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Maniratnam's Guru - Movie Review

Maniratnam (also credited as Mani Ratnam) broke into the film scene like a wonderboy and promised milk and honey for audience with an appreciable IQ. People who've stopped visiting theatres playing Indian cinemas citing quality as an example thought again. People who had an eye for photography, an ear for audiography and a sense for direction had reasons to rejoice. When formula movies were the order of the day, he framed his own equations. Lesser directors openly copied him; and guess what - even the copies made money. As the audience evolve, it is expected that the directors too evolve and keep surprising, shocking, treating and/or challenging the audience. Maniratnam, in his last three movies, has refused to hone or reinvent his skills. As a result, we get a product that we have come to expect from Mani, meaning the equations he framed haven't changed. And this time, meeting expectations is mildly disappointing.

Now, the movie. Guru is about Gurukant Desai, an ambitious man. He is the kind of man who would plan to conquer the world if you given him enough time and resources. Born in a middle-class family in rural Gujarat, he has plans that makes his school headmaster father frown. Not the brightest bulb in the class, he discontinues his education to go to Turkey where he works for Shell. Though he steadily ascends the corporate ladder, he comes back home where he wants to be his own boss. He marries his friend's sister Sujatha so that he can use the dowry as his capital. Soon he moves to Mumbai, the ever-happening place where he reaches pinnacles of materialism while steadily slipping in his ethics and morals.

His friend of previous generation and a well-wisher, Manikdas Gupta finds Guru's means of acquiring power and money abominable. Being the editor of a newspaper, he hires a young journalist - Shyam Saxena, to expose Guru. This results in a clash that reflects on the emotional proximity of the two families. But what's interesting is that Sujatha, who is portrayed as a woman of resolve is not shown to condemn Guru's powerplay. So, did she silently accede to the illegal means he resorted? Maniratnam doesn't even open up that question. Interestingly, when Guru is prosecuted, she says that she is willing to go to jail with him as she is his fifty percent, be it life or business.

First, the +ves: I seriously doubt if Abhishek Bachchan will deliver a better performance than this one in his life. He may act for another forty years, but my hunch is that he will always be remembered as Guru Bhai. He has a smile that's both boyish and manly at the same time. His charisma, though not infectious, is good enough to justify his step-out, march-forward attitude. If there is anybody who claims to rival him in the acting category, it is Mithun Charkavarty. He easily surpasses Abhishek in a few scenes and is very solid through out. He should be given two trophies in the supporting category - that's how strong his performance is. Aishwarya plays a subdued part very well.

Samir Chanda and Sabu Cyril recreate the streets, houses, cars, switchboards and other paraphernalia or 60's and 70's creditably. Rahman continues to sizzle us with songs, though not all of them get their screentime, which in quite unfair. Except for Iruvar, all of his projects with Maniratnam has a background score that doesn't stand up to the movie. His background pieces are peppy, moody, melliflous, tappable... but they don't have a heart. Still, they serve the narration and Rahman deserves a respectable chunk of Guru's success. Sreekar Prasad, another long-time collaborator of Maniratnam does an impressive job. It's never easy to edit biopictures - they span decades and Prasad makes sure that the narration isn't fractured.

On to the -ves: Screenplay. To be precise, the placement and the picturization of songs. We begin with a song, and soon we have another one, just like in Alaipayuthey. Mallika Sherawat belly dances for 'Mayya Mayya'. I wrote the following in my piece on the cast for the movie:
For a director of Maniratnam's stature, he can do away with item numbers which feature beautiful female forms in meagre clothes. Is that really necessary when you have a strong storyline?

Mani thinks otherwise. Perfect shots of her cleavages for about three minutes. Yeah, that's very important for the rest of the story!! I wrote the following in my piece on the songs:
Though my music video exposure is limited, I'm tempted to say something stupendous like Maniratnam must be one of the five best music video directors in business today. I find Mani extremely tasteful when it comes to giving visual meanings to songs.

May be it's time for me to take it back. What happened to the Mani who gave us 'Thoongadha vizhigal' on a shoe-string budget with brilliant lighting. What happened to the Mani who gave us 'Chinna thayival' who touched us with mesmerizing directorial touches. And whatever happened to the youthful, zesty Mani who shot 'Fanaa' in his fifties. Hmmm. And then I feared this:
My guess is that a lesser director would have used 'Barso Re' to introduce the Aishwarya Rai character to the audience - soaked in rain and enjoying nature with a merry tune. I hope Maniratnam disappoints me.

