by Mohammad Ali Ikram, Planet Bollywood
Saaz is a great cinematic experience. The film is a story about what it means to be human: moments of competition, rivalry, jealousy, hatred and above all love permeate the movie. On the basis of this being her only movie I have seen, I still feel that Sai Paranjpye is currently India's finest female director. (This recognition includes a comparison with the more famous NRI female directors, Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair.)
Set in the musical backdrop of the Bollywood playback singing world, Saaz liberally draws parallels from the lives of the Mangeshkar sisters. Its purpose is to present viewers a tale of two sisters, Mansi and Bansi (Shabana Azmi and Aruna Irani, respectively). Two individuals who love each other but cannot overcome their individual desires to leave a greater mark on the world after death, and become 'immortal'. These are two siblings who are very real. They care deeply for each other, but are also capable of unknowingly inflicting a lot of pain on one another.
Shabana Azmi and Aruna Irani literally live their roles. Not only do these two veteran actresses understand the characters they portray, but their on-screen relationship displays a natural chemistry. Their scenes together are a pleasure to watch, and each character is immensely likable in spite of being flawed. When one sister is about to hurt the other, you will wish you could get up and help resolve the problem.
Zakir Hussain makes his commercial film debut as one of Bansi's love interests. As talented as the man is at playing instruments and composing music, his screen presence leaves a bit to be desired.
The music in Saaz is undoubtedly excellent; a treat on both audio and video. Though the songs are set most often in a recording studio, not once will you wish the characters would break out into dance. Dancing is inappropriate for this motion picture, and it is far more interesting watching the stars mimic playback singers. (The sparks between Shabana and Aruna in "Baadal Chandi Barsaye" are Kodak moments. Ever felt betrayed before? This song will vividly remind you of that instance.) Ms. Azmi even sat in on a few song recordings before shooting these sequences to get the facial expressions of singers perfected.
If there is one thing lacking or annoying in Saaz, it is the numerous love interests Bansi's character is given over a course of three hours. Each subplot unnecessarily lengthens the film, and this should not be a movie about failed love. We've seen countless failed romance themes before; it is the engaging sibling relationship which really draws and merits attention.
Technically, Saaz is simple and rightfully so. Too many outdoor locales or distracting camera angles do not fit in a movie about real families. Sai Paranjpye has assembled a very competent team of artistes, technicians and assistants for this cinematic effort. The director is very talented and she roots her movie modestly in the real world. Saaz belongs on the mandatory viewing list of all serious cinema-goers. Barring a few too many subplots, no one will regret watching this film.
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