Star cast: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, Shernaz Patel, Suhel Seth, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Nafisa Ali.
Plot: Hrithik is a paraplegic who petitions the court for mercy killing. Aishwarya is his nurse and caretaker; Shernaz, his lawyer-friend; Suhel, his doctor; Nafisa, his mother; and Aditya his student.
What’s Good: Performances of Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai; cinematography; emotional scenes.
What’s Bad: Music, generally speaking; the class-appealing subject.
Verdict: Guzaarish will be loved by the class audience in the big cities but will face rejection among the masses and in cities other than the really big ones, in towns and villages.
Loo break: None at all.
UTV Motion Pictures and Sanjay Leela Bhansali Films’ Guzaarish (UA) is the story of a famed magician, Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan), who becomes a paraplegic after an accident while performing magic on stage. Fourteen years after leading a helpless life like a vegetable, Ethan files a petition in court for mercy killing. His petition is dismissed without hearing as euthanasia is not permitted by the Constitution of India. Although his lawyer and best friend, Devyani Dutta (Shernaz Patel), is initially against the idea, she sees his helplessness and recommends that he now muster support for his plea for euthanasia through the radio programme he presents after becoming paralysed waist down due to the injury to his spinal cord, so that his appeal in court against the earlier ruling be heard favourably. Ethan’s doctor, Nitin Naik (Suhel Seth), is against mercy killing but even he undertands that Ethan has virtually no chance of recovery and so supports his plea although he is very sad at the prospect of losing him.
Ethan has a nurse, Sophiya (Aishwarya Rai), to look after him. She has not taken leave for a single day in the 14 years he has been a vegetable and is very attached to him just as he is to her. At first, sad and angry with Ethan’s legal move, Sophiya gradually comes around after lawyer Devyani explains things to her.
Even as Ethan is battling it out in the court, he takes upcoming magician Omar Siddiqui (Aditya Roy Kapoor) under his wings and trains him to be the best in the world.
Does the court give Ethan the permission to kill himself? Or doesn’t it? Does Ethan actually end his life or not? What does he do after the court pronounces judgement on his appeal? The last part of the drama gives answers to the aforementioned and other questions.
The film, inspired by Hollywood’s Whose Life Is It Anyway? and The Sea Inside, is quite an unusual drama for the Indian audiences. It has been made exceptionally beautifully and boasts of extraordinary performance by the main protagonist, Ethan. Not only is the drama soul-stirring and emotionally moving but the film is also visually extraordinary. Ethan’s character is so endearing and so full of life that it takes away the depressing aspect of the drama to some extent, at least. Having said that, it must also be mentioned that the film has more class appeal than mass appeal because the concept of euthanasia, or ichchha-mrityu, will be understood and appreciated by the intelligentsia more than the common man, more so because it is not a commonly discussed topic in India. No doubt, the emotions in the drama will move the audience to tears – the weak-hearted will cry often whereas the strong-hearted will not be able to control their tears in the climax – but the fact remains that the concept of mercy killing would not be everyone’s idea of an entertaining or enjoyable film. There’s a sequence in the film about a party Ethan hosts to celebrate impending death. While the sequence is a veritable tear-jerker, the less enlightened (as far as euthanasia is concerned) audience would not quite be with the sequence if only because one doesn’t normally celebrate death. To add to the woes of the common viewers, almost half the dialogues spoken in the film are in English, making it either incomprehensible or difficult to understand and to enjoy for a large section of the audience.
Bhavani Iyer and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s screenplay unfolds the drama in layers, oscillating between the present and the past when Ethan was a renowned magician with a huge fan base. While there is no fault in the screenplay, it would have been better had a small part of the drama been devoted to showing what had elapsed in the 14 years after the accident because the years gone by are often referred to to underline the misery and suffering of Ethan as also to emphasise the bonding that has developed between Ethan and each of Sophiya, Devyani and Dr. Naik. In the absence of this, the audience is forced to imagine how the ever-lasting bonds of friendship, trust and love must’ve developed and strenthened, but the impact would’ve been far greater had this been shown in scenes.
Another anomaly in the screenplay is that the audience gets the feeling that Ethan does what he wanted to do irrespective of the court ruling. This is not a very good feeling because it leaves the audience feeling cheated. Besides, Ethan is shown to agree to Sophiya’s suggestion in the end rather easily even though allowing her to do what she offers to do would ruin her life forever. Considering that he propagated the message of hope in his radio show, it seems rather unbelievable that Ethan would look after his own interest even if it meant jeopardising the interest of the one who is willing to help him – in this case, Sophiya. In a way, it doesn’t make Ethan the hero the audience would like him to be. Actually, for the orthodox Indian audience which belives in the philosophy of karma and which is convinced that life and death are in the hands of God, Ethan’s very petition for mercy killing would not make sense, whatever the justification and reasoning. And in matters of life and death, a fair size of the public in India is orthodox. For them, then, the film would not appeal at the concept level itself. Don’t Indians always say that life and death are God’s domain; that if it is in one’s destiny to suffer, one must suffer; that it is not acceptable to run away from the sufferings which destiny has in store for us? When karma, destiny and God are given so much importance in matters of life and death, it is natural that the orthodox audience would find it difficult to digest the drama of the film.
In short, the screenplay would find favour with the classes but the very points that appeal to them would be rejected by the masses. In other words, the drama is like a double-edged sword! Dialogues (Bhavani Iyer and Vibhu Puri) are extraordinary.
A word here about the courtroom drama. Since the court battle is the main part of the plot, it ought to have been the high point of the film. But, except for Ethan’s one-minute act in the courtroom, there is precious little which holds water, or, for that matter, the mass audience’s attention. The courtroom arguments should have been of the kind which would evoke thunderous applause.