all, this movie is beautiful, but soon becomes boring.

SAAWARIYA is on global release.

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