And so the media blitzkrieg reached its screaming pinnacle over the Diwali weekend.
We saw the whole circus unfold over the last few months, the two big banners striving to out-do each other in every way, the stars of both films appearing on TV shows left, right and centre, news channels eating out of their hands for savvy sound-bytes and more.
So the day came when I popped off to watch Saawariya, what with all the positive buzz over its dreamy sets, the pair of likeable young stars, the formidable Sanjay Leela Bhansali with his penchant for intense, passionate cinema, the backdrop of a classic Dostoyevsky short story and a decent music score.Oh yes, the movie seemed promising alright!
And what of the movie itself?
Well, considering that my review started off on that note, it could only mean bad news ahead.
Hence we start with delectable shots of a Venice/St Petersburg-like Old Town, rather reminiscent of Moulin Rouge incidentally, panning onward to Rani Mukherjee, desperately trying to do the role of a golden-hearted prostitute yet again (and fervently wishing she was doing a song-and-dance number with SRK instead, I bet!)
And then we have the Young Man himself, a little larger than life, cavorting with the gang of prostitutes and making them smile and all that.. the jaadu ki jhappi thing happening full-on.
And aeons and many sugary dialogues and yawns from the audience later, the young lady finally makes her appearance.
I guess that was the first sign.
The original story has this painfully shy and serious young man, who happens to help her when she's being aggressively pursued by an unsavoury character, and then they become friends, and he inevitably falls in love with her, knowing full well that she's already spoken for. And it's all about him, the depth of his feelings, the lengths he goes to help the girl get a note across to her lover, his loneliness.
That's a powerful story, just has raw, believable emotion. But here, our young man is portrayed as an extrovert, a likeable do-gooder, a romantic character so "cute", it takes away the pathos and probably just makes audiences wonder why the girl doesn't get hitched to him. Or makes you wonder why he's running after her when he could just remain happy-go-lucky and move on and find other people. Or makes you wonder why you're still in the theatre watching it, when YOU could move on :-).
So amidst all the blue-green haze of dreamy song sequences and Bollywood-y costumes and rowing boats through canals and singing in the snow, and playing football with women of ill repute, we lose track of his loneliness, his shyness, the fact that he's a friendless stranger in a strange town.
And then on, the story is quite, quite pointless, considering that Bhansali botched up the characterization of the main protagonist.
There's far too much dwelling on the female protagonist, the lovely Sonam Kapoor is made to giggle and cry with a frequency that approaches alarming proportions. There's far too much dwelling on the expendable Rani Mukherjee character, really, it's ridiculous to give a narrator so much footage, it distracts one from the main story.
Salman Khan as the mysterious lover with kohl-lined eyes is a little awkward, but passable, he doesn't hog the limelight like the over-the-top Mukherjee does. The crabby landlady character played by the feisty Zohra Sehgal is decent though, the one shining point in the rambling narrative.
This is one movie I'd have so loved to root for, with all its impeccable credentials and promise. It would have been interesting to watch Ranbir Kapoor play the serious, brooding introvert living his life for those few moments of bliss, instead of a cutesy, cloyingly sweet, larger-than-life character.
It should have ended on a wistful, poignant note, it should have been a real tribute to Dostoyevsky.
Instead, it probably has the Russian master turning in his grave, and the audience wishing it had stayed peacefully indoors for its post-Diwali siesta.