Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mani Ratnam's guru -- lessons in wealth creation

After reading the rave reviews of Mani Ratnam’s latest opus, I was curious to see Guru. Like the reviewers, I came away moved by the movie on multiple levels: the acting, the refreshing and true-to-the-situation cinematography and the music.

But I was disappointed – by the reviews that is.

For all of them seem to have missed the main message of the movie: that for a nation like India, above everything else, wealth creation holds the key to poverty alleviation. A pertinent message, given that our so-called reformers are now back-pedalling quite a bit these days.

So, in my review about Guru , I will focus less on the fluff and more on the message. For starters, I will not refer to this movie as being “based upon the life of a leading Indian industrialist” -- for Mani Ratnam himself is clear that this movie is a tribute to the life of Dhirubhai Ambani.

And it is a very well made tribute -- with fantastic acting and cinematography.

Abhishek has finally come of age – from an awkward, wannabe Amitabh, who could do little more than scowl or leer at semi-naked ang-mo women (ang-mo is the Chinese equivalent of firangi and literally means person with red hair on his/her arms), he has matured and grown as an actor. He has detailed Guru richly and compellingly -- I particluarly like the peculiar style of laughing he deployed in the movie. Very impressive.

Aishwarya’s role is small, but she finally brings some intensity to her role and is extraordinarily comfortable with Abhishek; unsurprising, considering recent events. Madhavan too is good, but rather uni-dimensional. And of course, there is Mithun-da. The jholawala patrakaar, married to his ideology, unwilling to bend, no matter what the cost.

The cinematography and picturisation is also refreshing and remains true to Dhirubhai’s deeply traditional, Gujarati, Hindu roots. Where this is particularly evident is in the language – virtually all the dialogues are in Sanskritic Hindi, using rich, deeply Indic words. Guru bucks the trend in hindi movies to secularise and Arabise hindi with salaams, ishqs, mohabbats, subhanallahs, waqts, quams and what not.

What a relief.

But without doubt the most powerful message I got from the movie was this: A single Guru (or Dhirubhai) who creates wealth is a far greater nationalist than the entire army of brainwashed, self-loathing nehruvian stalinists could ever be.

By the end of the movie, I came away admiring Dhirubhai more and despising the socialist state even more.

Abhishek sums up the "Dhirubhai spirit" in the movie ... I am not interested in filling petrol cans all my life, I want to become rich. And yet, when I wanted to work hard and earn, I found all doors were closed to a poor man like me. And the doors had all been closed by people like you (pointing to the members of a government-headed commission). But I could not take no for an answer and was prepared to do whatever it took to open the door – if it needed to be kicked down, I did; if it needed a bribe I did that. Because i wanted to become rich.

And that was his crime. To the nehruvian socialist state, and its handmaiden – the socialist media – wanting to become rich was a crime.

You see, the socialist Indian state was never pro-poor, it was pro-poverty. It was never interested in alleviating poverty – it was only interested in perpetuating it. And that it did with impressive (and tragic) effectiveness.

In one scene in the movie, Madhavan (the reporter) attends the Shakti shareholders meeting to dig out news on how Guru’s company Shakti Corporation is breaking the law. The woman next to him – a middle-class gujarati housewife prods him to clap! She says with a gleam in her eyes that if India could produce 10 more gurus, poverty would be eliminated! Sheer music.

And that is why, to my mind, Guru is a nationalist, while the nehru-indira socialist state is not. Guru wants to lift himself and his community out of poverty – to grant it respect, to enable people to walk with their heads held high. The state, on the other hand is bent upon keeping people poor, reducing them to supplicants whom it condescends to save. All this while claiming to be concerned about them (Orwell would have been proud… remember war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength?).

A brief exchange in the movie drives this message home: en route to a judicial hearing, a shabby looking man confronts Guru on the court staircase. The man introduces himself as a taxi driver – who ferried passengers from Vadala to Churchgate. He informs Guru that he owns shares in Shakti – shares that allowed him to pay for his daughters' weddings.

For all its bluster and talks about social uplift from the 'commanding heights', the state’s elaborate machinery is outdone by one Guru’s wealth creation.

I could not hold back the tears.


iamfordemocracy said...

Good Review. Very very useful. Solves a big problem for me. There is a new movie to talk about when people bring up discussion of movies. Please post about other good movies.

Prasad said...

hey Anoma forwared me the link and I must say I liked the way you reviewed the film. This sort of 'appreciation' is what I like. All we read all around is so childish i mean all they speak about is songs, dialogue, locations and stars and not the 'core' messege.

Your review inspires me to watch Guru!

Besides, am against the behruvian socialist school too, may be that is the link!

Anyways, keep writing..

iamfordemocracy said...

Please post a review of water. There is a lot of talk about that film but difficult to get a true review. Is it the same propaganda stuff like fire?

manav said...

Absolutely good post. I'm the regular reader of Mr.kulkarni's article in Indian express,from there i got ur blogging link.

keep posting more reviews...

namar lapog said...

got the link from Mr. Kulkarni's IE write-up. Not quite satiafied - your post seems too silly compared to your intellect that is refleccted.

mvmusicoflife said...

I am writing this just because I was very perturbed by what I read in Mr.Sudhindra Kulkarni’s column today in which he has mentioned about an excerpt from your review on ‘Guru’.. I too understand and appreciate the greatness of ‘Guru’, Fighting the License Raj and Bureaucracy, which was coming in the way of growth of Indian industry and businesses…. But for God’s sake don’t say… that this single thing makes Mr.Guru… more patriotic… than all those who dreamt of having a strong India which was receptive and responsive towards the then and even today’s ‘Bharat’… Not all poverty reduction, food sufficiency, literacy, and the progress towards being a superpower has happened because of the likes of ‘Guru’…. The state.. I mean to say the then leaders (especially from the early independence days) and government.. which is but representative of the then democratic thought and philosophy … have played an equal or better part… The Kali or shall we say ‘Bhasmasur’ (The Demon) of ‘Corruption’ wouldn’t have been so prevalent had it not been for the likes of ‘Gurus’ to use it so excessively and bluntly…..

Anyways for all the evils of ‘Nehuruvian Socialism’ please also remember the foundation it has given this nation of a billion to stand on its feet, firmly in quite a self-reliant way… I hope the ‘New Resurgent India’ is not so ungrateful that it will forget and in fact curse its own founding fathers for all its problems ….

Ashutosh said...

After watching Guru my 12 year old son asked me "I want to stand first in the exam. Whats wrong in my copying during exam? ". The rules, ethics or any other things don't matter; what matters is my number one position. He even asked me if he gets caught would I be able to spend freely to supress the matter.
(1) A Tata employee is charged with stealing and selling company secrets to OTHER COMPANY. [ When 2 coke employees approached Pepsi with Coke's secrets; Pepsi alerted Coke.]
(ii) A few years back Govt of India cabinet secret papers were found in the office drawers of a company. [ Any body knows why Arther Anderson ; one among big five was wound up overnight].

Is it free market economy?

iamfordemocracy said...

People lie, companies engage in industrial espionage, and upwardly mobile managers make all sort of compromises. One reason why society works well is that laws and traditions keep the selfishness in bounds.

From 1960-2000, the socialists and babus in India colluded to deny freedom and independence to Indian citizens. The babus would use all the rules to stop good people doing good things, and the socialists would raise all sorts of moral issues to put them down.

Guru portrays the struggle in a nice way. It does not preach immorality. There is no need to pay heed to the socialists who would make you believe that it does.