Saturday, January 13, 2007

Guru: Review

Manirathnam, is one my favorite directors. Someone, I consider to be clearly the number uno as far mainstream Indian cinema is concerned. He is probably one of the few directors who would command a box-office opening worthy of a big star. There is a buzz about his movie isn't there? A lot of people are curious, skeptics of Indian cinema peep in and check out what he has to offer. In the recent past, he has increasingly shown interest in making Bollywood movies. I have never understood why. Bollywood is a market, which has a different culture and acceptability towards the artsy-commercial stuff that Mani tends to throw out. Before this movie began, I was curious if he would even connect with Bollywood sensibilities. He has. But in the process has become less of Manirathnam, which isn't really a good thing. Manirathnam, as he has done for the past 20 odd years, comes to this movie, armed with his magic kit, his unique narrative technique, and probably the best technicians any director can ever hope to have. And he weaves this tech-savvy magic on us that sets up the movie to begin on a different plane. Every time, I sit to watch a Mani movie on the first day, the nerve tingling experience is incomparable. I have literally grown up with his movies and it is a pleasure to follow the arc of his creative offerings so far. How will his title credits look like (It is sometimes white characters in black background, with deathly silence, in Yuva credits appear like cars racing through the road, in Roja they appear with machine gun chatter as background music. Here, credits appear 5-10 minutes after the movie has begun in a very creative 'newspaper printing' type of way and curiously gives a senior like MithunDa top credits)? Will this beat 'Iruvar' as his best movie ever? What has he got to say this time?

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.


You know who said...

Oru 'brother-in-law'ndra poruppu venaam. Padam vandhaachu poi paaru. Illai nayagan madirinnu blog podrathukku naanga paakara varaikkum wait panni. Un-hmmm. Idho innikkey odarein. Paathuttu vandhu ... apporom summa irukkein :)

Laksh said...

Nail on the head! Just back from watching Guru.. Frustrating to say the least. All that build up to leave me with nothing but questions in the end!

Nilu said...

What's with Guru reviews and bad language?

Anonymous said...

'Iruvar' would be very hard to beat ..


Anonymous said...

Mani ratnam is a very over-rated director. He has moved to hindi, because he felt he wasnt being appreciated in tamil cinema, and the people were tired of his repeated techniques in all his movie and his last few movies were a flop in tamil. Yuva was the only good movie he did after Roja. Bombay was too typed, with the irritating Aravind swami and the coy Manisha character. He has copied many scenes and camera techniques from Hollywood. The good thing about his copying is that he did it in the 80s and early 90s when people were not exposed much to holloywood, so he brought a new technique to indian cinema. But he continues to ride on his old glory way past his prime. It is sad to see him where he is today. Once he was the best director in india, and now he is considered as "one of the talented directors" . And you can see his "godfather" obsession continuing in Guru. As for his women characters, he can define only 2 types of women, and you cant tell them apart in different movies, either the totally shy kind like in Roja, Bombay, or the totally bubbly kind like in Gitanjali, Amala in anjali. It is sad to see such a director continuing with his flop techniques, which workd in the past because he copied them from hollywood and not thinking for himself.

tilotamma said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
iyengarkatz said...

it would be presumptuous to say kamal hasan has not been able to get away from that "nayagan" tag! for anyone who saw mahanadhi or guna or thevar mahan or anbae shivam, you can easily see nayagan was eons away! your comment seems more on the lines of trying or wanting to club abhishek's performance in the same league as that of nayagan! that will not happen in a million years for as you said this could be abhishek's personal best performance, but that still is not in the vicinity of kamal's acting.

please refrain from trying to place this movie be it in any aspect on the same quality of standards as nayagan or iruvar. those movies were eons ahead of this one.

this is nothing more than an ordinary masala fare from a talented director who seeks a hit movie more than anything else!

Anonymous said...

Caught this movie last night and I should say I was pretty disappointed esp wrt to Nayagan and Iruvar. There could have been a lot of things that were different.. This film left me very unsatisfied.

The songs are gems by themselves. The picturization was on the other extreme for these songs ..

Anonymous said...

climax a big diasppointment...right from the begining of the movie was anxiuos to know how he ends..and he disappointed me :(

well the journalist character is S.Gurumurthy of Indian express fame...he was one of the strongest opposition in press to Dhirubhai's tactics


Anonymous said...

My fav moment in the movie would be just before Guru collapses... The look on his face was just priceless...


tilotamma said...

oh my god --the waterfall intro for the heroine. Isn't that the oldest cliche in the book?

Does anyone know where those ruins are? And was that Nayakar Mahal dressed up in another one of the songs...

Anonymous said...

The last scene if a total lift off from AVIATOR.
Even yuva's screenplay is a copy from 'Amerros perros'
Any movie name it.. its taken from somehwere or other. how on earth does this guy get away with touching things supeficilly and then hitting the headlines?

sreekrishnanv said...

