Let me make an honest confession. The first time I had watched Saawariya about five years ago, I had liked it but did not love it. I was too naive to understand cinema at that time. I think my understanding of cinema is still very naive but it has slightly evolved over the years. I am trying to watch the films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali again to see them with a different perspective and to understand the craftsmanship of one of India’s most eccentric film makers. I watched Saawariya again this time and I am not saying for the sake of it, but this time I totally loved it.
Saawariya is based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's short story, White Nights. It is a story of Ranbir Raj who meets Sakina on a lonely night and falls in love with her instantly. During the course of the next three nights, Raj and Sakina become friends. Even though Raj is madly in love with Sakina, she is waiting for her lover, Imaan, who had promised her one year ago that he will come and take her the next Eid. To me Saawariya is the story of waiting. It is the story of pining for love. It is the story of keeping hope in spite of all odds. All the people in the film kept waiting for something. Sakina keeps on waiting for Imaan. Somewhere in her heart Sakina knows that Imaan is not going to come but she doesn't lose hope. At one point, she remarks, “abbu kahin chale gaye aur ammi ki aankhein unke intezaar me hamesha khuli rahin..aankhri saans tak”. Jhumri, her caretaker, is scared that Sakina will end up like her mother, who also kept on waiting and she says, “teri takhdeer me bhi teri maa ki tarah intezaar likha hai”. Raj keeps on waiting that maybe Sakina will eventually accept his love someday. He is ready to wait as much as she wants. He says to Sakina, “tumhare dil me mere liye koi jagah hai” When Sakina does not reply, he says, “koi baat nahi, main intezaar karunga”. It is the story of endless wait of Lillianji for her son, Vincent, who never came back. It is the story of endless wait for the prostitutes for their ‘pari’. It is the story of endless wait of Gulaabji for her Saawariya who loves her not for her body but for who she is. It is the story of Badi Ammi who to keep away her loneliness ties Sakina with a safety pin so that she does not have to keep on waiting for her.
The more I think I about it, the more I am sure that Saawariya was the exact of opposite of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. It is the story in which Sakina rejects a musician Raj (similar to Sameer) for a more brooding Imaan (Vanraj). In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Vanraj takes Nandini back to her lover. In Saawariya, Raj tries to stop Sakina from going to her lover. Perhaps, that is why Raj did not get Sakina in the end because Bhansali’s notion of love is based on sacrifice. In both the cases, Vanraj/Imaan gets his love. It is no coincidence that Bhansali chose Salman as Imaan. He was referring to Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Not only that, there are other references to the movie as well. At one point, Raj asks Sakina to pick one chit from his hand. That scene was so similar to ek haat choono from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. In another reference, Imaan keeps on waiting on the bridge. If I recall, Vanraj had also said that he will scream Nandini’s name from the bridge. In the final moments of that film, Nandini came running from the bridge towards Vanraj. In Saawariya, Sakina runs to the bridge to Imaan, leaving Ranbir behind. The similarities between the two films are too conspicuous.
Not only Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, I felt Bhansali referred to all his previous films. When Sakina is feeling happy on the bridge, it suddenly starts snowing, exactly like Michelle sensed snow in Black. Sakina’s crazy devotion to Imaan was like Devdas’ for Paro. Devdas spurned the love of Chandramukhi for a married Paro. In the end, when Sakina is leaving Ranbir for Imaan, he starts miming and does not use any words, as if Khamoshi is being played again.
Bhansali creates a fantasy world where everything is either blue, green or white. This is a dreamland or as Gulaabji says, khwaabon ka sheher. Perhaps that is why there is not even a speck of sunlight in the film. It is as if someone is sleeping and dreaming this world. This is a world where Buddha statues are mounted on the tops of mosques. It is a never-land where Mumtaz Mahal’s posters adorn the streets. It is a magical world where the clock turns anti-clockwise but it is still clock-wise. Anything is possible in this world. In his world, cafeterias have posters of body parts, vegetables and freedom fighters of India on their walls. It is a world where Sakina’s house plays ‘humein to loot liya milkhe husn valon ne’ and the prostitutes sing ‘ae malik tere bande hum’.
