'Gurubhai Gurubhai aavya chhe...dhoom dhadhaka laavya chhe...gurubhai gurubhai aavya chhe...dhoom dhadhaka laavya chhe' (gurubhai has arrived, bringing the fireworks along with him). This ridiculous anthem blares at full blast while our protagonist marches on, literally and figuratively. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of Guru, a strange movie where an often brilliant attention to detail sits awkwardly with stylisations and cliches that would be more at home in a K-soap.
I was disappointed by Mani Ratnam's much awaited new release. Perhaps, it was a case of failed expectations as most of my friends, who have otherwise impeccable taste, loved it, and throughout the movie I was wondering why. There are things to be lauded in Guru - it is ideologically powerful, making a case for economic freedom, it is as true to reality as a fictionalised biopic can be, it is balanced in its portrayal of the lead protagnists, and the attention to a few details is staggering, for eg. the old railway compartment, the cloth market, the vintage cars etc. However, it never makes for a compelling drama. Not once in the movie is the viewer ecstatic, saddened, provoked to think deeply, or driven to rage. Guru is overlong, badly edited and failed to catch my attention for any sustained periods.
The screenplay leaves much to be desired, and never allows the actors to move beyond certain stylistics, acting-wise. AB Jr. is always slightly goofy early on, always slightly defiant later, Madhavan is always relaxed and self assured, and all the male characters are suitably stoic in death or defeat, as necessitated by the stereotype of the iron-willed male protagonist. Bleh. The songs are totally out of place, and stop the narative flow in a very irritating manner, with a tuneless ditty called 'Ek Nahin Do' being the worst offender. The climax with our beloved Gurubhai(he of the inane background score fame) is particularly tepid as it is a courtroom drama where the protagonist raves and rants a lot but never inspires, for he is a defendant in a case and never really makes a defence for himself. Worse, the scene is shot with all the cliches that would make Ekta Kapoor and KJo proud - there is a percussive background score, the camera zooms in and out of the faces of the jury (the villains about to have a change of heart, apparently), the protagonist is surrounded by stream of consciosuness voices and images, there is the obligatory public applause that gradually reaches a crescendo, and the jury pronounce Gurubhai a 'genius thug' with a loving indulgence. How could you Mr Ratnam? How could the man who gave us the most memorable melodaramatic climax of the 90s in Dil Se direct this kind of drivel? How?
AB Jr is good in the title role, depicting the transition from wonder-eyed and strong-willed to defiant and strong-willed in an adequate, though predictable manner. Aishwarya is ok, her attempts at playing an independent-minded girl and woman good, her attempts at getting into the skin of the character(while speaking Gujarati, for instance) palpable. MithunDa gives us glimpses of the actor who won the national award in his very first movie, with a stirring portrayal of Manek Gupta(or Ram Nath Goenka, simply) - his ego, his quirks, his character, his righteousness, his self-righteousness and the ultimate pointlessness of his rather moralistic fight. Madhavan is good again, but he is too much of a side-plot to make any real impact (incidentally, can anyone tell me who he's playing - S Gurumurthy or Arun Shourie). Vidya Balan is charming, and kisses on-screen with realism, ease and affection, with neither the hypocritical awkwardness nor the calculated sleaze that Bollywood smooches usually carry. The music, except for two great songs, is nothing to write home about.
Guru is ideologically strong and high on realism, however as a movie, as a work of art and of entertainment, it fails on many counts. Average by any standards and mediocre by Mani Ratnam's.
Rating - 5/10