1. songs : although MR realized songs arent required in a movie - songs are the best way to shift from one period to another..... and all mani's movie songs shift time
like in Iruvar : Narumugaye says he acts in all movies, aayirathil naan oruvan & Kannaikatti kollathey says he shifts his theme in movies from Period film to Makkal enpakkam style, vennila vennila to say he starts likeinh Janaki ramachndran on the sets !!

if these songs are not there i think it would be tough to pass time.

2. mani's quality : yeah iruvar and nayagan had a good length content.... it was easy to dramatize ....
this story is tough to dramatize although he has done it it isnt that effective like iruvar or nayagan...

again it all depends on what you wanted to get out of mani movie - you can get lot of perspective to it .. he would never tie the ends and leave it upto you to tie it off..

and the movie looks great if you dont have iruvar or nayagan in mind !!

Ammit'sWorld said...

welll MR is a genuis but i was little disappointed with the kind of mixed message that sent with this moovie.
though AB was outstanding the way he put on the weight and carried him self as GURU.I must say i was impressed the way the story was narrated in the begining but as expected the END was disappointing.but that i would expect from MR...sorry to say but this Genius has failed a loads of time to give that final magical touch to his movie in the end.
but that doesnt take any credit from him.when i looked at the movie i got very impressed the way he shot scene ...i though Vidya BALAN was not required in the movie...instead MithunDa should have been given more space in the movie...MR deliberately stayed away from going into details of the trail carried out against GURU and how he actually FOOLED govt and managed to escape..but the spirit of the movie was well narrated.."NEVER DIE" attitude in GURUBHAI's life. and i thin khe deliberately tried to highlilght GURUBHAI instead of GURU...just to make a strong statement that this has been inspired by the end when AB says..30 seconds are still left this is the profit and this is called "Bijiness" that was just oo awesom..and few scene reminded me of great AmitabhBachchan as well..the wayAB talked , walked and the look over the shlder etc..etc.. were just awesom..

all and all it was good movie which lacked a better end and disaapointing performance from Ash, and needless songs...
but MR rocks..worth watching twice atleast..
Songs are useless...

Anonymous said...

nice but lengthy review.

Anonymous said...

Nobody gives a ball to Maniratnam these days...he had 2 big ideas and they were Nayagan and Geetanjali.
Later he spotted an opportunity in political tensions and made some big money with Bombay.
All these with the help of Ilayaraaja and ARR.
Thats it, he has been kicked out of Tamil industry and he seems to be trying his tricks with the Hindi audience, so much..I just wonder why all these bollywood superstars still act in his movies..god save their career.

Anonymous said...

hello like hueva u r, Hawkeye. songs are the most essential in a movie. if not seldom the movie has no life to it. the music is indeed super. ARR has always been one of the bez and his music rocks to the core man. well, ur review on guru is definitely nothing compared to his music and neither mani ratnam's direction and storyline. thx a lot!

Anonymous said...

I agree with other reviewers. Mani is over-rated. Watched this movie on the first day @ Famous Players. To tell you the truth I was not too pleased with the overall movie. The only consolation was Abhishek's acting. He was brilliant. Three of ARR's songs were good. The other songs were average. The background score was pretty mediocre. YSR is in fact doing a better job nowadays in this department than ARR. Rajiv Menon's cinematography was a total disappointment. So was Sreekar Prasad's editing. Technically, this movie is very very mediocre. But overall, you can watch this movie once. If I was to rate this movie, I'd give it at 6/10. Average stuff Mani!

Anonymous said...

In his famous story, "How Much Land Does a Man Need?," Tolstoy tells
of the ambitious peasant Pakhom, who, after gaining ever greater plots
of land, finally heard of a wonderful deal in a far-off country. He
travelled to the land of the Bashkirs and negotiated with the village
elder, who seemed a fool. The elder told Pakhom that he could have all
the land he wanted for a thousand rubles a day.

Pakhom did not understand. "What kind of rate is that - a day?" he
asked. "How many acres could that be?"
"We don't reckon your way. We sell by the day. However much you can
walk around in one day will be yours."

When Pakhon expressed that a man can walk around much land in one
day, the elder burst out laughing. "And all of it will be yours!" he
replied. But there was one condition: If Pakhom didn't return to the
starting point by sundown, the money would be forfeited.

Ecstatic, Pakhom spent a sleepless night. Rising at dawn, he went
with the villagers to the top of a hill where the elder put down his
hat. After placing his thousand rubles on top, Pakhom began walking,
digging holes along the way to mark his land. The going was easy and
he thought,"I'll do another three miles and then turn left. The land's
so beautiful here, it would be a pity to miss any."

