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Home»Features»Guru turns 15: Mani Ratnam, Abhishek Bachchan’s 2007 film was cleverly manipulative»

Guru turns 15: Mani Ratnam, Abhishek Bachchan’s 2007 film was cleverly manipulative

Guru, which completes 15 years of release on 12 January, is a classic underdog tale about one man’s aspirations

Guru turns 15: Mani Ratnam, Abhishek Bachchan’s 2007 film was cleverly manipulative
  • Pratishruti Ganguly

Last Updated: 09.22 AM, Jan 11, 2022

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Guru, Mani Ratnam’s 2007 film about the meteoric rise of a man with humble beginnings, was speculated by many to be a biographical tale of Reliance founder Dhirubhai Ambani. As exciting as the prospect of watching the story of Ambani unfold on the big screen is, Ratnam categorically denied his film had any connection with the business tycoon’s rags-to-riches story.

Fictional as it may have been, Guru was injected with ample research and authenticity to ground this sweeping inspirational tale in reality. Mani Ratnam and Abhishek Bachchan reunited after the roaring success of Yuva. But this time, Bachchan was not just playing a charming young man, a role he has effectively portrayed in Bunty Aur Babli (2004), Bluffmaster! (2005) and the two instalments of Dhoom (in 2004 and 2006). Guru would document the life of a man’s ascent to success, his downfall and his eventual rise through a passage of several decades.

In what counts as one of Bachchan’s finest performances to date, the actor effortlessly transformed into Gurukant Desai, looking as convincing as a strapping young lad from Gujarat with dreams in his eyes, as the sexagenarian business tycoon defending his choices in court with a steely conviction. The actor acknowledged how Guru is a milestone in his career in a 2020 interview. He revealed he put on 20 kilos throughout the movie to chart his protagonist’s ageing gradually. Other than his physical appearance, which was designed with much detail, the actor completely immersed himself into the role, maintaining his gait, accent and mannerisms throughout the film with an ease that comes only with experience and cultivation.

Guru begins in 1951, just a few years after the independence. The country palpitates with new hope and an unbridled, almost reckless ambition. Gurukant is a product of his times, has no qualms about working towards a better life. So is Sujata, Guru’s wife, played to perfection by Aishwarya Rai, who runs away from his family because she too wants to be independent.

Mumbai seems to be the land of golden opportunities, and the two arrive in the big city in hopes of making a mark. Through myriad displays of Gurukant’s ability to manipulate situations and people, the film’s first half is constructed as a witty, entertaining inspirational tale.

As is an inspiration genre staple, the film gets heavy-handed with its indictment of power.

Even though the second half of the film brings him to question, with charges of corruption pressed against him, Ratnam skilfully makes them ambiguous enough to not alienate the audience. Guru defends his acts of corruption as the means to an end, tactics employed by many before him to secure their business empires. He sells his soul with gusto, establishing that in order to succeed, one must maximise opportunities, even if they are created by unscrupulous means.

Mani Ratnam ensures despite the shades of grey in Guru’s character, he never becomes overwhelmingly dark. His humble beginnings help him understand the plight of the underprivileged and connect with the masses. He is uncomfortable in slick, state-of-the-art office spaces smacking of privilege. He is a hero of the common folk, and even if you are in disagreement with his modus operandi, you cannot help but be in awe of his never-say-die personality. Thus even when the film slackens its pace in the second half, the tailored to cheer, rousing courtroom scenes buoy the film.

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That said, Guru becomes indulgent often, with its array of songs. Not that anyone can complain about AR Rahman’s thrilling soundtrack. But Mallika Sherawat’s Mayya Mayya is distracting and formulaic, and Barso Re is beautiful, but gratuitous.

Nevertheless, for the most part, Guru is sincere to its underdog template, and even when you know that the film is heavily tilted to favour its hero, you are more than glad to submit yourself to the story of a man, who sometimes opts for unfavourable means, but is essentially a good man. And who does not want to root for an underdog?

Watch Guru here 

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