Anti-clockwise or Clockwise?
I also felt that Saawariya has shades of post-impressionism. Bhansali leaves many subtle hints. Lillianji’s son is name Vincent, probably after the most famous post impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gogh. One of Van Gogh’s most famous painting is Café Terrace At Night. That painting had many similarities to Saawariya. There are so many cafés shown in the town in Saawariya. Even the floor of the town resembles that in Café Terrace. The architecture in the movie is European, where post impressionism originated. Post impressionism is defined as the movement in which the artists were not concerned with depicting the effects of light and other visual effects like those seen in the impressionism movement, they were less idyllic. They wanted to express their meaning beyond the surface appearance. They painted with emotion, intellect, and the eye. The post impressionism painters stressed their personal view of the visual world and had a freely expressive use of color and form to describe emotions and movement. Fits perfectly to Saawariya. That is why I think Saawariya had themes of post impressionism.
Vincent Van Gogh?
Bhansali also gives us ample references to Raj Kapoor trying to show us Ranbir is his grandson. The bar is named RK bar. The cap is the ‘aawara’ cap. At one point in the film, Raj says to Sakina, “main ek dum aawara hun”. Sakina then replies “aur ek dum jungle bhi” referring to Shammi Kapoor in 'chahe mujhe koi junglee kahe’ from the film Junglee. At another point in the film, a philanderer comes and starts singing the song “barsaat me hum se mile tum sajan” from another of Raj Kapoor’s film – Barsaat. Bhansali also shows us Mughal-E-Azam, referring to Prithviraj Kapoor’s epic role in that saga. When the song ‘Saawariya’ starts, Ranbir asks “doston, kya aapne kabhi kisi se pyaar kiya…maine bhi kiya” referring to the immortal line of his dad, Rishi Kapoor, in the song Meri Umar Ke Naujawaon from Karz. Saawariya might be the first film that refers to all the generations of the Kapoor clan in a film.
Like all his films, Bhansali uses inanimate objects to refer to the characters in the film. The first is the umbrella. Sakina is carrying an umbrella on all the four nights. I think umbrella was referring to Raj. On the first night, Sakina lets Raj under her umbrella symbolizing the beginning of their friendship. The second night, she tells her love story and it rains again. She uses her umbrella to let Raj in as he is her friend now. On the third night, it rains but she loses the umbrella just like she has become distant from Raj due to their fight. On the fourth night, it snows but she does not require the umbrella anymore. She gives the umbrella to Raj as her memory which he will keep forever. It was like Sakina was using the umbrella (Raj) as her protection from the rain (her sorrow) and when the rain stopped, she did not need the umbrella anymore because it has snowed, as Imaan has come back. Interestingly, Gulaab ji also says to Raj, “teri chhatri ke yaahan bhi jashn hoga na?”
In another instance, Raj uses a football as a pillow. He says, “yeh mera ball hain, kya hain na, mere paas takiya naheen hain, is liye main mera ball takiya banake so jata hoon, is liye mera ball girta raheta hain.” Immediately after that, the song Pari comes and at the end of that song, all the women start playing with the ball. That was Raj using the ball as a pillow through which he dreams, and when the women were playing with ball, it was as if he also gave the dreams to the women..to hope..to think of angels.
There were also a reference to Cinderella as once the clock hit 12 in the night, Sakina had to run. Was that why there were those kitschy posters on the RK bar’s walls? There is a picture of Shivaji and I think something related to Vikram Betaal as well. Was that Bhansali’s another way of showing that this is a dream world? Is Sakina a Cinderella-like figure who has to run every night for Imaan?
