Saawariya and Sin City
Two Takes on Film Noir

The title might surprise a lot of people. I’ve read reviews of the movie on the blogosphere and not only have people failed to understand the movie and what Bhansali is trying to do with cinema, they’ve also failed to notice the various film-tradition-oriented head-nods and sub-themes that Bhansali is dealing with in his film. So, where does Sin City figure in.

Old Town
Old Town in Sin City is a section of the city reserved for prostitutes. In Saawariya we see Old Town inscribed in blazing letters on a signboard behind the bridge where much of the action in the movie takes place. In Saawariya too, Old Town is the place where the prostitutes, including Gulabji, live. Both in Sin City and Saawariya, Old Town becomes the abode of the Prostitute with the Golden Heart, a stock character that Sin City pays homage to and Saawariya subtly redefines.

Prostitute with the Golden Heart
The colors of Sin city are Black and White. This is because in keeping with the noir tradition, the moral framework of Sin City is divided into two – good and bad, happiness and sadness. The prostitutes in Sin City are into the business to earn their livelihood. On the outside they are tough and ruthless. But inside they are kind and just, even noble. The same color symbolism is used in Saawariya but it is Raj who is Black and White and who lives within a simplified moral framework. The prostitutes, on the other hand, represented by Gulabji, are indeed tough on the outside and kind on the inside, but the colors they were are a stark profusion ranging over the entire spectrum. Their moral framework is not Black and White, it is multicolored and very superficial. It is deliberately constructed to protect themselves from the kind of choices that Raj and Sakina find themselves to be making.

Therefore it is that Gulabji wears Red and sells love but she does not feel Red and remains very careful not to fall in love because the one time she falters – in the case of Raj – she has to make the choice of turning him away from her door and getting him beaten up by her bouncers.

Bhansali’s Saawariya is an amazing take on the Film Noir tradition. While it uses the same play of light and shadow to wonderful effect, it also subtly examines and redefines the language of film noir.

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