Maniratnam is at his best whenever he tries to make a bio-pic. Though I am not a big fan of ‘ Nayagan ’, it is still considered as a classic and Mani’s best by many. And we have the magnificent ‘ Iruvar ’ which is one of my all time favorites. So, has Mani done it again with ‘ Guru ’ by making a movie on the life of a business man? Well, almost. Mani has to be lauded just for choosing to do a movie on a business man. The character here is more grey and realistic as Mani captures all shades and facets of his character unlike a Velu Nayakar in Nayagan.

‘Guru’ is about a business man Gurukanth Desai and the journey of reaching his dream of making his company, the biggest in India. The movie is clearly split into two acts, the first act is about how a small village boy goes to Turkey to earn money, and returns back to India and become a business man. The second act is about how he handles the press and in specific a journalist who challenges his success by revealing all his illegal acts that made this quick success possible. Finally, the movie reaches a controversial end with Guru giving his own justification for his acts.

It is always tough to write a screenplay for a plot which traces the 50 years life of a man. The writer has to pick the right moments in this long journey which is just like a summary or a preface to a novel but which should give as much information as one would have got by reading the entire novel. Picking such right moments and placing it right one after another without loosing the rhythm and pace of the movie is really a toll task. Especially when it is an Indian movie we also need place for songs. As Maniratnam always say in his interviews, this and his is a kind of cinema which is a fiction that is firmly rooted in reality and yet slightly dramatized to fit into the commercial format.

Everything happens very fast in the first half of the movie and soon Guru become very big in his business. One may ask how it is possible for someone to come up in life so quickly. At first, he is shown taking photo with some 50 people around him, cut to next shot Guru taking photo with 500 people, cut to next shot Guru taking photo with 5000 people and that is Mani’s way of telling Guru’s growth. It is not necessary to show every single incident to show how it all happened. For that, Mani has used few scenes in the starting itself. It strongly registers the attitude of Guru in our mind and so it is not difficult to believe how everything else that followed became possible. The scene in which he wins a gambling in Turkey and especially the reason for his decision to marry Aishwarya reveals to a major extent on how far he can go to make money in his business. After these few passing shots and quick moments, there are no answers given for audience’s questions like how, when and why. There need not be. But Guru is not shown in a totally bad light either, he is a very affectionate person, has his own sentiments for who have helped him to reach this height. Guru is a perfect grey character portrayed on screen so for like how most of us now in reality are.

Don’t think that it is a dry documentary on a business man’s life. The movie is typical Maniratnam with all his usual clichés. An item number, heroine dancing in rain, romance between the lead pair, their childish conversations, a public gathering or meeting in rain, smart one-liners, Youngman lifting an old lady (his mother or grandma), tight close-ups etc., especially the song picturisation and their placement in the screenplay. Half of every song is fantasized and the other half goes to the background allowing the screenplay to proceed further. Expect the unexpected from the way the songs are used in the movie.

The movie slips slightly in the second half. For logical reasons, Guru is made to have a soft corner for Vidya Balan’s character. It is like saying, "since Madhavan (who plays the journalist and who is the only threat to Guru’s business) is Vidya’s husband, Guru couldn’t harm Madhavan for stopping him". But Mani cleverly keeps this as a subtext and never anyone in the movie really say it. Again, it is a cinematic cliché in Mani’s style. Also the mood curve of each scene in the second half is rather unconventional, the serious and sad mood of every scene is lost to some extent when one of the characters does or says something light and funny. Though I am not complaining, I was not comfortable when I saw it. I couldn’t judge whether I like it or not because I don’t see the sensitivity being lost completely. It turned out like a Rahman’s composition; I think it will take time to grow. “Ek Lo Ek Muft” though a very catchy folk number becomes a speed breaker. I thought the romantic scenes between Madhavan and Vidya also hinders the pace for a while. Inspite of a good performance by Madhavan as an honest and courageous journalist, the character that he plays which is very important for the movie lacks completeness. There is something missing in the character. We don’t see him as someone who is as strong as one who can fight a highly influential man like ‘Guru’.

Finally, movie comes to its terms in the climax. I don’t know whether that is the stand of Maniratnam, but if you ask him he would say, that he doesn’t take any stand and Guru speaks from his own perspective. Of course, it seems right from Gurukanth’s perspective. It again goes back to “Nayagan” philosophy, ‘One can do anything if it is for the welfare of the people’. It is just that the man who did all wrong things for people’s welfare was a local gangster in Nayagan but here he is a business man. Yet it is not that simple, there is a notable difference between Guru and Velubhai. Guru’s selfishness earned good for so many people but that is not the case with Velubhai and that is why Guru is more realistic than Velubhai.

