I don't speak Hindi nor will admit to understand it beyond a smattering of words I picked up here and there, and the first time I heard the word "Guzaarish" was actually in A.R Murugadoss' film Ghajini in 2008 starring Aamir Khan, where a song number was titled the same way, and one of the more beautiful songs in the film written by A.R. Rahman and sung by Javed Ali. And yes I am digressing because this has absolutely nothing to do with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film, which he wrote, directed and even had a hand in creating the songs in Guzaarish his latest film.
The casting of Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is something that may set tongues wagging especially when tabloid hype enjoys focusing on the much touted sex scene here, which turned out to be nothing more than a tit-for-tat prank played by one against the other character who turned the tables. But you have to admit that both of them have this excellent magnetic chemistry they share when they grace the screen together, from Dhoom 2 to Ashutosh Gowariker's sprawling period epic Jodhaa Akbar, and their roles in Guzaarish is no less in delivering the impact required when the focus also hinges on the moral controversies behind euthanasia, or mercy killing.
Hrithik Roshan plays Ethan Mascarenhas, a top magician who because of an accident while performing an illusion, got paralysed from the neck down, leaving him immobile, and under the tender loving care of his nurse Mrs Sofia De Souza (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) for the last 12 of his 14 years as a quadriplegic. The film opens in most gorgeous terms of how his caretaker goes about her duty, forsaking youth, marriage and relatives, in order to do her best to nurse a man she and everyone knows only can get better if a miracle happens. We see how she prepares him for the day, the cleansing, and his routine of going about his second career as one of the best radio DJs in Goa, However, deciding enough is enough, Ethan summons his best friend and lawyer Devyani Dutta (Shernaz Patel), and tells her to file a petition against the Indian Constitution to allow him to end his life.
Hrithik Roshan didn't have much luck at the box office with Kites earlier this year (curiously some attested to Kites containing a lot of English which turned the local Indian audiences off, but this film also featured a fair bit of dialogue in the English language), but I still reckon that he's an actor of his generation to look out for. Ethan Mascarenhas is perhaps his most challenging role to date, as we know Hrithik for his physicality and his gracefulness in dance, but his obvious character condition here limits the former as we see how slight his frame is, clearly allowing his built to be slimmed down to portray the role more convincingly as a man whose muscles are wasted through inaction and atrophy. As for the prerequisite dances, the film allowed some moments in flashbacks where he shows off some graceful moves as a magician with a class act in presentation and packaging his brand of magic, further cementing Hrithik's reputation as one of the heroes of Bollywood who can actually dance.
But what he aced in his role is how he convincingly portrays his immobility, relying very much on his facial expressions to bring across a wide spectrum of emotions. There's an added air of eccentricity and mood swings as expected of a man who gets handed lemons by Fate, so what best than to try and make lemonade from the situation, sharpening his wits in the process, since quick fire repertoire is something he can do, other times the scenarios constantly remind him how helpless he is without his caretaker by his side, and Hrithik shows this vulnerable side of him best. Not only that, Hrithik Roshan too lends his vocals to What a Wonderful World, which will probably delight his legion of fans.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan also has Guzaarish to thank in bringing out her best performance for this year, peppered by films such as Raavan, Endhiran and Action Replayy. While Endhiran was essentially Superstar Rajnikanth's starrer and didn't really challenge Aishwarya with the role she had to play, Raavan and Action Replayy were roles that were pushing those boundaries but the box office responses didn't quite match to expectations. I'll put my hand up to say she's back at her best as Sofia De Souza, the nurse who makes tremendous sacrifices in order to ease the suffering of Ethan, who got taken aback by his decision that will of course mean an end to her services and that notion of being emotionally slighted. There's always a touch of tenderness in her care of her patient, and that romantic tension constantly underneath.
Sofia De Souza is typically prim and proper, and has a rather curious, lush wardrobe for a nurse - a point brought up later on by the public prosecutor Vipin Patel (Rajit Kapoor), though Aishwarya provided that tell tale spunk in Sofia with her (also much talked about) experiment with the cigarette, and the letting of her hair down in the song number Udi, sung by Sunidhi Chauhan and Shaul Hada, which stands out as one of my favourites in the film for that unmistakable Spanish influence. Joining her in the film is fellow Action Replayy alumni and Bollywood rookie Aditya Roy Kapoor (lucky him, to have made two debut films side by side with Aishwarya) whose Omar Siddique aspires to be Ethan's protege, and goes to great lengths to being accepted and inevitably becoming a part of the extended family, which includes Ethan's mom Isabel (Nafisa Ali) and Dr Nayak (Suhei Seth).
But the real hero of the production, has got to be writer director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who has bounced back from what many thought was a disappointment with Saawariya (which I begged to differ), weaving such a beautiful, sensitive tale without relying on melodrama or sensationalizing its main topic of Euthanasia. Flashbacks are used to effectively tell of Ethan's entire backstory leading up to and including a cringe inducing accident scene, and the pacing well done with the non-intrusive use of musical numbers to add to the narrative, without feeling forced. Bhansali has a keen eye to exploit the beautiful sets and through wonderful framing, light and shadow play, elevated Guzaarish into a film that's aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
As the adage goes, it's easier to ask for forgiveness than to seek permission, and the main crux of the plot deals with Ethan and friends trying to push through the legal system to allow him to die at his own will. If there's a blip in the film it will be the treatment of the courtroom scenes, which was necessary to allow Ethan outside the confines of his physical prison, but addressed issues more so on the surface and rarely scratched the content deep down. It piques your interest to evaluate circumstances if you were to put yourself in Ethan's shoes, but rarely goes beyond that fleeting thought in the mind.
But as mentioned, at least it didn't degenerate into over the top silliness, keeping itself in check most of the time in seriousness, and allowing the top notch performances to continue to engage, with a number of side characters appearing to reinforce certain aspects of Ethan's life and add an expanded dimension to a man unfortunately cut down at his prime. It reminds us again to live life for what it is and to appreciate it to the max, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali has this beautifully crafted film to tell us just that. Highly recommended, and it goes into my shortlist as a possible addition amongst the best this year has to offer. It looks like the Hrithik-Aishwarya partnership continues its success.