Soorarai Pottru (2020 Amazon Original): From Mani’s Ratnam’s Guru to Sudha’s Mara

There has been a slew of biopics in Hindi cinema in the last few years, but most of them have been hagiographies. Biopics as a trend has not picked up in the southern cinema. Even when Bollywood has chosen a South Indian for a biopic, they have transported the protagonist to North India like Padman. Soorarai Pottru takes inspiration from the life of Captain Gopinath and his quest to start the no-frills airplane in India.Continue reading “Soorarai Pottru (2020 Amazon Original): From Mani’s Ratnam’s Guru to Sudha’s Mara”

Thoughts on Mani Ratnam and his films

Mani Ratnam

 

Khalid Mohamed

 

Once upon a time in Mumbai, you’d have to drag me away from the Santa Cruz aiport, literally prevent me from catching another flight to Chennai. The cities were still called Bombay and Madras then. Life was cool, cinema was cooler and conversations with this brand-new boss of mainstream Indian cinema were the coolest. Dhan ta na, that was Mani Ratnam.Continue reading “Thoughts on Mani Ratnam and his films”

aaya aaya GURUBHAI…

GURU

It’s not every Friday that we happen to find a biopic releasing in Bollywood. Though in yesteryears, people like Guru Dutt & Raj Kapoor did make attempts at making semi-autobiographical stuff, the commercial failure of those didn’t encourage future filmmakers to try their hands at similar ventures. Though we had films on Bhagat Singh, none of them really turned out to be a classic – except possibly Rang De Basanti – which again wasn’t a biopic but only a faint reference to the martyr’s life.

However, down south, Mani Ratnam had frequented the art of biopics – or at least two of his cult films have been based on real life characters – Iruvar on Tamil Nadu chief ministers M. G. Ramachandran, M. Karunanidhi & Jayalalitha and Nayagan on underworld don Varadarajan Mudaliar. Hence, the announcement of GURU roused a lot of curiosity and expectations. For one, Mani Ratnam has shown his mastery in that genre. Secondly, it was the first time someone would be discussing the life of maverick industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani in a film. Thirdly, the filmmaker was attempting a purely Hindi film after Dil Se (all his other works till then have been either remakes of Tamil films or dubbed Hindi versions of the originals). And with Dil Se’s commercial failure and Yuva’s not so amazing fate, it was only more interesting to see how the maestro would fare in his renewed attempt at Hindi films. Lastly, it was the casting that also generated some interest. Abhishek & Aishwarya were paired after their previous unsuccessful films and the rumours of affair between the two were making rounds (well, they got married few months after the movie’s release). Mithun Da was doing a film after quite some time, that too in a non-commercial avatar. In addition, Madhavan (Ratnam’s protégé and a heartthrob among girls) was paired with Vidya Balan. The film had almost everything going for it. Did it live up to the hype and curiosity? For me, it’s a big YES.

To start off with, Guru (despite denials from the maker about being based on Dhirubhai Ambani) is pretty much the polyester magnate’s life story. The graph in the protagonist’s life from a schoolteacher’s son in the hinterlands of Gujarat, to an employee with a oil and gas company (SHELL in real life) in Turkey, rivalry with a Parsi cloth merchant (Wadias), getting shareholders for company (Dhirubhai was the first one to start that in India), friends turned foes relation with morally upright newspaper editor (Ramnath Goenka), legal hassles and health problems, the movie traces the entire cycle of the industrialist’s life. However, taking so much inspiration from real life could have worked against the film – because you have extra burden to live up to the expectations around it, and delineate fact from fiction. But, with someone of Ratnam’s caliber, it proved a cakewalk as the maestro deftly handled the story – etching a brilliant screenplay (credit must be given to Vijay Krishna Acharya for the brilliant dialogues) and some fantastic direction.

Everyone knows Mani Sir’s penchant for the technical finesse in his films. And in Guru, he found able support in his technicians – who are among the topmost in the industry. Rajiv Menon used the desaturated colours in most frames to brilliant effect using different light schemes as Gurubhai travels from the village to Turkey to Mumbai. And Menon found great help in the production designs of the genius – Late Samir Chanda who recreated the old Bombay to perfection (I was unaware that Mumbai had tram till I saw Guru). As I had read later, editor Sreekar Prasad had chopped some scenes from the film (something which I whole-heartedly support because the film is anycase quite long). And given the editor’s vast repertoire of work, I am sure those scenes wouldn’t have added any serious value to the film. Last, but not the least, Guru saw an extension of Ratnam and Rahman’s collaboration. A R Rahman, who debuted as a music director with Ratnam’s “Roja”, has delivered some of his finest albums with the director – which include Roja, Bombay, Alai Payuthey and Dil Se. Though the music wizard came up with a compelling background score for the film, the songs were not the highlight for the film. Though the album boasted of Barso Re — amazingly sung by Shreya Ghoshal (she won most awards that year for the song) and beautifully picturised (by Saraoj Khan) on Aishwarya, hummable soft romantic number Tere Bina, and the item number in Turkey – Maiyya Maiyya (with Mallika Sherawat scorching the screen in the belly dance), Guru isn’t exactly the album you would keep on listening to, unlike what most other Ratnam – Rahman collaborations have been. And it’s sad that the combo who delivered one brilliant album after the other, never reached the same height after Alai Payuthey.

