In a country that loves sagas and is happy celebrating its own one in every realm, the petrol pump to palaces story of Gurukant Desai helmed by Mani Ratnam with the star power of India's best couple is inspirational to say the least. And the film-maker returns to his top-drawer form by giving us everything that we have grown to associate with him.
1. Narrating refreshingly simple stories sometimes in a cinematic larger than life backdrop with poignantly displayed relationships and clever alludes to real life.(Iruvar,Nayakan, Roja/Bombay/Dil se).
By choosing a business backdrop this time he escapes the idealist trap which he fell into in Yuva, and also gets a much larger canvass, more characters and incidents to showcase his sheer prowess. He sticks to the Iruvar style of screenplay in the meshing of scenes and building pace to chronicle an entire life. So Gurukant Desai starts from Turkey as a petrol attendant, returns to his village with dreams in his eyes, gets almost disowned by his father for wanting to start a bijines, marries a girl for dowry as capital but dotes on her later, fights his way to starting a polyester business and rises to the top.
But Mani's genius lies in weaving wonderful relationships in the saga with scenes that seem natural yet powerful. Some scenes that stand out are the railway station scene where Abhishek agrees to take Ash to Mumbai, his fallout with his brother-in-law and Ash, Abhishek's raw determination to get a trading license, the romantic/emotional interludes with Ash and his interactions with Mithun in the second half.
The resemblance to the Dhirubhai saga also helps in creating a stronger sense of identification with the storyline especially the shareholder meetings in stadiums, largest IPO, dreaming of starting a Burmah Shell, the dubious political approval processes, the fight with businessmen of Parsi origin, exploiting loopholes for profitability and the tryst with a prominent newspaper baron( Mithunda) of that time . But I felt the underetched characters of Madhavan and Vidhya Balan ( granddaughter of media baron) dilute the second half which could have been better utilized to highlight the business battles. For instance, Dhirubhai's famous fending off a bear cartel attack on his stock could have cinematic dynamite in Mani's hands.
2. Career best performances by stars and solid performances by under-rated actors:
Abhishek breathes fire as Gurubhai by combining manic energy, an alarming zeal to get rich, business shrewdness and emotional depth into a life-time role. There are angry scenes where the Bachchan genes spout but he carries off the older man with charming ease. Its amazing how he has grown a real paunch for the movie which is shown in a scene where he rivals his pregnant wife. This performance is just a shade lower than Kamal Hassan in Nayagan.
But the real surprise is Ash, proving how in the hands of a superior director her expressions are malleable indeed. Stand out scenes include the train journey where she bumps into Abhishek after being bumped by her infatuation, her breakdown after she learns about Guru marrying her for dowry and when Guru is struck by paralysis, and in all the songs.
Mithunda as a man who mentors Guru initially but exposes his wrongdoings through his newspaper is amazingly nuanced. Vidya Balan and Madhavan are charming . Roshan Seth as the inquiry committee chairman exudes great screen presence and diction.
3. Brillant Craftsmanship
Authentic recreation of old railway trains, old parts of Mumbai, trading houses and shareholder meetings. Cinematography by Rajeev Menon especially in the scene where Ash runs away from her house at the crack of dawn.
4. Wonderful Music : AR Rehman comes up with a brilliant score with 'Barso re', 'Mayya Mayya' and 'Tere Bina' . In fact the background score consisting of these songs and a pulsating beat meshes well with the intensity of the scenes.
The only letdown from a scripting perspective is Abhishek's speech during the inquiry trial. Although it starts with a bang " Main bania hoon, har cheez bachake rakhta hoon" , it whimpers after that. For the climax of a movie, the dialogues lacked impact.
This time Mani Ratnam has also made a Hindi movie which has no trappings of 'Madrasiness'. In fact the Gujjuness in the movie ' Aav jo, Mota bai' and in the detailing is perfect. In fact if Gujjus can make 'Kyunki Saas' the top watched serial since its protagonists are Gujju, then Guru is going to rock in the territories of Mumbai and Gujarat where most of Dhirubhai's shareholders also resided. In fact theatres in Kandivali and Ghatkopar might have to run extra shows.
Overall its a fine effort from the man whose movies are special and suitable for multiple viewing. Bollywood 2007 starts with a bang with Guru.