Abhishek Bachan easily carries the film on his shoulders. He is a usual Maniratnam’s hero full of energy and enthusiasm, smart and funny with an infectious personality. He is believable and convincing as a business man. I worried about how he would perform as an old man but Abhishek does a neat job all through and of course he reminds us Nayagan Kamal Haasan in lot of frames. Aishwarya looks too sophisticated for a small village girl role but her screen presence and on screen chemistry with Abhishek helps to pull off the character quite well. Mithun Chakravarthy expresses mix of affection towards Guru and hatred towards his actions very well. Vidya balan has nothing much to do.

Maniratnam’s movies always score high in technical department. Rajiv Menon’s cinematography doesn’t disappoint the audience who shouted when his name flashed in title card. Samir Chandha has authentically re-created the narrow streets of Bombay in Chennai. Songs of A.R.Rahman are already a big hit. Background score is also good. ‘Gurubhai’ and ‘Jaage’ runs all through the movie effectively as Guru’s themes.

What else, a single viewing of Maniratnam movie is definitely not enough to judge it fully. As I said, Maniratnam movies take time to grow. I am going to watch the movie again.


ramprabu said...

Suresh...I like your last few lines in the review. Single viewing is not enough. I want to see some more reviews from you which covers all the perspective!

Anonymous said...

Can't figure out if you liked the movie or not.If everyone goes to the film twice to understand it, no doubt mani has a huge blockbuster on his hands

Harish said...

Well, having seen most of Mani Ratnam's movies, this surely is a disappointment. It does not require multiple viewings to understand that this is a half-baked story.
None of the characters are fully developed. Its as if the story-writer, in the course of writing the story, did not know what to write next and consequently skipped quite a few things.

Vidya Balan's and Madhavan's roles could have been done away with. They don't add up to the story. The intense court scene is cut midway to accommodate the scene showing Vidya Balan's funeral. This isn't Mani to me.And Madhavan's fight against Guru doesn't look credible at all.

And the climax, I have no doubt, is one of the weakest Mani Ratnam has come up with in his career. Mani's undoing is, I believe, he has tried to tell a really long story in a very short period of two and a half hours.

And please do not tell me that this movie is more realistic than Nayagan. Nayagan is way too ahead of this movie for comparison. It is one of the best movies you can ever get to see.

Suresh Kumar said...

ram - anon : By saying i have to watch it again, i mean i like the movie. It is not understand the movie more but to enjoy it more.

Harish - You got me wrong. I just said that Guru is a more realistic character than Velubhai which doesn't mean that Guru is a better movie than Nayagan. I compared Nayagan and Guru, because both these characters and even the movie share a lot in common and in no way i intended to degrade Nayagan by doing so. I know Guru has more flaws than Nayagan but that doesn't stop me from enjoying Guru. And i accept, Mani went totally wrong with Madhavan-Vidya subplot

Anonymous said...

do include me in the list if you are planning to watch it again with out roomies -- Sarathy

Anonymous said...

oops ..I meant to say with our roomies -- sarathy

Anonymous said...

pretty good review. But I completely disagree about Guru being shown with a lot of grey-ness to the character compared to Nayagan. First of all, in Nayagan the question - neenga nallavara, kettavara? is left unanswered. Here Guru essentially triumphs in the end.

In Nayagan, there are more scenes of the hero acting illegally or immorally - Smuggling scene, breaking the household items scene, threatening the doctor, beating up the cop and so on. In Guru, it is the complete opposite. His version of visiting the officials house hold ends up in a non-violent protest as opposed to the breaking up of things shown in Nayagan. His version of beating up the enemy - Mithun's car - was explained away as being done by his friend(?). The smuggling that was shown was also not shown as done by Guru, but shown as being staged by Madhavan. There was enough ambibuity built into the scene that it would not be shocking if someone comes out of the movie thinking Madhavan is lying to destroy Guru. Guru is shown as white as possible and the only black attached to his character are all done through words - the newspaper clippings and accusations in the climax. That is one of the reasons why the climax lacked impact for me and I did not feel anything strongly for/against Guru. It was a total letdown for me.


Suresh Kumar said...

Everthing need not be shown. How can someone who agrees to marry a girl for the dowry money be white? It is said and unsaid, it is to be understood. I felt him very much grey while watching the movie. But grey isn't bad. Right?

Anonymous said...

Ditto, Suresh. Something I'm crying out loud whenever I hear the criticism that Guru is shown in an undeservingly good light in the film.

Surely, the treatment isn't any close to being as rich and layered as an Iruvar, but certainly it's more matured, unapologetic than Nayagan (and most importantly amoral unlike the latter).

Can't we take him for what he is? I mean, he is just one crooked businessman, that's all. Wonder who's being biased and judgemental!

SamAruna said...

Guru jis,

I saw the movie as a complete layman just trying to see how the treatment has gone to show the life of arguably the most controversial and triumphant self confident businessman of our era.

And I was moved by the movie. The movie occupied my brain and sleep.

Get the original DVD and watch it at home and I hope most will appreciate the movie better.

What great relief to see Mithun in the movie acting instead of in a character that speaks Aiyayo!

R. Sathyamurthy