My friend Skp said, “You remember in school, the excitement of doing a play was in wearing a suit and a tie ..”
I jumped around and said, “Yes, yes, I remember acting in something, and being so thrilled about wearing a black dress, and black stockings and black shoes and white gloves..”
Skp said, “And a hat.”
I said, “Yes, a hat, a hat.”
And of course, in the excitement of setting up a play, we never ever explored the text, or understood its nuances, beyond learning the lines by rote, and delivering them in a forced ‘English’ accent. Leaving aside the fact that the text we chose was as alien to our lives as were black dresses and stockings, gloves or hats. Of course, we never realized how embarrassing we were, and what torture to our audience because we were having so much fun.
‘Guzaarish‘ is just like that. While I do admire Sanjay Leela Bhansali‘s obsession with his cinematic vision, I think in the excitement of executing the details, he fails to invest the film with any real emotion. A huge set, every scene a tableau, every detail of costume, props and lights are placed just so, and yet, where is the text, where is the text? The performances are embarrassing in their resemblance to school level dramatics. Any glimmer of truth that feebly illuminates Hrithik Roshan‘s pained face is effectively coated over with trite dialogue, explaining the story in small, bite-sized, overemphasized sentences, just in case you miss the suffering of a quadriplegic or ‘the fantastic love story’ between patient and nurse.
Most of the tracks in the story are irrelevant, the simpering lawyer friend, the crying doctor, the clueless mother, the angsty nurse with a violent husband, Ethan’s past as a world-famous magician, his best friend and rival who causes his accident, his assistant and lover Estelle and her marriage to someone else, the court case for euthanesia, the radio jockeying, the turning up of a young stranger, Omar who wants to learn to be a magician – all a mishmash that has nothing to do with what the story ought to have been really about – what it means to live as a quadriplegic, and what actually leads him to want death. These tracks are not even properly treated, none are given enough time to touch me, just as I am never allowed to be touched by Ethan’s pain, because I am being submerged under billowing curtains and sundry other aesthetic details.
Failing to be engaged by the story and its protagonist, the mind latches on to questions like, “Who cleans the curtains around Ethan’s bed? Why would they have such huge curtains around him, when all they can do is cope with his condition around the clock?”
What is most distracting however is Sofia’s costume. For some reason, she is dressed as a Spanish woman with long skirts and low cut blouses, and a scarf over her head, and roses in her hennaed hair, and red, very red lipstick.
The costume designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee said in an interview with Hindustan Times that according to him ” ..her internal suffering has manifested itself into an over-dressing syndrome. People who are depressed tend to either over-eat or overdress! Aishwarya wears the strangest of clothes. She has such a morbid life that she almost derives comfort from her clothes. She understands the meaning of dressing up for a bedridden person and it is her colours that bring humour to the patient’s life.” He adds that Sophia uses her red lips as a weapon and not as an accessory. About Sofia’s costumes, Bhansali said that ” “It’s an expression of her grief. She’s a woman who has dedicated her entire life to this suffering man. And she wears that red lipstick so that when he faces her, he sees life in all its colour.”
The trouble is that one can understand the director’s and designer’s intent only if one reads about it. It doesn’t translate into the film. I don’t correlate Aishwarya’s costumes to her suffering, only feel annoyed by them. This is sad, because Sofia is a complex character, and Aishwarya does do reasonable justice to her. But her story is washed away in one horrible scene when her husband, Neville D’Souza (Makarand Deshpande) comes and beats her up in front of a helpless Ethan.
There are many such cringe-inducing scenes, like her impromptu flamenco performance, the court scene which culminates in the prosecutor being locked into a box, and most of all, the climax scene where everyone jumps into bed with Ethan at his farewell party.
Yet another distraction is Sofia’s generous bosom that hovers over Ethan as she tends to him and I wonder why she hides her legs in her ghagras (a running joke between Ethan and Sofia), and flashes her cleavage at a man who has not had any action for 14 years. Sadistic or what.
Perhaps that is the slow torture which drives Ethan to want to kill himself.
According to Sabyasachi Mukherjee, the other characters also were specially treated. Omar Siddique played by Aditya Roy Kapoor was styled like a struggling French musician. “His clothes are layered, he wears a crumpled tuxedo with flappy trousers and because he doesn’t have money for shoes, he wears flip-flops.”, said Mukherjee. Suhel Seth, who plays Ethan’s doctor, is presented in stiff suits and Shernaz Patel, Ethan’s lawyer is given a look of a Gandhian in cotton saris and three-quarter blouses. The maids are in dumpy dresses, and Mukherjee adds, “..the clothes are nearly theatrical and they have a mind of their own. If you remove the characters and hang the clothes, they will tell a story. It’s like Neverland or the reality version of The Magic Faraway Tree! ”
So, my friend Skp and I were right, the clothes could tell a story, but the characters with or without the clothes don’t.
P.S. Continue reading Appi’s story at 22 December