Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s previous directorial offerings (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanaam, Devdas, Black) left a huge impression on Bollywood and filmmaking (I frequently recommend Devdas as an intro to Bollywood for any non-Indian), but I did not enjoy Saawariya as I am sure he intended it to be.
Based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “White Nights”, the film introduces the progeny of Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, and Anil Kapoor for the very first time as actors. Ranbir Raj arrives in a sleepy, yet majestic town, full of energy and high hopes of becoming a successful musician. He first meets Ghulabji (Rani Mukherji), a “lady of the evening” who acts as a tour guide of sorts. Ranbir then meets the mysteriously forlorn Sakina (Sonam) on a rainy night and falls intensely in love with her. But Sakina cannot be with him, because she is already besotted with a drifter named Iman (Salman Khan).
Such is the plot- a back and forth lovers struggle, where Person A loves Person B, who loves (the idea of?) Person C, who is MIA for most of the movie.
Ranbir shows some potential, here at the beginning of his career. His performance is playful, charismatic, and sincere.
Sonam, on the other hand, was a bit of a “limp noodle”. I really disliked her character- a capricious, naïve girl obsessed with an unappealing man who is not there, while ignoring the compassionate one who is.
Rani Mukherji proves what a malleable talent she is. She looks dazzling in every scene and does the best with her role (which is really a few shades lighter than Madhuri’s in Devdas).
Salman Khan shows his burgeoning decline as an actor. He appears tired and uninterested in his brief appearance. Throughout the movie, one wonders why Sakina pines for Iman, and why Raj pines for Sakina? The intensity of emotion is not believable, as there is no merit to the objects of affection.
Bhansali utilized a color scheme of blues and greens, as well as intermittent rain showers to achieve a dreamy, almost mystical atmosphere of the location. Yet the setting does not appear authentic. You feel as though you are watching actors on a set.
Bhansali is instrumental in scoring his films, and reportedly spent two years working on this soundtrack. While HDDCS and Devdas gave us everlasting gems, Saawariya doesn’t resonate as strongly. Of the 11 tracks, only three appealed to me: Chhabeela is beautifully sung by Alka Yagnik, and beautifully picturized on Rani; Shaan does a fantastic job with “Jab Se Tere Naina” (and won a Filmfare Award for it!); and Shreya Ghoshal makes you melt with “Thode Badmaash”.
I think Bollywood can be extraordinary in the technical departments; but they still need to work on the weak plots and character development. However, “White Nights” might have been just as frustrating to read, as Saawariya was to watch.