Saawariya is Sanjay Leela Bhansali's nadir. It is undoubtedly the most disappointing film of his career so far, film he calls a simple but exotic love story. Saawariya is a terrible re-working of Fyodor Dostoevsky's White Nights, earlier made so memorably in 1971 by Robert Bresson as Quatre Nuits D'un Reveur (Four Nights of a Dreamer) and in particular by Luchino Visconti in 1957 as Le Notti Bianche (White Nights) starring the great Marcello Mastroianni and Maria Schell. Visconti's film is beautifully poetic with the end heartbreakingly poignant. Saawariya is overblown (but of course, it's a SLB film), with stilted theatricals and generates no emotions whatsoever and just leaves you plain bored as it plods along.
The film fails to connect with the viewer on any level. You are unable to identify with Ranbir and move with him, his thoughts and feelings and this is a major flaw in the film. Thus you don't feel for him at all and in this regard the end of the film falls particularly flat. The screenplay too is flat and deadpan with inane dialogue. A film like this should be full of memorable moments, a glance here or a look there but sadly all that is missing in favour of absurb theatrics. And The Rani Mukherji angle does nothing for the film.
Like Visconti, Bhansali too has conceived and shot the entire film on sets. But whereas Visconti recreated a small Italian town he is familiar with and believable characters from there, Bhansali goes haywire creating a fairy tale town that is strange to say the least. He and Art Director Omung Kumar have gone way overboard to say the least creating a world straight out of Moulin Rouge and then inhabiting them with Desi characters with Buddha statues and lotuses and peacocks thrown in on the floorings. Yes money has been spent like water but everything in the film solely seems to revolve around the sets. So every shot seems designed to show off the sets rather than go by story demands thereby alienating you all the more . Efforts at the poetic with overdose of shades of blue, green and black coupled with characters in theatrical poses against the dominating set elements fail miserably. Like for example, what was that shot with Sonam lying down in the boat???
It is an odd world that Bhansali creates and not just the way its looks. It is a world that seems practically devoid of men. A world full of lonely women. The Landlady Lillian (Zohra Sehgal) pines for her son, Sakina waits for Iman, Badi Ammi son's too has left her. The prostitutes too all seem to be hanging out on the street with no customers. Suddenly Ranbir becomes this big catalyst in their lives.
Coming to the newcomers. They are sincere enough and have left themselves totally in Bhansali's hands. Sadly they are badly let down here. Ranbir comes across as a silly juvenile clown rather than a likeable young man in love. At times his 'cute' acts are just cringe worthy. Further, everything is done to reinforce the fact that a Kapoor from a new generation is entering Bollywood thus burdening Ranbir even more. So you have a world of the Kapoor Khandaan around Ranbir. There is a bar in the town named RK Bar against which you have Ranbir and Sonam in a pose, plenty of scenes in the rain, a Mrs D'Sa kind of landlady, Ranbir wears a Chaplinesque derby, repeats his father's baring act from Bobby (1973) and retreads his dialogues form Karz (1980). Why didn't they just let the poor guy be? He does show sparks of being a decent performer and should be allowed to forge his own identity. Sonam Kapoor's role is less demanding basically making her naively quiver and wallow in self pity but though beautiful and fresh in certain angles, you do feel she still has a long, long way to go as an actress. Rani Mukherji, always an extremely competent actress, is adequate while Salman Khan looks and acts just strange. Zohra Sehgal and Begum Para are defeated by the script.
The camera is largely static as cinematographer Ravi K Chandran says the idea was to make the film look like paintings on celluloid as against standard photographic images. The final result seems one of stylistic overkill with emphasis as mentioned earlier solely on the Art Direction. The music in the film, at least the songs, have their moments. The title song is instantly catchy while Masha Allah, Aasmaan se Pari Aayegi, Bade Badmash Ho and Jab se Tere Naina are reasonably well composed. However, the picturizations of the songs, otherwise Bhansali's strength, are nothing to write home about in Saawariya. In fact, the Rani Mukherji song Chhabeela is filmed particularly badly like a typical Bollywood song with totally uninteresting frontal angles. The background music, however, is way over blown like rest of the film desperate to create an impact or mood thus becoming very intrusive and taking away totally from Resul Pookutty's sync recording and sound design. The film needed tighter editing as well.
All in all, the film makes for terribly tedious viewing.