So why did I go at all? Bhansali’s films can be good, and the reviews were shining. As much as everyone hates the film critics when their film gets panned, I tend to trust them, at least at a consensus level.
After I saw the film I went back to the reviews to try to understand what they had like so much about it. The answers were pretty random. One critic thought the film was special because Ash and Hrithik were starring together. Most of the other critics were wowed by the production design, or the costumes. Someone said the film deserved ‘its own category’.
Good point actually, and that is what confused me. What was this film? It’s not a love story because he doesn’t love her. Its not a magic related film, its not a legal drama. Maybe a character study?
If you simplify the film to the core story – a quadriplegic fights for the right to euthanasia – then it is quite simple.
But the film morphs into – a (now) quadriplegic ex-greatest-magician-in-the-world fights for the right to euthanasia because his money is running out, while being fussed over by a stern nurse who is secretly in love with him who also secretly flamenco dances and gets beaten by her estranged husband on their wedding anniversary.
How do you go about marketing something like that?
What struck me with this film was that the marketing of Guzaarish seemed out of control from the start. It all went something like this (the order is a bit jumbled):
- the film is announced
- it is rumoured to be a remake of Prestige
- they announce that the director visited Ajmer Dargh to seek blessings
- they announce that the director visited Lata Mangeshkar to seek blessings
- An Indian writer claims the plot is plagiarised from his unpublished novel
- The plot is announced but for some reason they keep calling the character a paraplegic, rather than quadriplegic, which make the request for euthanasia a bit excessive.
- the trailer was to be released with We Are Family, but gets pushed to later.
- they talk about Hrithik learning the difficult dance moves (yup, of course the now-crippled ex-magician has to be able to dance)
- Hrithik says that he can identify with the quadriplegic character, because he has a knee injury
- They wanted to promote the film on Bigg Boss but were turned down (very publicly)
- They talk about Hrithik’s fitness routine to go from fat to fit for different scenes.
- They release a poster of Aishwarya smoking. This is probably the lowest and most desperate point of the campaign. The poster is visually completely out of sync with the rest of the promotional materials, conveys nothing about the film. The entire point seems to be to stir up controversy about the actor smoking. This works, and doctors call for a ban on the film.
- Ultimately, the film turns out to be a half remake of The Sea Inside, with bits of Prestige thrown in for good measure (because apparently in India you can’t make films about simple characters)
By ‘out of control’ I mean that much of the publicity was stirred up by people other than the marketing team, which meant they were not controlling the campaign. The story was so convoluted that is was difficult to market on that basis, with much of India not understanding terms such as euthanasia or quadriplegic anyway. Hence, the Guzaarish PR focused on the actors and their experiences rather than the film.
The posters were beautiful, and captured the feel of the film perfectly, however I think they focused too much of the love story angle, which was really a non-event. I know people feel that this attracts lots of viewers, but then why deceive them?
And here is the ‘smoking’ poster. See the difference?
My personal wish from this film was that Bhansali had dived a little further down the rabbit hole. This was a film in half English about mercy killing. Obviously it would have little appeal beyond the multiplex audience anyway. He could have really explored the world of a character whose life was all about illusion and can now only live that world in his mind. Reality and memory can blur. Anyway, maybe for the sequel…