At one point in the film, Raj takes Sakina to an alley that has a lot of potholes and he says, "bina khaddo ke raste nahi hote aur bina dukh ke zindagi". He then tells her to try keep fighting off sadness always. In the end, Raj goes back to the same alley and starts fighting off as if he is trying to fight off the utter loneliness of his unrequited love. He has Sakina’s anklets and her umbrella which he will keep it with her for his entire life. He knew he has to live in sadness all his life but he will keep fighting. And as Gulaab ji says, “kehte hain mil jaye tumhe tumhari mohabbat toh maanlo khuda tum par meharbaan hogaya, aur agar na mile toh jaan lo khuda tumse ek jaan hogaya.” Saawariya did not get Sakina, but he got God who will be there with him always.
The choreography and the music is splendid. I am just awed by the beauty of the choreography in the song Yoon Shabnami. The colors are beautiful. You can clearly see how much effort has gone into each and every song. There are some beautiful shots in the film which I can keep on looking forever. Bhansali has got an ethereal sense of beauty. The sound of the whistle in the background score is charming. I was thrilled by the song Jabse Tere Naina. I want to have Mona Lisa curtains in my home.
If there was one performance that stood out, it was clearly Rani as Gulaabji. I loved loved loved her. That is why she remains my favorite actress of all time. She acts so well. I watched the song Chabeela two times just because of her. She is a fabulous dancer. I love you, Rani. She was so much fun in that song. The next best thing was Begum Para and Zora Sehgal. Begum Para played Badi Ammi and her diction of Urdu language was perfect. I was chuckling when she was saying the dialogues of Mughal-E-Azam. Zohra Sehgal gets better with every film. She emotes beautifully.
Bhansali is a master of creating moments. I think the film has one of the most erotic moments of love making without kissing (between Sakina and Imaan). Bhansali also has this knack of gorgeously capturing emotions on the people's face. He makes sad look beautiful.
Some of the dialogues are too deep.
Khwaab dekhta hun, khayaal likhta hun, gham ke badle khushiyan bekhurta hun.
Yeh sikka hai na iske taraf intezaar hai, dusre taraf tanhai. Is sikke ke ek taraf vaada hai, ek taraf imaan.
Muhabbat me rupayon se zyada patthar keemti hote hai.
Yeh kambhakht mohabbat cheez hi aisi hai, kabhi patthar ko bhagwaan aur kabhi farishtey jaisey insaan ko patthar banade.
Kaagaz ke phoolon se itar bante dekha hai?
Ek pal ke liye pyaar kiya, vo zindagi bhar ke liye kaafi hai.
Kisi se itni bhi muhabbat na karna, ke khud se nafrat ho jaye.
Gaane badan ko nahi rooh ko choone chahiye.
Did you know White Nights has been adapted many times in the Hindi film industry. The following films have adapted Dostoyevsky's with one even starring Abhay Deol.
Chhalia, Ahista Ahista, and Saawariya .
Chhalia, Ahista Ahista, and Saawariya .
At one point, Lillianji sings this song.
The flowers that bloom in the spring,
Have nothing to do with the case.
I've got to take under my wing,
A most unattractive old thing,
With a caricature of a face,
With a caricature of a face.
Tra la la la la,
Tra la la la la,
"Oh, bother the flowers of spring.
The song has been taken from from Gilbert & Sullivan's two act comic opera The Mikado.
Saawariya is one man’s vision. It is only for a certain section of the audience who have the patience to appreciate his vision. One of the criticisms that is given to Bhansali is that he doesn't care for the audience. What is wrong in that? In this day, when every filmmaker is trying to cash in on the 100 Crore club, here is a film maker who refuses to compromise. He takes risks. And he is not afraid of failure. Why do we have a problem with that? I will lap up every Bhansali film because he is an enigma. When was the last time you heard the word 'kaaleen' in any film?
Saawariya is lonely. It is depressing. But still, it gave me enough to savor it for a repeat viewing. I am sure I still have to understand it better and I leave that to another day.
Dialogue of the Day:
"Jinke saath mohabbat ka noor hota hai, unhe koi andhera nahi choo sakta."
- Sakina, Saawariya