Guru is a biopic of an ambitious 'bijinez' man called Gurukanth Desai from a village called 'idhar' Gujarat. As it progresses, the movie morhps his name to Guru-Bhai and suggests enough allusion to Dhirubhai Ambani, the founder of Reliance Group of Companies. This probably fuels the pre-relese rumor surrounding the same issue. This is obviously a high-quality movie. As expected from Mani, its technically slick and raises the visual experience. Nobody tells us stories like these. Movies, are mostly about 'a different/violent/rational/indigestion love story' and I hate love stories. So after the first 30 minutes, I was already glad that any semblance of romance in this movie was limited to something as un-romantic as Guru marrying a woman for a Rs 25,000 dowry. She is a capital investment to his ambition and for that he is prepared to marry her (even if she is tad older than him). He doesn't even ask her permission. He gets her because he can convince her father that he is loony enough to marry the 'mad' daughter - thereby making this the best romantic Hindi movie, I have ever seen. This movie then takes us through his struggle, his opposition, his ups, downs and his questionable ethics.
All the details in Guru's life have a strong parallel to Ambani's life. From debentures, fake export-import, Shell-station-boy(ambani was in Yemen), bribing of ministers, newspaper rivalry to paralytic brain stroke-leaving right hand paralyzed. The key similarity is the shareholder meetings in stadiums, which was really Ambani's unqiue feature. He was among the first to utilize the public share issue concept in a big way. There is inescapable evidence that this movie is a fitting tribute to Ambani. However, there is a conceptual choice that Manirathnam seems to have made in this movie. It is not a detail-oriented movie but a more big-picture kind of a movie. He wouldn't tell you exactly why Guru was so successful in business but just focus on the top-level fact that he persevered and was successful. He wouldn't tell you exactly what the case/enquiry/commission against him is, he would limit it to a superficial chatter, where words like debentures and shares come up very often. He focuses on breadth and not depth. Consequently, you wouldn't know why Guru wins but you know that he wins. Contrast this to a cliched but excellent example like Godfather, where you are told details of 1 event and you know exactly what needs to happen for the hero to suceed a mafia coup or win a enquiry commision probe. 1 event is told in clear detail, while a biography is narrated. Guru does not describe any single event in great detail. It skims over a lot of things but you get the larger point.
So its a design choice that Manirathnam makes - to focus on the larger picture of ambition, never-say-die and the archiacness of Indian legal system. There are pros and cons to this. The pro part is obvious so let me focus on the con part. A logical argument/ a joke/ a persuasive speech is like a bridge. You have a starting point, from where you hope to reach an end state. An argument, a joke (with its punch lines) gets you from this starting point to the end state. The end state being victory or a humorous situation. The audience should be convinced that the argument was strong enough (in other words the bridge was long enough) to connect the start and the end state. Here, it is not. Mainly because you aren't told much details of whats going on, you struggle to connect. You aren't very sure why his fiery speech produced a certain result. Or why some of the things he said resulted in a business contract. You are just told that it did and you have to run with that. Citizen Kane or Godfather II connected with the audience because you are clearly aware of the causality. Here, especially in the last scene you aren't sure. The adrenalin popping crescendo that Mani builds so well does not lead to a big enough payload in the end. You are not sure if it left you with a good taste in the mouth (it doesn't leave a bad taste either). A more judgemental director than Manirathnam might've delivered. Mani just hovers in the key moment of the movie and takes a familiar ambiguous and righteous stance. You wish that he hadn't done that. You wanted a better payload after all the build-up and you don't get it. But Manirathnam has been poor with endings all along. If Bombay was ridiculous, Kannathil was wierd, Yuva and Guru superimposes utopia over real world.
This movie does well to recreate the 1960-1980 ambience. The details to create a period movie effect, the Gujarat customs, et all have been appropriately researched and executed. I was hoping he would capture Bombay the way he did in Nayagan but then Rajiv Menon, inspite of being really good, is no P.C Sreeram. The Bombay trading floors, the 'english babu' personalities, the 'khadi clad' people remind you that India was a much different place a few decades ago. This movie neither has a fight sequence nor serious violence. There is rivalry ofcourse, a very curious one between a newspaper reporter and Guru. I am assuming that there were many reporters who were against Guru and Mani just focusses on one such reporter. Otherwise the rivalry is dispropotionate. Another interesting aspect is that the whole world of Guru is condensed to 4-5 people. His arch rival (MithunDa), the owner of 'Swatantra' newspaper, is also his father figure. MithunDa's daughter is Guru's god-child who marries Madhavan, another arch-rival of Guru. All key characters, conveniently, also have a deep emotional connection, when typically none would exist. Yet another Nayagan parallel (Naser Vs Kamal). The scene where he sees the wedding photo of Vidya Balan and Madhavan is so similar to the Nayagan scene except this one has a lesser impact. The world of Guru is condensed. It is condensed so to potray a greyer relationship status of 'I like you personally but its a different story profesisonally'. It showcases the conflicting emotions that many characters have to go thorugh to ensure professional success while being aware of the personal harm it can cause to those near to them.
