Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai
Direction: Mani Ratnam
Don’t care a fig, just think big. A boy from a Gujarat hamlet wants to do his own gig. Off he goes to Turkey. And after some malarkey with a Mallika-e-Istanbul, lands a cushy job for which he must wear a tie. Not done. So, Hamlet returns to the aridlands to bake his own apple pie. Do or die.
That’s writer-director Mani Ratnam’s Guru – a more than obvious but unacknowledged biopic on the rise, fall and rise of Dhirubhai Ambani. Wonderful. It’s quite a story salt-`n’-peppered with romance, high drama and unbridled ambition, filmed with a reliance on research and authenticity.
In fact, you’re hooked right off because no other living director today has more style, sass and sizzle than Mani Sir. The opening reels move from black-and-white (like the director’s Dalapathy) to the earth colours of the rural stretches, the Istanbul streets and then finally to the vibrancy of Bombay in the 1950s, adapting to the business-ops thrown up in independent India.
Absolutely goal-oriented, Gurukant (Abhishek Bachchan) manipulates a dowry-cum-wedding with a restless young woman (Aishwarya Rai). In the city of dreams with her, it’s tough going for the wannabe textile tycoon -- till he finds a bemused patron in a newspaper baron (Mithun Chakraborty). The adversary of the moment, a Parsi aristrocrat (slick hair, cool linen suits), is squashed. No gift vouchers for guessing the allusions to real life personalities. Very easy.
Throughout, the camera pirouettes around Gurubhai, affording an intimate glimpse into the heart and mind of a man who would be a visionary – never mind if he must adopt means that range from the fair to the very foul. Tables turn when he is attacked by the very hands which once fed his ego. In fact, the surrogate father-son relationship with the newspaper baron is edged with irony. Even when they are at principles drawn, there is a residue of emotion and caring.
For a major part of its length, the rags-to-riches dramalogue, is impressive. Indeed, you’re amazed by the attention lavished on period detail, the flashes of humour between Guru and his wife in the bed chamber, the painstakingly created set designs and the mood-accentuating background score.
Alas, a sense of ennui sets in towards the latter half when the script becomes much too verbose. Yakety yak yak. Also, there is far too much dithering over the attraction between the news baron’s physically challenged grand-daughter (Vidya Balan) and a muck-raking reporter Raju (Madhavan). Balan and Madhavan, believe it or collapse, even go in for a Dhoom 2-style liplock. Mwaaah.
Gratifyingly, the dramatic intensity returns in the finale. Gurukant delivers a volatile speechlet about the state of the nation. You’re shaken as well as stirred... albeit not without questioning Ratnam’s message – as long as public welfare is on the agenda, it doesn’t matter if you use bribes and cross legal limits. Really?
Be that as it may, Guru is certainly leagues ahead of the B- to Z-grade movies you’ve been squirming through at the ‘plexes lately. Rajeev Menon’s international calibre cinematography, the expert editing by Sreekar Prasad and AR Rahman’s excellent music score are the fringe benefits.
The dialogue is a bit shaky though, like the hyperbolic equation with the sacrifices of Mahatma Gandhi in the climax address to a stern-faced jury, headed by a chameleonic Roshan Seth no less.
Of the cast, Vidya Balan is wasted. Madhavan is starch-stiff. Mithun Chakraborty is passable. Arya Babbar, as Gurukant’s brother-in-law is awkward, suddenly exiled by the screenplay midway as if had overstayed his welcome.
On the other hand, Aishwarya Rai is marvellous, handling complex scenes with grace and empathy. Above all, the enterprise belongs to Abhishek Bachchan. He is astonishingly nuanced and unwaveringly forceful in his career-best performance after Yuva.
Ratnam and Bachchan Jr have given you a film that’s as close to life as say, business is to politics. For the discerning viewer, satisfaction is guaranteed.. and some more.