Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Guru - Uncomfortably recommended

It could well have been India's answer to The Aviator starring Leonardo Di Caprio. But Howard Hughes was a man who was a different cloud. Gurukant Desai is at a different latitude.

Mani Ratnam's Guru is a landmark film for India. Remarkably shot, it has taken Indian cinema to a new level on a qualitative basis. But there's reason enough to realise why a film of this calibre and conclusion has met with such success.

It is modern India's unflinching attitude to bask in the the underworld of grey shades. Shades similar to Gurubhai's shady deals, all of which came under suspicion. The film does celebrate the mercantile spirit and perhaps the first film to do so. The resemblances to the founder of Reliance Industries, Dhirubhai Ambani, are well-disguised but just not good enough - that figdety laugh, the hair styling and the Gujarati hangover. All of this accompanied with similar policies adopted the Ambani himself, like having thousands of shareholders.

If there's one reason why Guru becomes a fascinating film to watch, it is particularly for the resemblances to Ambani's real life story. It is a rags-toriches story of course, but the premise is always money. Notably so, you realise why Guru loves to hear the jingle of coins while he's returning from Turkey after serving as a petrol pump attendant(Ambani also went abroad and started with a petrol pump.)

It is not Guru's shady deals that came under suspicion. It is rather his phenomenal rise to the top, amidst the private sector and with lakhs of satisfied shareholders, often achieving growth rates of over 300% - a meteoric rise indeed, for a man with such humble beginnings. But with Guru's influence and cunning, no deal is a big deal to catch.

No wonder then, than his well-wisher, the man who brought him into the limelight, in the first place, Manikdas Gupta (ditto Ramnath Goenka), editor of The Independent launched an unforgiving newspaper campaign against him for a period of over 10 years. Shyam Saxena (Madhavan), the investigative journalist bent on exposing Guru's mischievous ways to reach the top.

Is it right to bribe your way to the top, for a larger public good? Is it right to exert influence through contacts for the larger public benefit? Note the larger public benefit involved, hence the trivial nature of the question.

It is exactly this question that makes Guru such an uncomfortable movie. You cannot help but celebrate his rise to the top. It's a story we would love to be a part of, since it concerns the public good and ultimately it shows that India on the path to glory is also an India that likes to get work done through 'confidential documents, envelopes and a box of sweets'.

Most of the time, you're left admiring Abhishek Bachchan's acting skills. It is HIS film, his ticket to fame for the big Best Actor award next year. Aishwarya Rai is amazingly natural. Their chemistry creates magical moments, especially the scene in the bedroom where both hit each other's shoulder.

Rajiv Menon's cinematography skillfuly shifts between sepia tones of Turkey and Bombay and Gujarat of the 1950s. A.R.Rahman's sountrack elevates the film to higher pedestal and grows on you as the film progresses. These are factors that try hard to distract one from the ideological stupor the film imposes in the last 15 minutes. Mani Ratnam has no doubt, come of age through Guru. But the lead character is not someone I'd like to idolise, even though I admire his cunning and influence in achieving so much. Unfortunately, the film never gives any glimpse into the workings on Guru's mind and what circustances led him to be the genius that he is. Gurukant Desai even though a smart-ass, has never been a prodigy.

Guru's success is testimony to the fact that we, the citizens of this country have accepted grey shady deals as a part of our life. And therefore, Guru is a significant film, but by no means a great one.

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