“Saawariya” – A.J. Hakari

From the looks of Saawariya, it’s not hard to see what makes Bollywood cinema such a rousing success. From their lush set designs to one epic song-and-dance number after another, some of Bollywood’s products aren’t so much films as they are mega-movies, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink so as to make sure the experience is well worth the admission price. Of course, this approach does have its high points as well as its drawbacks, with the beautiful but paper-thin Saawariya left standing as an example of both the best and worst of what the world of Bollywood has to offer.

On a particularly whimsical night in a city straight out of a storybook, energetic troubador Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) swoops into town, earning himself the eye and lust of seductive courtesan Gulabji (Rani Mukherjee). But as the night continues, Raj’s heart allies itself with a different individual: Sakina (Sonam Kapoor), a beautiful young woman who initially rebuffs every single one of Raj’s advances. He soon pierces her tough exterior, only to find out why she keeps herself so closely guarded in the first place. As it turns out, Sakina still pines for Imaan (Salman Khan), a tall, dark, and handsome tenant who disappeared after a brief but passionate romance. As she keeps a nightly post, waiting patiently for her beloved to return, Raj finds his head and heart battling one another, torn between following his feelings and helping Sakina find her own happy ending.

Saawariya is arguably the highest-profile Bollywood film to make its way into the American mainstream (mostly due to prominent studio Sony having a hand in the production). As a result, there’s a lot riding on it in terms of finding the sort of audience here as it has in its native India — a task that the flick pulls off well for the most part, though it’s not without its share of obvious missteps. What’ll grab peoples’ attention right off the bat is undoubtedly the film’s visual scheme. Saawaryia comes prepared with a series of dreamy environments that help affirm the film’s status as a romantic fantasy. The movie’s look even evokes feelings of watching Moulin Rouge!; one can imagine Saawariya’s gorgeous, blue-tinted back alleys co-existing with the famous French hotspot. Both flicks seem to take place in similar worlds, in which the smallest of dramas is blown up to insane proportions. But while Moulin Rouge! actually backed up its ambitiousness with a love story that could measure up, Saawariya finds itself in a more unfortunate position.

Essentially, Saawariya boils down to a story of unrequited love on two fronts: Raj can’t quite seem to prove his worth to Sakina, and from the shadows, Gulabji harbors something of a crush on Raj (although this interesting subplot is given infinitely less attention than the former). That’s all well and good, but the characters are so emotionally fickle and change personalities on a dime so fast, you don’t know whether to root for them or medicate the whole looney bunch on the double. Some moments are as tender as can be and are handled as such. But for the most part, Saawariya treats its romantic goings-on as bigger deals than they really are, mostly because the script simply doesn’t do enough to get viewers involved in all the relationships and love triangles beyond the most basic level. Sakina treats her love for Imaan like a tragedy for the ages, but you wouldn’t get that feeling from the scant couple of times the two actually cast goo-goo eyes on each other. The fact that the film is nearly two and a half hours doesn’t help either, allowing the story to grow pale and repetitive way too fast.

I don’t want to dump on Saawariya too much, since I really did admire its dreamlike atmosphere, the catchy tunes, the jaw-droppingly beautiful women, and the limitless energy that Ranbir Kapoor brought to his part. But all too often does the film make mountains out of molehills, amounting to a fairly frustrating odyssey that’ll make you tear your hair out before it’ll make you swoon.

Rating: ★★½☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

Leave a Reply