On performances, Abhishek Bachan has probably done the best role of his career. His role constantly reminded me of the DeCapiro's role in The Aviator. If the Manirathnam effect stays true this is the best ever role he will get to perform ever. Kamal Hasan, in the 20 years following Nayagan, has done some splendid performances but he still can't do a movie that convinces everybody that he has left Nayagan behind. This is the 3rd biography that Manirathnam has come out with. Kamal Hasan and Mohan Lal have played Varadaraja Mudaliar and M.G.Ramachandran in the previous two biogrpahies that Mani has made. Abhishek has stepped on to an elite list. He reminds us so much of his father. Especially when he faces Roshan Seth and casually talks about his invalid right hand. When he ended the sentence with 'saala' - I almost thought it was a cut and paste of an Agnipath dialog. The rest of the cast, even if it includes MithnDa and Maddy have a negligible role to play. Aishwarya Rai can't act. If she can't act in a mani movie, she is pretty much done. She looks very beautiful though. This movie is out-and-out an Abhishek Bachan movie. Mani has a curious way of making a character grow old in a movie. Its not black-hair to all-grey hair. There is the paunch, the thick glasses, the semi-greyness. Iruvar and Nayagan had all these. Very believable. Abhishek's role is so parallel to both those roles. He comes across as a fine actor. He plays the ever positive 'bijinez' man, who will not take 'no' for an answer. A person who believes everybody else around him (including his father) is a fool. The scene where he is travelling to meet a 'honest' minister for a favor is my best scene of the movie. He sits nervously in the helicopter worried that he has only been granted a 10 minutes audience with the minister. His lackey reminds him that the minister is 'honest'. "Do some magic gurubhai" he implores, reconciled to the fact that Guru's success is because of his 'magic'. Guru is all smiles when he greets the minister, but it doesn't begin well and the minister begins to insult him. The smile never dissapears, but you know its hurting him inside. Then the way he turns around the situation - simply brilliant from conception to execution. A classic scene where an awesome director meets an excellent actor. Roshan Seth is one of those charming actors, I like so much. The amused smile that he gives to Guru, which sort of indicates 'Kid! i like you. you've got spunk', his presense is so wonderful. It is sad that such actors figure so less in this movie.
Songs shouldn't have been part of this movie. This album was the most dissapointing and poorest of Mani-ARR combos that I have ever seen. I didn't like most songs. I am pretty sure they would be horrible in Tamil and so I never bothered to listen to the Tamil version (Anybody reading this! Please dont watch the Tamil movie). I hate movies that have songs. It never fits. The sooner we get rid of this culture the better for us. Given that - nobody picturises songs better than Mani. He has reinvented the art of picturizing songs. Sadly here its all absent. There were points where I thought Mani was guessing 'maybe this is how songs are picturized in hindi'. Maybe he has no clue. The dances are awkward, the picturization isn't all that great and the songs look more out of place than it usually does in movies. In interviews, he keeps talking ever so often about losing interest in songs and mentioned that it is incredibly boring to picturize them. So maybe he has lost interest.
Overall Guru is an excellent movie. It is a typical 'elistist' movie from MR and you just have to sit down and wonder if the layman would understand a movie of this quality. In Guru, Bollywood would get to see a real 'hatke' movie put into a commercial bottle. No rich sets, no houses with 7400 bedrooms, nobody wears an expensivee dress, and there is minimal make up. The usage of English is negligible. Pure Hindi words are used. You could count a handful for 2-3 English words in this movie. It is as un-bollywood as it can get. Why is it good? Mainly, because this is an inspiring story. It gives us a historical perspective. It critisizes those archiac and stupid laws, the businessmen of the earlier era had to break, to modernize India. It is a no-nonsense and a very serious movie that keeps you interested and entertained till the end. In an interview MR mentioned that he has finally learnt Hindi enough to find out if the dialogs and the the way they are said meets with his expectations. With that learning curve accomplished, hopefully, in his next movie with Aamir Khan, he would deliver something close to his best. The incredible expectations surrouding every movie Manirathnam makes it is almost impossible for him to exceed even the least of those expectations. It is a curse he has to live with. In this case most of the audience do not know him or have no real expectations from him, which should help the cause of the movie. I wouldn't put this anywhere close to his best - 'Iruvar'. I would probably rank Guru 3rd among his 3 biographies.