I have to admit from the outset that I'm not an experienced fan of the so called 'Bollywood' productions. In all honesty I have seen a few snippets before and after even half a dance routine had been executed I was already reaching for the remote control. Musicals at the best of times have to be top notch in my opinion for them to work on the silver screen, they are much more suited to theatre. In saying that though a few have made that leap, if you could call it that, most however fall by the wayside.
I'm a lover of Far Eastern and Eastern European cinema so when offered the chance to view this Asian film I threw the gauntlet down to myself and decided to dip my toe into waters which are rather unknown to me; after all it's always good to try new things, right?
Sanjay Leela Bhansali is relatively new to the director's chair this being only his fifth outing in that seat; not only that though he also donned his producer's hat for this outing as well. His main cast Ranbir Kapoor (Ranbir Raj) and Sonam Kapoor (Sakina) are relative newcomers to the game as well; with Rani Mukherjee (Gulabji) and Zohra Sehgal (Lillipop) providing more experience and depth to the experience.
Our story starts with the young and very naive Ranbir Raj entering an unknown town populated in the main with ladies of the night. He is immediately befriended by one such lady; Gulabji. She's pleasant and offers a helping hand to the new stranger. Declining her gracious offer only endears him to her more, never before ever having a man say no to her.
Raj aims to be friends to everyone, to provide smiles where none can be found, as such he is automatically welcomed as an angel by the working ladies, never before have they been treated as a friend, only as briefly paid lovers. Raj though doesn't know love himself until one solitary night he crosses the path of Sakina who's waiting alone on a quiet bridge waiting for her own chance at love.
Like musicals love stories themselves are few and far between in terms of quality; most have incredibly weak plot lines and serve only as vehicles for the main actors to continue their celluloid exposure. Unfortunately much the same can be said for Saawariya. The love story itself doesn't quite work, Raj's character is far too naïve to progress the story forward and his counterpart, Sakina, also has no real depth to her character. Ultimately the viewer doesn't really care if these two find eternal happiness or not and that's the ultimate let down for any story, never mind one where you're supposed to be empathising with one of the character's plight or another.
Sundry characters are somewhat different and add some meat onto this anorexic plot line. Gulabji is probably the best and most rounded of the players, and if she had taken a more prominent role or even had been the love interest of Raj's heart then this may have been a much more worthy watch. She's has depth to her character, an underlying sadness almost, which never quite reaches the surface; always wanting to put on her professional face to the outside world. It can be plainly seen though that she herself desires the man that Raj is and wishes ultimately that his besotted eyes fell upon her face rather than the wasted efforts of Sakina's.
Zohra Sehgal is a long term player in television and screen from the mid 80s Caravaggio, and even going as far back as some early William Hartnell Doctor Who episodes. She definitely adds some weight and gravitas to the role of Raj's landlady often coming across as a comedic interlude. Her presence on screen is a welcome one as the person who has seen and experienced it all; giving advice to the younger players in this journey of the heart.
The weak storyline though is continually eclipsed by the absolute stunning visuals on screen. The town itself could have been placed anywhere, it seems to be a mixture of continental Europe and as has been mentioned before very much akin to the style and structure of Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge. It is these visuals, this very high level of production which, for me at any rate, really only carries the film forward. I was captivated eyeballing each and every frame, wondering what sumptuous framing and colour the director would offer up next.
Saawariya was shot on a number of enclosed sets, not once venturing into the outside. Like the framing each set is perfect, the attention to detail is incredible; from the town square with it's fountain, plethora of small shops encompassing it and the small cheap hotels where the oldest profession takes up residence. Lighting is excellently employed highlighting these areas, exposing their pitfalls and at times amplifying their beauty. Costume and choreography again are second to none, detailed, vibrant and beautiful these areas like the set design are an absolute joy to behold.
A feast for the eyes though is not enough for any film no matter its subject matter but it has to be said that if it wasn't for the images on screen then it's debatable if I could have finished this film or not with my mind intact. I do feel it's been a worthwhile introduction to a section of cinema which I had previously largely discounted. It's not put me off by any stretch of the imagination but I do think that I will pick and choose the subject matter of the film more closely. There seems to be no getting away from the song and dance routines but that in itself is no bad thing as music is just another way to tell a storyline. It is that which is at fault here though, the storyline doesn't have the depth required to make it a truly engaging experience.