Monday, February 12, 2007

MANI RATNAM’S ‘GURU’

Warning: This is a really, really long post, and I don't even have any pictures (ok, I do now... thanks to the guys at chakpak.com and their nifty widgets!) to make it more entertaining. It feels like I've written a diary entry - one of those posts you do for your own benefit as the blogger - I'm just posting this so I can remind myself of these thoughts and why I think this way today... to give myself a point of reference in case my thinking changes tomorrow.




I saw ‘Guru’ a while ago and loved it. I thought it was really well-executed, and the music by A. R. Rahman was a treat. I will get my biggest criticism out of the way right now – the subtitles were not great – too minimalist. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the movie a lot more with better subtitles, but I did enjoy it very much regardless.

I think that comments I’ve made on other blogs actually pretty much sum up how this film made me feel, and the issues it raised in my mind. But before I get to those, here’s what I thought about:

The Story:
I think this is the most interesting thing about this film – interesting because there is so much conflict and turmoil (confusion is actually the right word) within the story itself. So much room for ‘whys’. Gurukant, the main character, is a boy from lowly beginnings, but with lofty dreams. After a brief sojourn abroad, he returns to India with fresh ideas and enthusiasm. He takes every opportunity he can find to get to the top, and once he gets there, he takes every opportunity he can find to ensure that he stays there.

At a point, things start to come crashing down for Gurukant – but I’ll stop here so as not to completely reveal the story to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. What I will say is that although there is a cosmetic ‘resolution’ to the story, it isn’t really resolved – in that the relationships and characters at the heart of the film never get that movie ‘moment’ that brings us to a catharsis and helps us come to terms with it all. This, more than anything, is what I like about ‘Guru’ – the fact that it keeps me pondering and wondering. The tangled threads never fully unravel, and I think this is a personal predilection of Ratnam – I felt some of the same after watching ‘Dil Se’ (which I'll admit I didn't like as much as 'Guru' - except for 'Chaiyya Chaiyya').

The Acting:
Top-notch. Abhishek Bachchan is really growing as an actor, and his performance in this movie proves it. He goes from earnest wide-eyed youngster to still-earnest but now rather hard-nosed middle-aged powerful industrialist – and he does it smoothly. He is able to communicate the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of the character really well, without bashing me over the head with it, and he resists the urge to grandstand and be all ‘I’m making an epic which spans over years’-ish. Beautiful performance.

I told my friend that this was the first film I’d loved Aishwarya Rai in (as opposed to just thinking ‘she’s ok’), and I meant it. Her dances are beautiful as always, but there was depth to her portrayal of Guru’s loyal (sometimes too loyal, I thought, but loved the character anyway) wife. From her stubbornness and desire for independence at the start of the film to her courageous and dignified support for Guru by the end, she expressed so much emotion in a very ‘real’ way – I loved her performance. And the chemistry between her and Abhi was beautiful – so warm and sweet. I felt like I was watching two friends who were truly comfortable with each other and adored each other – they portrayed the marriage relationship beautifully. I love the scene where they’re lying together when they visit their old house.

Mithun Chakraborty, as anyone who’s seen his older work (albeit more known for its OTT ‘fabulousness’ than anything else) knows, is a good actor – and he certainly does not disappoint here. His depiction of the publisher is tough but vulnerable, angst-y and frustrated yet somehow comforting – if that makes any sense. He depicts the internal and social conflict of his character very well. Vidya Balan is excellent as Mithun’s niece – but then I’ve always loved her work so I expected no less. Her character is conflicted – but she makes her choices and moves on with grace but also with realism – Vidya communicated this very well, I thought, without evoking pity. And R. Madhavan does a really good job of portraying his ambitious, bold, ruthlessly clever yet silently emotional character. And I loved the Madhavan/Vidya kiss in the rain.

The music: I loved it. Nothing more to say there. I didn’t care too much for the celebratory ‘bhang’ song after the birth of the twins, but otherwise I loved it.

