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Guzaarish - Movie Review

Published: February 4, 2011


Guzaarish (2010)

Starring Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

No doubt about it, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali makes beautiful movies—among the most beautiful ever made. He's helmed six films; his second, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), established his reputation for visual magnificence. The films that followed—the shimmering Devdas (2002), the high-contrast Black (2005), the icy blue Saawariya (2007)—are aesthetically stunning. Saawariya was the only critical and commercial failure, lacking, as it did, the emotional force of its predecessors. Guzaarish looks just as good as the others in Bhansali's filmography, and it tries just as hard to strike an intense chord, but like Saawariya, it fails mightily to stir feeling.

The film reunites Bhansali and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan—she memorably starred in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas—and Rai and Hrithik Roshan—who set off fireworks together in Dhoom 2 (2006) and Jodhaa Akbar (2008).

Guzaarish is set in Goa, a city on India's west coast that was colonized by the Portuguese. Goa has strong European influences, and many of its people are Catholic and have Portuguese names, as do the film's lead characters, Ethan Mascarenhas (Roshan) and Sofia D'Souza (Rai). The story takes place largely in a decrepit, colonial European home, and Sofia dresses like a 19th-century Portuguese woman.

The old-fashioned setting contrasts disjointedly with the contemporary legal wrangling and moral debate over euthanasia that forms the plot. The live-life-to-the-fullest theme is likewise illogical. Ethan was a famous magician who was paralyzed from the neck down during a magic trick many years before. After writing an inspirational book about overcoming his disability and hosting an uplifting radio talk show, he decides to seek legal permission to kill himself on medical grounds. His nurse, Sofia, is devastated by his shocking decision. He continues going on and on about embracing life throughout the film, when he's resolved to do anything but.

The court battle is dull; the romance between Ethan and Sofia only slightly more interesting. The biggest problem there is there's no risk in their relationship. Sofia is the abused wife of another man, so she slavishly devotes herself to someone who is incapable of beating her. While her husband has treated her as unworthy of respect, she proves her worthiness to Ethan by taking care of his every need, and he has no choice but to appreciate it. Her love for Ethan isn’t tragic; it couldn't be a safer bet. But to him, their love is incomplete, and therefore unbearable, because it can never be physical. He talks about missing sex; he half-jokingly begs Sofia to show him her legs (she doesn't); he moans when she massages him even though he can't feel a thing.

It's easy to understand his torment, but he doesn't make much of a case for mercy killing when he keeps insisting life is so beautiful. And the beauty of the film doesn't redeem its incongruity.

Guzaarish is rated Skip.

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