Every single frame of a film (movie) is an amalgamation of a painter’s canvas, an actor’s histrionics, a musician’s melody (includes the use of silence) and the space-subject-action relation of theater. What separates one piece of cinema from the other, often, is the difference in the emphasis given by it to one art form from the other. So, emphatic usage of music and dance forms turns the film into a ‘musical’, while stress on human expressions or histrionics makes the film a ‘drama’.
As we all know, the so-called ‘mainstream’ films give almost equal emphasis on the various forms of expression – a la ‘bhel puri’. It is this “it’s got something for everyone” quality that gives such films the widest appeal; and makes them the ‘main stream’ of cinema thirsty (consumers).
But not all films attempt to be that.
Saawariya is a film where the SINGULAR and ABSTRACT nature of the basic story decides the creation of every single frame. Not surprisingly then, EVERY FRAME IS SINGULARLY ABSTRACT IN NATURE. And it is because of this deliberately abstract nature of the frames, that we see a film that completely does away with the subject-space relationship of the real world. And what we see is the floating of the subconscious of the narrator.
Maybe Bhansali had expected the questioning of the sets and spacing; because THE VERY FIRST DIALOGUE (narration) of the film is “Aapko yeh shaher duniya ke kisi nakshe mein nahin milega. Kyonki yeh shaher sirf mere sapno mein basta hai” (in Rani Mukherji’s voice).
With that kind of blatant ‘notice’ from the filmmaker, it then becomes IMPERATIVE for the audience to treat Saawariya as a story that lives out in the kaleidoscopic sub-conscious of the narrator, rather than in any real world.
The closest reference for it can be Fairy Tales picture books. In those books, the emphasis is on characters and the broader, outline details of the colourful world around them. Frames of Saawariya replicate the pages of those picture books. Hence, to be able to appreciate a film like Saawariya, the primary and most basic requirement on part of the viewer is to treat the film as FLIPPING PAGES OF A PICTURE BOOK, rather than a 24 frames-per-second zig-zag-zoom journey of a movie camera.
If the viewer settles down early enough with that frame of mind, the rest of the film can be evaluated mainly on the merits of the narrative. Otherwise, the entire experience can become a chain of nothingness.
Unfortunately for Sanjay Bhansali, the failure in establishing a reference frame for reading the film is not the only thing that holds Saawariya back from becoming a truly ‘reference film’ for Indian cinema. It is the absence of some relevant descriptions and the presence of the irrelevant at places that make it a less than fulfilling food for soul.
Let’s begin with the former: In tune of the nature of the film, a lot of detailing about places, people and incidents are done away with in Saawariya. While some of it is precisely what gives Saawariya the abstract form that it so aimed at, a good portion also contributes to the lack of identification with the characters and their emotions. The single biggest culprit of that sphere is the character of Iman (Salman Khan) and the ‘Meera-like devotion’ towards him of Sakina (Sonam Kapoor). With absolutely no description of Iman in the narrative, it becomes trifle difficult to understand the intensity and the reason behind the intensity in the relation between Iman and Sakina. Unfortunately, that ‘little’ relation eventually ends up deciding the course of the story itself!
On the other hand, at least two songs merely ‘add to the song and dance’ of the narrative; and also come across as some sore brush strokes on the canvas. Ditto for the sequence of Ranbir Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) going to Gulabji’s (Rani Mukherji) place. The real complaint against the aforementioned ‘digressions’ is about ‘placing of the defined within the abstract’. In other words, it is like a placing of a verbose statement between two silken couplets.
But apart from that, Saawariya is an A-grade attempt at a different style of cinematic expression – apart from boasting of an awe-inspiring arrival of a new talent (Ranbir). If only it were about 20 minutes shorter, it would have just made it into the Hindi cinema ‘Hall of Fame’. For the moment, it will have to do with 3 stars out of 5.