The cinematography, directing, editing, etc: All the technical stuff was on point, I thought, although I’m not well-versed in the finer arts of filmmaking. I just thought it was all beautifully shot – the colours, the lighting, everything. I also loved the costuming and the fact that they stuck to the time period they were trying to portray. I LOVED Ash’s saris in the first half of the film, and the subtlety of her make-up. She looked great (but then, she’s Ash).

So that’s what I thought of all that. But as to what this movie did for me on a personal level, here’s part of the comment I posted at Beth’s blog – it sums it up for me…

My take on 'Guru': ... Personally, I liked the 'muddiness' (as Carla put it) and conflicted-ness of the message. I'm not a big fan of 'message' movies - not saying that a filmmaker shouldn't have an idea (s)he is trying to put across, just that I like to be given some leeway to re-interpet that idea in various ways. I liked that I felt it wasn't trying to make me see Gurubhai as a saint or a sinner (even though the portrayal was largely sympathetic, there was definitely room to refute that). I didn't think there was a strict hero/villain set-up between Abhi's character and Mithun and Madhavan's characters. I liked that I felt there was 'space' for me to make up my mind. I liked that there were lots of unanswered questions left for me to think about by the end.

And for me personally as a citizen of another developing country struggling with corruption and questions of identity, public welfare, independence and orientation, I guess I could relate a lot more to some of the issues. On that level, I was inspired by the movie.

Gurukant, the way I ‘see’ him, is neither hero nor villain – although in some ways he’s both. He is simply a man – ‘Gurubhai’. He is everyman, the man who keeps going despite and against all odds. He has not lost touch with his roots, for in a way he never left them – he clings to them because he believes they have made him what he is. His doggedness reminds me of the woman who walked long distances everyday to my uni to sell perhaps N1,000’s worth (less than 9 US dollars' worth) of ofe akwu and rice everyday (after spending perhaps N800 to prepare and transport it) – she just kept going, rain or shine, transport fares hikes or not, sick children or not. She’ll never win an award for it, but that’s sheer courage under fire.

Gurubhai’s greatest asset is not his virtue, his loyalty, or even his business acumen – it’s, as he says at the end – his dogged-yet-scrappy, no-matter-what courage and determination. As most great assets are, those same things are also his greatest weaknesses – the things that cause him to break the law shamelessly (‘the end justifies the means’ becomes his credo) to be dishonest, and to ultimately hurt himself and the ones he loves. Many of his actions and practices are very wrong and highly condemnable, but that’s why he’s an everyman – he’s flawed.

Gurubhai does what he feels he has to do in a world in which he’s had to struggle for every last thing, a world in which he has not been properly mentored and guided but has had to basically mentor himself, a world in which his value system seemed to have never fully formed when he was still young (very important), a world in which he’s totally surrounded by rot and yes-men (sycophancy is a terrible thing). It would be nice to think that, despite all that, he’d play strictly by the rules on his own initiative (I DEFINITELY believe that I would), but is it truly realistic? Experience has shown us that human nature tends to go the other way. Inexcusable his actions definitely are, but it's certainly interesting to try and see what may have produced them.
Here’s a comment I posted at T-Hype’s blog (on a completely unrelated subject):

“'…'the elite typically rule'. I am afraid (very very afraid) that you are right... Which makes me sad. So I am off to eat something very very fattening, after which I shall go to sleep hugging my pillow tight for comfort...”

I didn’t post that out of envy for the elite (I don’t aspire to be one of their number, the appeal of being born 'with a silver spoon in your mouth' is something I’ve never fully understood – why is it a thing of pride to be born into a rich and powerful family? What did you actually do to achieve that?). For me, the issue is that a country of the poor and hungry ruled by the un‘tainted’ shiny, happy, privileged and foreign-educated elite bothers me because there is then a fundamental disconnect between the ruler and the people. They speak different languages. Please don't get it twisted - I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being privilege and foreign-educated, and I don't believe in glamouring poverty - all I'm saying is that the privileged, to lead the poor, must 'get' the plight of the poor.

