Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

January 12, 2007

Capitalist calling

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:34 pm

January 12, 2007

Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Mithun Chakraborty, R Madhavan, Vidya Balan

Director: Mani Ratnam

From start to finish, from opening credits to end roll, director Mani Ratnam’s new film Guru is a more-or-less accurate documentation of late industrialist and Reliance Industries founder Dhirubhai Ambani’s life. All key incidents and several significant characters from Ambani’s rags-to-riches life-story are recreated in Ratnam’s film, with the occasional cinematic liberties thrown in.

Guru is after all, the story of an ambitious, middle-class man who had big dreams, a man who would stop at nothing to realise his dreams, a man often accused of using morally questionable means to achieve his goals.

Guru is the story of a man who believed not only in personal growth and personal success, but in empowering the very people who contributed to his success. A man who understood that the growth of an enterprise, a company, a corporation must reflect not only in its owner’s personal growth and success, but in the growth and success of its every shareholder.

You see, the similarities to Ambani’s life are far too many to be simply dismissed as coincidences. And yet Mani Ratnam insists Guru is no biopic of Dhirubhai Ambani. Then again, perhaps the filmmaker is just protecting himself and his film. Remember what happened years ago when word spread that a character in his film Bombay was inspired by Bal Thackeray?

As is the case with most Mani Ratnam films that are centred around seemingly larger themes — Roja,BombayDil SeKannathil MutthamitalAlaiypayuthe — Guru too, is on one level a love story. And here, in the case of Gurubhai Desai and his unflinchingly supportive wife Sujata, played by Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai respectively, it’s a beautiful, intimate, playful, passionate love story.

I mean, think about it, who else but Mani Ratnam could film a bedroom scene playfully? A grown couple in bed, husband gets frisky, next thing you know they’re smacking each other mischievously, and what a moment it makes for.

Now I know I’m stating the obvious when I say that nobody shoots songs the way Mani Ratnam does, but really it’s once again true in Guru. Whether its Mallika Sherawat’s item song set in Turkey, or Aishwarya’s introduction number, every song is part of the narrative and is used specifically to continue the story. But if there’s one song that sticks out like a sore thumb, then it’s that celebration number in the second half, right after the couple have become parents. It’s a song that doesn’t fit into the narrative and only slackens the film’s pace because it’s so purposeless.

The beauty of Mani Ratnam’s cinema is truly in its unpredictability. How he infuses humour or just creates wonderful moments out of the most ordinary situations. Look at that confrontation scene right before intermission. The one between Guru and his mentor, newspaper magnate Maneck Dasgupta, played by Mithun Chakraborty – it’s a scene, which in a film by any other director, would have been treated as a loud, screaming match, but here Mani Ratnam treats it gently, and yet he doesn’t lose the gravity of the moment.

My favourite scene in this film is the one in which Guru visits the home of the journalist who’s hell-bent on bringing him down. Once there, he discovers that the reporter, played by R Madhavan is married to his very dear friend, one who has a very special place in Guru’s heart. It’s an awkward moment between the three of them, and no doubt it’s now a complex relationship he shares with this journalist. But you have to see the simplicity and the beauty with which the director treats this scene.

It’s moments like these that hold together the film and your interest in it, even when the screenplay begins to drag.

The film’s second half moves at a sluggish pace, but I’m not sure how much Mani Ratnam can be blamed for that. You have to understand two things here: One, passage of time is always difficult to show on film. And two, it is after all the story of a man’s life, you can’t expect high-drama at every corner.

The mark of any good film — remember this always — is when all departments blend together seamlessly and no one department stands out from among the others. How many times have you felt that a film hasn’t worked for you, but the camerawork really impressed you? Or the music stood out? The thing about Guru and about most films by Mani Ratnam is the consistency in its technical quality.

Having said that, I’m still going to point out that Rajiv Menon’s cinematography is imaginative and also remarkable in the manner in which it effortlessly alternates depending on the mood — from eye-watering splendor in Aishwarya’s rain song, to dramatic swish-pans in the court scenes, to the lavish, epic-scale trolley movements each time a train pulls into a station.

As for the music, what can one say about A R Rahman’s score that hasn’t been said before, except that he seems to reserve his most versatile best for Mani Ratnam.

Of the film’s cast, Mithun Chakraborty playing the Gandhian newspaper baron, deserves mention for the dignity which he brings to the part, one that’s clearly inspired by Indian Express founder Ramnath Goenka. The actor in this film who truly blew my mind, is Aishwarya Rai. There is a silent grace, quiet nobility to her performance, which I have to admit I’ve never seen before. I think it can be safely said here that she’s truly a director’s actress. It’s very evident that Mani Ratnam is neither overwhelmed by her beauty, not intimidated by her star power and perhaps that’s why he treats her character so regularly.

Of course the film belongs to Abhishek Bachchan, the protagonist, Guru himself. And in all honesty, Abhishek rises to the challenge like never before. With varied expressions, with a change of gait, with studied body language, Abhishek plays both the younger Guru and the older man so impressively that you cannot help admit this is the best he’s been, in years.

Now if you want me to nit-pick, then I’ll admit the film as a whole, isn’t free of flaws. The climax, in my opinion, is a tad weak, and there are enough indulgences that could have been avoided. But still, Guru is an experience you must enjoy. Few filmmakers can translate their personal vision onto screen the way Mani Ratnam can. So that’s two thumbs up for Guru. It’s a must-watch for all.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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