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Doomed to die

There is a scene in Guzaarish where the protaganist, Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan) is asked to present his appeal for euthanasia in a court of law. He seeks to perform magic and requests the public prosecutor (Rajit Kapoor) to step inside a chest, locking it from the outside. After suffocating him for a minute he opens the chest and explains he was trying to create empathy in the prosecutor for his suffering. This single minute is two and a half hours in the life of the audience of Guzaarish. Sanjay Leela Bhansali picks out bits of several foreign films and hashes up his new saga of pain. Ethan, crippled while performing a magic trick, has lived the life of a quadriplegic for fourteen years. He provides inspiration for those living with disabilities by writing and hosting a radio show.

But now he wants an end to his devastated life. Occupying centrespace with him is his nurse and soulmate, Sophia (Aishwarya Rai). The unintended tragedy of this film begins with the choice of the lead pair. One might have made peace with the fact that Rai just cannot act if she didn’t go out of her way to be insufferable. (And tolerance levels of Hindi film viewers are high). For Roshan on the other hand, between playing characters with special powers and special needs, it might be too late to act anything but weird on screen. But where the film really goes to die is Bhansali’s altar of megalomania. He is clearly obsessed with the magic of cinema. But perhaps doesn’t see that magic is a by-product of art- a whiff of its concoction of craft, content, energy and flourish- not its raison de etre. He creates a parallel universe outside of reality for his stories and once again it is neither utilitarian nor aesthetic. The art direction is a curious mix of amusement park fantasia and opera house and fashion week sets. And the device of cutting out the real world only helps a story that is powerful enough to sustain on its own. Bhansali, wholly consumed by creating drama, forgets to tell this story. The dialogues and scenes are so badly written you cannot possibly care for any of the characters on screen. Worst of the worse, are the courtroom scenes, where euthanasia is debated like one would imagine it is in kitty parties. In the absence of even a little moral and legal insight into the subject, the scenes play out like a farce. Bhansali is not good enough as an auteur to sublimate the pain he takes on. Without sensitive and insightful translation it is reduced to a spectacle, begging the dignity Guzaarish wants for its protagonist. But all Bhansali can spare it is a film that is a petition for its own mercy killing.


Originally published in Tehelka.

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