A friend, who is also a film maker, enquired of me conspiratorially, prior to the release of the film ‘Guru’ as to what were my reactions of the promos or rather what were the expectations from the film. The pre- release buzz which surrounds a film based on rather nebulous criteria, word of mouth gossip, disgruntled colleagues, envious peers, or the plain diabolic variety of ‘industrywallahs, who revel in pulling down any effort they feel threatened by either by sheer enormity of the project or sincerity in its making, is often hugely erroneous.
Since I correspond to none of the above mentioned categories, my assessment was based on plain heuristics, if I may add, home grown. I had expected a ‘CitizenKane-ish’ film, dark, serious, perhaps boring. That it was meant to be major boost vehicle for AB’s son Abhishek, was another factor which added to the sentiment that here was a film which may attempt to take on more than it can chew, and leave the viewer dull and lifeless in a zombie like state ,once the curtains fell.
Lets just say simply, I erred. It came across as a film which was remorseless in its argument, unapologetic in its message. That to me was a refreshing, invigorating departure from the usual hackneyed affair churned out in Bollywood..daring to be different. No moral fable with a pretentious message for social upliftment .
I refused to view it as a venture which was biographical . No sirree.. No Dhirubhai Ambani legions meant to be niggling you while viewing . It unsettles you, brings on dynamics not meant to be considered and before you know it, you are criticising the logistics of events, frantically connecting fictitious names with their real counterparts, when all you should be doing is surrendering your senses to a creative attempt.
One of the most unnerving tasks for any film maker, is the onset of his film, when establishing his characters with conviction and in the light they are meant to be viewed in the next three hours. Mani Ratnam scored majorly in this area. The Turkey bit was shot with a certain innocent vivaciousness and energy. Of course the newness of the actual locale was a contributory factor.
However, what rankled me was the introduction of Aishwarya , with that rather inane song number in the rain after which she quicky runs home to change and elope!! Hello..why should we swallow that! It would have been so apt had the juxtaposition of ‘departures’ been dealt with synonymously. Consider this. Abhishek is leaving from Turkey , to return to his land, to fulfill his dreams . Aishwarya is leaving her home in search of her dreams as well. Both were destined to meet on the same train a few minutes later( screen time) Juxtaposing departures, with synchronocity of aspirations.. Perfect. So why was not this available opportunity readymade in the script, not exploited? It would have given Ash a substantive entry point. I would hate to think that inclusion of a song sung on top of a rock, or behind another boulder in the rain was the raison d’etre of such a crucial decision…sigh..all they had to do was ask..me Kidding..Criticising another’s work is soo much simpler.
Barring this , the story now goes on to graph the journey of a spirited, uneducated, village boy, never a wannabe, but made up of Alexander’s grit of conquering the world, as it were, and the ups and downs of his life. Ofcourse certain situations were ‘filmi’ and too good to be true . But, alls fair if the sum total is innovatively different.
For the first time, the pair of Ash and Abhishek, so madly, badly, deeply in love otherwise, translated into an on screen chemisry which kept one rivetted. They were endearing and lovable as a couple . The song ‘aye hairathey’ lent magically to the aura of a romance which brought a smile to your face and a longing in your heart. Mani Ratnam ..vintage..most certainly.
Despite the angry protests of the ‘rationalising of unlawful activities’ kinda outburst from most critics of the film, to me it seemed hardly worth reckoning, both from a cinegoers pov and that of a citizens.. Without going off tangentially into an economic reform tirade, one can say with utmost placidity, if laws that encourage growth are promulgated with a vision to encompass masses, lawlessness would not be an option. ‘Laissez faire’ a viable option, capitalism an intended goal. I think that is what the final speech of Abhishek is meant to convey when the parallel with Mahatama Gandhis civil disobedience movement is drawn in almost sanctimonious exemplificartion, of his modus operandi.
Just a thought.. If indeed the occurrence in the 80’s when Sr. Ambani was recriminated for abuse of law, had resulted in conviction..there would have been no Reliance! So what does this speak of.. archaic laws and blinkered execution of the self same.
What stuck out as a sore thumb was the character of Vidya Balan…both in its scripting and her acting abilities. Cynically speaking it was meant to underline the humane side of ‘Guru Bhai’..the almost angelic saintly, philosophical man who is a businessman, married to his set of ethics but not without the strain of a compassionate, caring human being first, with no hint of revenge or retribution..in stark contrast to ‘Nanaji’..I suppose. But where was the need to bring on a child who suddenly grows up into someone on a wheel chair, and agrees to marry the single person on this planet who has vowed to destroy her Guru Bhai! Huh??
Abhishek Bachchan under the hawk like supervision, guidance, and Direction of Mani Ratnam, has given a performance which has been his best so far. It has at once catapulted him into a muliticrore star bracket, and placed him along the erstwhile list of the star- actors of Bollywood. Harangued by the burden of being Sr. Bachchans son must have been a daunting task. The albatross is free from his neck. He can look forward to a glorious future..personally and professionally.
