Guzaarish -- Film Review

Stylized, risky Bollywood film about mercy killing hits all the right emotional notes

EMERYVILLE, Calif. — Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansalihas always been willing to push viewers’ emotions as far as they can go to mixed results as his distinct storytelling and lavish visual style often veer toward the stagy and melodramatic. But his latest film, "Guzaarish (Request)," is restrained and powerful, moving the viewer with its poignancy from the very first frame.

Guzaarish may be mainstream Hindi cinema’s first film about mercy killing, but it’s also a film that is passionate and full of life. The pairing of Hrithik Roshanwith Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Bhansali’s devoted fan base are likely to drive impressive numbers to the box office.

Amid the lively greens and looming, ever changing skies of India’s coastal state of Goa, surrounded by glorious creation, we meet a young man who craves his own death. Former magician Ethan Mascarenhas (Roshan), paralyzed in a stage accident, has been immobile for 14 years. Although his acerbic wit and a good-natured sense of irony have served him well, and even inspired millions through books and a radio show called “Radio Zindagi” (“Radio Life”), Ethan is exhausted and ready to say goodbye.

The perfectly cast Rai Bachchan demonstrates backbone as Sofia D’Souza, a devoted nurse who is at first disgusted with Ethan’s request but gradually flowers into his most ardent supporter.

The film is packed with memorable scenes. In one, Ethan makes a dramatic courtroom demonstration for his case that euthanasia should be legal. “He’s condemned to live,” as one character pleads on his behalf. In another, a Catholic priest tries to dissuade Ethan from suicide, and receives an eloquent rebuke.

The remarkable costumes, by haute couture’s Sabyasachi Mukherjee, evoke the Portuguese influence on Goa with embroidered velvets, flowing skirts and bold, chunky semi-precious jewelry. The film’s location, a sprawling rural colonial villa, is an elegant character all its own. Guzaarish has only one drawback: a soapy musical score (by Bhansali himself) that occasionally threatens to overwhelm.

Opened: Nov. 19 (UTV Motion Pictures)
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Shernaz Patel, Suhail Seth, Nafisa Ali, Vijay Crishna
Director/screenwriter: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Producers: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Ronnie Screwvala
Executive producers: Siddharth Roy Kapur, Deven Khote, Zarina Mehta
Director of photography: Sudeep Chatterjee
Songs: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Lyrics: Jagdish Joshi, A.M. Turaz
Background score: Tubby
Production designer: Sumit Basu
Costume designer: Sabyasachi Mukherjee
Choreography: Longiness Fernandes, Ashley Lobo, Pony Verma
Editor: Hemal Kothari
Unrated, 135 minutes