Pakhom hurried throughout the morning, going out of his way to add
more land. But at noon when he looked back at the hill where he had
began, it was difficult to see the people. Maybe I have gone too far,
he worried, and decided he must begin to make shorter sides. As the
afternoon wore on, the heat was exhausting. By now his bare feet were
cut and bruished, and his legs weakened. He wanted to rest, but it was
out of question.

Pakhom struggled on, walking faster, then running. He worried that he
had been too greedy and his fear made him breathless. On he ran, his
shirt soaked and his throat parched. His lungs were working like a
blacksmith's bellows, his heart beat like a hammer. He was terrified.

All these strain will be the death of me.

Although Pakhom feared death, he couldn't stop. They'd call me an
idiot, he thought. When he was close enough to hear the Bashkirs
cheering, he summoned his last ounce of strength and kept running. As
he finally reached the hill, everything suddenly became dark - the sun
had set. Pakhom groaned. He wanted to stop, but heard the Bashkirs
still cheering him on. He realized that from where he was at the
bottom of the hill, the sun had set - but not for those on top. Pakhom
took a deep breath and rushed up the hill. Reaching the top, he saw
the elder sitting by the hat, laughing his head off. Pakhom's legs
gave way, and he fell forward grasping the cap.

"Oh well done," exclaimed the elder.

"That's a lot of land you've
earned yourself!"

Pakhom's worker ran up and tried to lift his master, but Pakhom was
dead. The worker picked up Pakhom's spade, dug a grave, and buried him
- six feet from head to heel, exactly the amount of land a man needs.


In a modern setting, Pakhom would fit in nicely on Wall Street. Or
Main Street. Perhaps he even stares at us each morning from our
bathroom mirrors. By asking post-mortem questions about Pakhom, let's
see if we can't catch a glimpse of what is wrong with our own lives. And our dreams, which films like Guru shows us.

Pakhom most likely died from a heart attack or a heat stroke brought
on by overexertion. But on another level, did he die of running? Does
this mean that running is bad for you? Of course not. Running is good
for you. Unless, of course, it is too much running. Too much running
can be bad. It can be even fatal.

Did Pakhom die of ambition? Does this mean that wanting land is
unhealthy? No, unless it is too much land. That, too, apparently can kill.

It is not wrong to run, to have ambition, to want a farm, to expand
the farm, to dig holes. Still, Pakhom died. Stone, cold dead. He died
from overload.

Overload is that point when our limits are exceeded. Tolstoy's story (written more than a century before Maniratnam made a movie to glorify a thug who almost bagged the Bharat Ratna)
is a powerful illustration of the reality of limits and the health
implications of exceeding them. The Bashkirs knew that Pakhom's body
had limits - but his greed did not.

In the same way, today many are harming themselves through the
temptation to do more than their limits will allow. Walking, running
and ambition are not necessarily unhealthy. Too much, however, is
universally unhealthy.
Overload is like that. The problem is not with load. The problem is
with over.

Generally speaking loads are a good thing. We would be hopelessly
bored without them. As a matter of fact, even though this is an
anti-overload post, I am a pro-load person. Load is not the enemy.
Overload is.

So if you are enchanted by watching Guru, don't get overloaded ;)

vsubrama said...

I am a believer in free-market capitalism. With all its downside its seems to be working better than other forms for markets (from quota raj to pure Socialism). It seems Mani Ratnam with his business school education (Bajaj) seems to believe that free-markets and competition is the panacea for India and that free capital market could in fact help the ordinary citizens (who in Guru are the Reliance share holders) share the fruits of the successes. In Yuva, he brought about the idea tha social revolt (students) is needed to break through barriers from Yuva. Overall, I see a visionary in Mani Ratnam as he sees the topography of issues confronting us much more clearly than many of the very bright people I have met.

Guru to me was was a great movie. Very thoughtful with wonderful screen play, music and direction. It shows the struggle of an ambitious Gujarati to break into the corporate world and build one of the most powerful companies in India. Mani has been a gutsy movie maker over the past decade touching on areas such as terrorism and communalism which no-one dared to touch at that time and with Guru, a bio-pic of a Indian business tycoon, he has shown that he is ready to follow his convictions even though the subject could be boring to much of the un-initiated audience in India.

The Guru character is beautifully built with shades of good and bad. The fact that humans are shades of of good and bad escapes most movie makers and I commend Mani on being truthful about what he portrayed.
The climax of the movie is quite simple - Guru explaining off his bad behaviour. I like the simplicity of that though I may not agree with Guru fully.

A terrific movie - Read up on Dhirubhai Ambani and watch the movie. You will love this movie.
4 * out of 5


Karthik Narayanan said...


It is probably a bit late to comment on a blog so old..

I am 25 and do not know much about dhirubai, but Madhavan's character was based on Gurumoorthy of Indian Express fame. Mithun da of course was RP Goenka himself...

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