Albeit with a caveat. Its no big secret that this enterprise was author backed, sharpened to perfection for showcasing his talent, with the help of a a master craftsman. Will Abhishek be successful sans these? Will he be able to sustain his credibility? Will a less talented Director mange to extricate a performance worth the mention? This remains to be seen.. .his next release will tell all!
Aishwarya Rai, despite criticism from various quarters , has remained a personal favourite. Her performance in “Hum dil de chuke sanam’ and ‘Raincoat’ had more or less amply proven her mettle. But sadly, often beauty impedes the recognition of talent. Its as if the two are mutually exclusive..If you are beautiful, you cannot be as talented..Why? ..Just… Well , that jinx has been broken presumably. She pulls off an underplayed, sincere, mature performance, with just the right tenor of mischief in the eyes and pride in the accomplishments of ‘her man’. One can almost hear the briefing by the Director here. Lets face it..every actor needs a Director to lift the perfrmance form the mundane and plastic to one which takes it to dizzy heights.
The rather stridently bold characterisation of the ‘woman behind the man’ Sujata,was brought out brilliantly. What a relief and refreshing diametrically opposite stand to not just pathetic representation in Bollywood down the years, but those regressive tele seials. Here was a woman, who preferred to be in the background, one step behind her man publicly, but make no mistake about it, she was a stough as nails. The scene when Gurubhai collapses on the floor, struck with paralysis, Sujata responded, with ‘ keep breathing, while I get an ambulance’.. No wailings, harried dramtics, though with tension writ large in her body language, she handled the situation with stoicness and adeptness, so remarkable..if not exemplary.. An Ardhangini in the truest connotation of the term, where she was a ‘fifty percent partner’ not just economically, but sharing centrestage with her husband both for the brickbats and the bouquets.
The ‘bedroom scene’ was a moment in cinema which I will never forget. Stripped of pretensions, the two in complete abandon , innocence, naivete as if frolicked, intuitively, naturally, unaffectedly.’ with an undercurrrent of passion running through. I wonder who the creator of that scene was. It difficult to script a moment of the kind..it either organically grows on the sets as a result of chemistry or in a rare second of innovation, or then is a replica of a personal experience. It culminated beautifully in the ‘jhoola sequence’.
Mani Ratnam, is one emancipated male..deserved of a tribute..in more ways than just the maker of a technically brilliant film. Anyone who attempts to break away from the shackles of stereotypes and risks presenting a woman, otherwise conventional, in a passive aggressive stance, strong, determined, non flummoxed, is worthy of being lauded. While the man behind it may have been Mani sir, yet Ashs histrionics cannot be swept aside. She underplayed the character, with just the right dose of fire in her eyes, and a stiffness in her body which spoke volumes. This is the tenor of women that embodies the truth as prevalent today or rather as ought to be the paradigm of woman hood.
Mithun Chakraborty is unrecognisable from his ‘disco dancer days’. One is compelled to recall however his advent into Bollywood. He was A Mrinal Sen protege in ‘Mrigaya’..remember that powerhouse performance? In ‘Guru’ as ‘Nanaji’, the honest to a fault editor of a Newspaper who prides himself in his veracious demeanour and upright sensibilities, he came out TOPS. Not a single scene which struck one as being artificial, contrived, or forced. He lived his character..which is truly noteworthy, considering his long hiatus from films..But then again only goes to prove ..Once an Actor, always an Actor.
The performance of Roshan Seth deserves special mention. His screen time may not have exceeeded 10 minutes. Yet, the sheer reality and authenticity of his emotion, made you believe as if it was an Honorable Judge Of The Supreme Court, whose presence awed you.. Actors like him come but once in a while. His every nuance, from the lift of an eyebrow to the hint of a smile conveyed magnificently…In humble praise..Your Honor.
Cinematography by Rajiv Menon was world class..to say the least. It lent remarkably to the tone, ambience, mood of the film, almost as if speaking a language, subtle and yet unmistakable.
Although based in Mumbai factually and scriptwise, Shooting for the film took place in Turkey and Badami, Melkote, Karnataka, as well as in Chennai and Madurai, Tamil Nadu.(wiki) and other locations except.. Mumbai. What this must have translated into budget wise is anybody’s guess. To recreate a city outside of its periphery is an astronomical extravaganza. Suffice to say that most films to day have a budget of what might have been just the CG (computer graphics), DI ( digital intermedia) cost of sets , involved in this film. Dichotomies at work even in the Film Industry are tell tale of those of India as a whole!
To surmise, Mani Ratnam, allegedly inspired, has dealt out a hand that insiduously proves that he is one of the Gurus in our industry..a man who knows fully well the worth of his wares and has honed his skill at selling it adroitly.
Rating : 4/5