What a shock to see Aishwarya introduced this way. How cliched the technique is? But the shock really is Mani resorting to a cliche which even debutantes are thinking as old-fashioned.

The second let down is also credited to Maniratnam, this time for his direction. The love-blossoming between Sujatha (Aishwarya Rai) and Guru (Abhishek Bachchan) is very reminiscent of his earlier movies. In a scene, Guru drags Sujatha from a vegetable market, runs across the street, climbs up the stairs and enter their home. I was able to predict the flow of the scene right from the first moment. His directorial touches have become by-the-numbers. The tone & execution of the rise of Guru as a business tycoon had tinges of Nayagan and Godfather II. There is no blatant plaigiarism here and may be he drew heavy inspiration. But as the story unfolded, I found it all familiar, somewhere deep inside me. I'm sure a master story teller would have avoided that feeling in me.

With so many close-ups and hand-held jerky shots, I don't know what was running through Rajiv Menon's mind. May be he wanted us to read Guru's mind through all those close-ups, but I just found it a little distracting. And that not-so-slow motion, which leaves the images blurred when the camera moves during the final court scene didn't go down well with me. When the dialogues and acting are powerful, why resort to such unnecessary gimmicks? Then comes the romantic subplot between Shyam (Madhavan) and Meenu (Vidya Balan). When these two characters are inadequately developed, did we need a close-up lip-lock scene between them? It seems like another one of those item scenes, just to pull in the first rows for a repeated viewing.

I recommend this movie, and it's a strong recommendation if you haven't been introduced to Maniratnam before. If you're like me, seen almost all of his movies at least twice, and that too intensely, you may find a lot of parallels here in the way characters are developed and the way the screenplay proceeds. I'll quote a part of a review from IMDb:
In a world of constant innovations, creativity and changes, in a generation where you see movies like "Pi" and "The Fountain" being made by the same director, where there is no limit to ideas galore., I do not differentiate between Mani Ratnam and Karan Johar if what they do at the end of the day - is the same old time tested 'safe bet' 'multi star' formula. Good cinema is dying in the hands of stars and entertainment value. Mani Ratnam is dead, a fan for over 15 yrs has just resigned.

I haven't resigned yet. Indian cinema industry has always been severly short of intelligent directors. With an industry churning out close to a thousand movies every year, and that too which generates a handful of super hits, it's saying something about the state of the Indian movies in general and the taste of the mass in particular. With age catching up, I don't know if Mani's happy to be one of those 'one of those' directors who don't strive for creative intelligence. If Maniratnam does not take his ardent fans into consideration while beginning his next project and continues to be a cookie-cutter, I may soon have to resign.

P.S: Gurubhai rhymes with Dhirubhai, right? More on that in my next post.

Update: Here's the post on Guru Vs Dhiru.

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6 Responses to “Maniratnam's Guru - Movie Review”

  1. # Anonymous Anonymous

    The movie is getting rave reviews for Abhishek Bachchan's acting, Rahman's music, and Mani's direction. Amitabh Bachchan in an TV interview said, " I have seen almost all movies of Mani Ratnam, but this has got to be (one of) his best". He also said his son has given the best performance of his life and the music was magical!!

    Arun
    http://kingofchennaii.blogspot.com  

  2. # Anonymous Anonymous

    i feel nowadays most of hindi movies are overhyped and its sad mani's overhyped movie doesnt live upto it.  

  3. # Anonymous Anonymous

    Good review. The final court scene was such a let down, Abishek's argument was preposterous and dramatic. Madhavan and vidhya balan were superfluous. And borrowed ideas from his previous movies were palpable. Definitely NOT the best of Mani Ratnam. He could do alot better with a simple storyline and some fresh faces.  

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  5. # Blogger Sreekumar

    Brilliant predictive review there on the movie by hearing the soundtracks!
    Yes, I too am saddened that a director of Mani's caliber had to dilute his talent to do what he thinks is "catering to the masses taste". Infact, he should have used his already established reputation to refine the masses' taste to what he thinks is better.  

  6. # Blogger Prasad Venkataramana

    Sreekumar,
    I think his movies are refined when compared to what's available for mass consumption. He should be trying to treat the refined senses of his fans, who, I think have a better cinema sense - which he fails to do.  

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