If technically Guru scores high marks, there is one more department where Guru stands out brilliantly – the compelling performances by each and every member of the cast. The film definitely belongs to the eponymous protagonist – Gurubhai, played stupendously by Abhishek Bachchan. AB Jr, who has been often censured for his acting capabilities (rather the lack of it), portrayed the aspiring businessman turned power hungry and unabashedly corrupt magnate with such aplomb that you feel how under-utilised his histrionic skills are. He had delivered a compelling performance in Ratnam’s previous flick, YUVA, but he surely was at the pinnacle of his form in this film. Aishwarya Rai didn’t really have the archetypal heroine’s role. Her Sujata was more of a silent observer to her husband’s career, but as the demure wife with a strong mind of her own, Ash delivered an extremely nuanced performance. Neither did she giggle unnecessarily nor did she fidget – two of her annoying habits she amply displayed in other films. After two debacles in Dhaai Akshar… & Kuch Na Kaho (where the duo were criticized for the lack of chemistry) and Dhoom 2 (where Ash sizzled with Hrithik and Abhishek was sidelined) GURU was a film where the couple came together and looked like a couple. The love story between Guru and Sujata, which was anyways not a major part of the story, left a sweet taste in the mouth. My favourite scene is the one below – the love, expectation, complaint, understanding and acceptance – all moulded in less than 2 minutes.

Madhavan as the investigating journalist Shyam, who plays a crucial role in the temporary downfall of Guru, was a delight to watch. He was the man who would screw someone’s life with a smile on his face, and you would never detect the mind behind the innocuous face. And his pairing with the debilitated Meenu (portrayed so gracefully by Vidya Balan) was just perfect. The kiss in the rain was never talked about in the media and thankfully so. Any titillation would have killed the beauty of the scene. Shauk Hai, he song that plays in the background is possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of background score ever composed in the history of Bollywood. Arya Babbar as Ash’s brother and one of Guru’s earliest business partners and Manoj Joshi as the co-worker turned business head for Guru were brilliant. Arjan Bajwa, Dhritiman, Roshan Seth did justice to their respective roles.

However, if there was someone who stole the show for me, it has to be Mithun Chakraborty as Manik Dasgupta – the staunch moralist owner of newspaper ‘The Independent’. With Mithun’s host of powerful performances in Bengali cinema, I feel the Hindi film industry has been unfortunate enough to explore only the larger than life roles of Mithun Da. And in Guru, he proves me right. He lives all his stardom behind and brings alive a character so strongly that you just sit upright everytime he is in the frame. Look out for the scene he comes to the hospital to see Guru’s condition but doesn’t muster enough courage to meet him, for somewhere in his heart, he knows that the reasons behind this condition is he himself. I just wonder how Irrfan Khan won all the supporting awards that year for Metro, with such a miniscule role (though he played it well, it was quite unidimensional). I got into a habit of saying “accha hai, bohut accha hai…” after seeing GURU.

Since Ratnam isn’t conversant in Hindi, a credible dialogue writer was mandatory to bring his story alive on screen. Vijay Krishna Acharya (director of the horrendous Tashan and Aamir Khan starrer yet to release Dhoom 3) rendered an extremely support to Ratnam in this regard. The dialogues were powerful and applaud worthy. In fact, a major contribution to Guru’s characterization was by the dialogues he mouthed. From humorous to gritty moments, the lines looked real and yet played to the gallery. My favourite is the confrontation between Contractor & Guru.
Contractor: Naam kya tha tumhara?
Guru: Tha nahi, hai, aur rahega, GURUKANT DESAI… I actually whistled at the dialogue.
The last monologue of Guru in the court is spellbinding. And as mentioned earlier, A R Rahman’s brilliant bgm just enhanced the feel of every scene.

Having seen some of Ratnam’s grittier works, I would not say that Guru is the best film that the master has crafted. But, it leaves its mark for more than one reason as discussed above. If there were a few things to point out – I would have to say:

a) the song ‘Ek Lo Ek Muft’ sung by Bappi Lahiri was pointless… it was a dip in the momentum of the film…
b) the Madhavan – Vidya romantic track, though pleasant to watch, added no real depth or variation to the story, especially for a film like Guru, which is protagonist driven
c) Mithun Da’s character came out a bit confusing at places – and there was no explanation to the fact why he didn’t accept Vidya and Madhavan’s marriage
d) Where does Arya Babbar disappear? Does the personal tussle between him and Guru never get solved? A prominent character in the initial reels just vanishes all of a sudden…
e) The business head of such a large firm (Manoj Joshi) behaved so naively when he showed Madhavan around the factory, posing for pictures, and revealing information even without much interrogation / instigation

We are not an industry that churns out flawless movies. And the discrepancies mentioned above are hardly significant to take anything away from GURU as a film. It will remain special to me because of the huge chunk of discussion about the movie in my IIFT interview – my first B-school interview, and I cracked it. All I can say to summarise is, if you haven’t watched the film and think that Abhishek is a hopeless actor, go and watch it to be proved pleasantly wrong.

Read more reviews on MANI RATNAM BLOGATHON:

1. Pallavi Anupallavi (Kannada) 2. Unaroo (Malayalam) 3. Pagal Nilavu (Tamil) 4. Idaya Kovil (Tamil) 5. Mouna Ragam (Tamil) 6. Nayagan Tamil) 7. Agni Natchathiram (Tamil) 8. Geethanjali (Telugu) 9. Anjali (Tamil) 10. Thalapathi (Tamil) Take 2 Thalapathi (Tamil) 11. Roja (Tamil) 12. Thiruda Thiruda (Tamil) 13. Bombay (Tamil) 14. Iruvar (Tamil) Take 2 Iruvar (Tamil) 15. Dil Se…(Hindi) Take 2 Dil Se…(Hindi) 16. Alaipayuthey (Tamil) 17. Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) Take 2 Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) 18. Yuva (Hindi) 19. Aayutha Ezhuthu (Tamil)  20. Guru (Hindi) 21. Raavanan (Tamil) 22. Raavan (Hindi)