Saturday, January 13, 2007


Gurukant Desai’s is story of ambition and success that modern India made possible; a mindset that accepts crooked means as long as the result is wealth and power. Mani Ratnam’s film is a visually striking, but politically naïve film about the rise of Guru (Abhishek Bachchan) from his village roots (where he has failed in school) to incredible entrepreneurial success.

Ratnam at one point equates Guru’s defiance of established business methods with Gandhi’s disobedience of British laws; and makes the people who question his means look like persecutors.

Even in a faux biopic like Guru, the story has to bring the outside in, this film remains resolutely single-track in stance that whoever is not for Guru is the ‘enemy’. Finally, even the judge (Roshan Seth) who heads the enquiry committee against Guru’s corruption has trouble deciding if Guru is a “genius or a thug.” There is no comment on the socio-political scenario of the times, which seems like such a wasted opportunity—considering Mani Ratnam’s formidable reputation and the resources available to him. (A small film like Gafla on the stock market scam was more detailed).

Then again, one has to remember that Ratnam had glorified a gangster in Nayakan and a militant in Roja—his attitude towards the ambitious, cunning and charmingly unscrupulous Guru is equally fan-like.

The film breathlessly charts his life from a Gujarat village to Turkey where he works (and a Mallika Sherawat item number is forced in), back to India, his wedding to willful Sujata (Aishwarya Rai), his migration to Bombay and crashing the bastion of traditional traders and established businessmen who don’t want audacious upstarts like Guru to enter their circle.

When his greed for growth makes him bend and break rules, his mentor Nanaji (Mithun Chakraborty), a newspaper owner, unleashes a ferocious reporter (R Madhavan) on to his case, a man who believes people like Guru should be locked up and the key thrown away. The film slows down by this point, and it looks like a battle between the heroic Guru and the pesky journalist who wants to pull him down. Interspersed are scene’s of Guru’s personal relationships—with Sujata, his friends, Nanaji and his crippled granddaughter (Vidya Balan)--- which are often more effective than his professional pursuits, that talk about more than show his struggles. The most poignant image of his efforts —of walking miles with a sack of yarn on his head—is spoken towards the end.

Still, despite its faults, a certain aesthetic standard can be expected from Mani Ratnam and that he delivers – the period recreation (sets by Samir Chanda), costumes, pretty locations (lovingly shot by Rajiv Menon). The music is not a perfect fit though, and Aishwarya’s rain dance is pure déjà vu.

Abhishek Bachchan, in a tough role (it is not easy to play middle-age) gives a career best performance. Mithun Chakraborty, Aishwarya Rai and R Madhavan offer able support. Guru is worth a watch, but be prepared to be let down and slightly bored.


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