The wonder of love and heartbreak with breathtaking visuals and top-notch Bollywood song and dance.


Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Distributor: Sony
MPAA rating: N/A
US DVD Release Date: 2008-05-06
First date: 2008

Based on Dostoevsky's short story, "White Nights", Saawariya is the first Bollywood film to be made and distributed in conjunction with an American studio. This joint venture with Sony Pictures Entertainment may further broaden the scope of the world's largest producer of movies beyond its own backyard.

While its box office numbers may have been a disappointment, Saawariya as a film may successfully appeal to a Western audience and gain new life on DVD, giving those outside of the subcontinent a taste of its unique cinema. In typical Bollywood fashion, the film features the elaborate sets, musical and dance numbers that punctuate the action and plot of the film. Helmed by acclaimed director Sanjay Leela Bansali, the subtitled film is spoken in Hindi with snippets of heavily accented English and the occasional English turn of phrase thrown in.

Although Saawariya fared poorly at the box office, it garnered an award for the impressive film debut of Ranbir Kapoor, son of Rishi Kapoor of the Bollywood Kapoor dynasty of actors, producers, and directors. Ranbir Kapoor's debut is legitimately impressive, aptly holding his own against such seasoned veterans as Rani Mukherjee and Zohra Segal.

In keeping with the tone of Dostoevsky's original story, the film is sporadically narrated by the character of Gulabji, portrayed by noted actress Rani Mukherjee in a scene-stealing role as the archetypal gorgeous hooker with a heart of gold.

As the story's narrator, she describes herself as "one who trades in false romance, but tells stories of true love." In doing so, she tells the tale of Raj (Ranbir Kapoor), a rare, pure soul who becomes the new singer at the town's local hot-spot, RK Bar, situated in the city's red light district. He encounters Gulabji at RK Bar as she's finishing her evening with a celebratory drink and serenades her with a song from his act that she insists becomes synonymous with his identity, "Saawariya" (or "Beloved").

Within a day of his stay in town, Raj becomes something of a patron saint to the prostitutes, bringing with him a joyfulness to those who have no joy, treating everyone he meets with kindness. In turn, Raj is tipped off by Gulabji as to where he may find room and board, rather than sleeping on the streets.

From there, he encounters Lilanji, the crotchety landlady who eventually takes in and warms to Raj as her own son. He wins her over with the simple, transformative power of a hug and a kind word. In the role of Lilanji (who Raj affectionately refers to as "Lillipop"), 92-year-old actress Zohra Sehgal.shines on the screen, full of vigor and providing several moments of comic relief with her sarcastic muttering asides and bursts of enthusiasm.

While wandering the town at night, Raj encounters a mysterious girl named Sakina (Sonam Kapoor, another descendant of a Kapoor film dynasty who gives a solid performance in her debut) standing alone on a bridge. He strikes up a conversation with her. Though Sakina is hesitant about his motives at first, she eventually sees him for his true intentions when he protects her from unsavory nighttime characters. For Raj, it's love at first sight, wanting to know more about the beautiful Sakina who only agrees to meet him at night.

Over the course of several nights, he learns that Sakina lives with her overprotective grandmother who fears abandonment. Falling deeper in love with her and ready to divulge his true feelings, Sakina drops a revelation on Raj that complicates matters. She is waiting for her true love, Imaan (Salman Khaan in a small, but intense role), who has promised to return to her in a year during the festival of Eid.

From there, Raj spends the next few nights trying to win the heart of Sakina. Although she pines for her absent suitor, Raj is persistent in his attempts to make her see the depth of his feelings for her

Under the musical direction of Monty Sharma and lyricist Sameer, the original soundtrack of Saawariya is memorable, beautiful at times, and full of Indian flavor. With the character of Raj as a singer and musician, the musical numbers become a logical extension of the plot. Although playback singers are used, their singing voices are just as integral a part of the film as the actors speaking dialogue.

With that said, the veteran and neophyte cast expertly conveys the high emotional content of the songs with their facial expressions and body language, doing a convincing job of selling the playback recordings as a piece of their own soul, the emotion registering in their eyes as well as the subtlety of meaning in the eccentricities of the characters. What isn't spoken out loud can be read through the actions of the characters and the actors portraying them.

Cinematically, Saawariya is a visually stunning film, reminiscent of Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge with its surrealistic sets in vivid colors. The city is strung with lights and painted with monochromatic murals, such as the deep blue and white lotus blossoms that feature heavily in many alleyway scenes.

Although most of the film takes place in a night time setting, the costuming and incandescent lighting gives the impression of the actors being lit from within in shades of brightly burnished gold regardless what color is prominently featured in scenes within the film.

Saawariya is an intensely color-driven film with certain scenes featuring minor characters in matching, monochromatic shades -- like the chorus of women of the night dressed in blue and green against the night sky on the streets -- while the principals wear contrasting or startlingly white or black shades of clothing.

In terms of special features, the DVD offers trailers in addition to behind-the-scenes footage of making the music behind Saawariya and the film's star-studded premiere night. Although the featurettes give fans a view of the pre- and post-production of the film, much of the same footage is used in both.

Musically, visually, and thematically, Saawariya is a terrific introduction for Westerners to the world of Hindi cinema, perfectly showcasing all of the wonders and heartbreak of love and the universal yearning for companionship and a meaningful connection, no matter how brief.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.