The ruler cannot feel the pinch until he wears the shoes – he cannot seek the welfare of the people until he comprehends it – either by having undergone it or by seeking actively to 'uncover' it and grasp it – no matter what it takes. And that’s no easy task. That’s what makes men like Gandhi and Mandela so inspirational, and why they will always hold the hearts of the common man. I don’t believe in love without sacrifice – and a person who has never had to sacrifice anything will find it hard (not saying it’s impossible, just hard) to grasp the struggle of another, and to inspire that other (and inspiration is crucial for effective leadership in a system characterised by disillusionment, oppression and disappointment). Now I realise that’s not always true – in the words of a Mexican ‘telenovela’, the rich also cry; and human empathy does exist and is there for the 'taking'… but I think it’s largely true.

For me, Ratnam is not saying that the end justifies the means, he’s simply pointing to the ‘Guru’ in the common man – it is praiseworthy, but it’s also not without its price. It’s like a raw material that must be shaped and honed for it to work the right way – otherwise it just ‘does too much’ and goes all over the place (if you know what I mean). Guided and encouraged properly, it can be great – it can procreate, it can breed prosperity and it can help others – but otherwise it can be lethal – just as deadly as the thing it’s trying to escape from – and so the hunted becomes the hunter.

In my country, there are so many uneducated self-made millionaires who, instead of using their potential and wealth to inspire and encourage the younger generation; have used it to acquire political clout so that they can become ‘godfathers’ who control governmental affairs, and to turn young men into political thugs and touts. We may deride these men and call them ‘illiterate thugs’, but we also can’t deny their accomplishments – which may (perhaps) have been legitimately acquired but are now being illegitimately deployed. This in so many ways is the story of my country and its (acknowledged and unacknowledged) leadership – the limitless potential is and has always been there – but it’s been and is still being utilised in an insensitive, misdirected, selfish and therefore completely counter-productive way.

I liked Guru’s ‘commonness’ and his struggle because I identify with it – God has blessed me in so many ways, particularly with parents who sacrificed a lot in order to give me the best foundation they could afford; but I’ve also had to work and struggle for so much – usually with people telling me ‘you can’t do it – it simply can’t be done’. That in itself is a gift from God – that He’s blessed the work of my hands. I’ll always remember the struggle though (which was made harder by the fact that I did it without compromising my values) and for that reason I’ll never take my accomplishments (humble as they may be today) for granted or let them be taken from me without a fight. Instead I want to use them for good, to share them and help others attain them – and that, right there, is what I took away as the central message of this film.

We in the developing world, having taken back our countries (at great cost to those who fought for it) from the colonialists, must not continue to enslave ourselves with government policies that are simply unfriendly to the masses. We’ve come too far too turn back now – we’ve worked too hard to lose it all to our own greed and selfishness. This is why our leaders need to stop robbing us of our hard-earned wealth the way the British did. It’s why we must stop allowing corruption to set us back decades – simply because we lack the self-confidence, the understanding, the awareness, and most of all the selflessness, to just be honest and to do things right. It’s why we must find the courage to once again be good to ourselves, to embrace the common man, to just struggle and scrap it out TOGETHER – not against one another. And this is why ‘Guru’ inspired me.

3 comments:

Tohou Lidia said...

I really want to see this movie and it seems like a universal message that we can all apply to our own countries. It's funny how the people in power are always trying to screw us...and this time it's our own!

I'm also looking forward to seeing Abhishek - i think he's awesome and has definately inherited his father's talent. As for Ash - i like her just for who she is and what i've seen in interviews but i agree - apart from her dancing i've never really thought she was a great actress. Hopefully this movie will change my mind!
-Amy

Maja said...

I love this post - it's the kind of post I think Guru deserves but I wasn't quite able to provide. I've got a few pictures though, so between the two of us, it's the perfect review ;))

Daddy's Girl said...

@amy: Would like to know what you think when you do see it. I'm starting to like Ash more these days, I have to say.

@maja: Thanks! I loved your review of 'Guru'.