There was a time when I used to think that any movie not worth watching twice is not worth reviewing, and any movie worth reviewing should not be reviewed without watching it more than once. Little did I know that a day will come when I won't have enough time to watch all the must-watch new releases just once, let alone twice! Probably the only movies that I was able to catch more than once in 2006 are V for Vendetta and Cars, which is probably why I have written almost no movie reviews for more than a year. I guess I'll have to forget this rule from now on. Better write a review as and when one gets time rather than wait forever. So, even though I'm going to see Guru again on this weekend, here are my comments on the movie. There is, however, a possibility that it might be updated after I see it again. Almost every movie feels very different when you are watching it again, at least to me. Its a pity that I never got around to see some of the better movies of last year more than once. Anyway, coming to Guru...
First of all, there's a chance that I might be more critical of the movie than I intend to be. Its a Mani Ratnam movie and that comes with a lot of expectations. Specially because it is thematically very close to Iruvar which happens to be my favorite Ratnam movie. So, inevitably Guru suffers by comparison. For all the bad things I might say about Guru, it is still quite a good movie to watch with many Ratnam moments.
Now that all the disclaimers are out of the way, lets get down to business. Guru is essentially the story of a man whose sole purpose in life is to get ahead in his business almost completely disregarding other people's opinions of his methods. It is very much like a Citizen Kane or an Iruvar in the sense that it follows one man's journey over decades of change. Needless to say, this sort of theme provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anyone performing the protagonist's role. And even though Abhishek Bachchan doesn't come close to what Mohanlal did in Iruvar, he is amazing in his own right. Except for a couple of scenes where he resembled Amitabh too much for my comfort, he carries the movie wonderfully well. His body language, his comic timing, even the energy he infuses in some of the dramatic scenes are so good that you almost can't imagine Gurubhai any other way. The same probably can't be said about Aishwarya's Sujata. Even though she is quite good here, as she is whenever she is casted by a good director for a character like this, you can imagine the same role being played by other people (I could see Yuva's Rani Mukherji in my mind's eye in some of the scenes, and it looked more compelling; and that's just talking about the more mainstream actresses. After all, there's almost nothing that Konkona Sen Sharma can't do. and then there is Tabu. Anyway, I digress..). Aishwarya essentially is playing a combination of her two roles in Iruvar, something that she tends to fall back on for most of her prestigious non-masala movies and ends up being more than efficient. That some of her scenes are extremely well written helps in elevating the impact of her performance. At the end of the movie you remember a lot about Sujata, much more than the screen time that she has outside of the songs. This is true for a lot of other characters too. For a movie that has Abhishek Bachchan in almost every frame, its amazing how much impact the comparatively tiny appearances of Mithun, Madhavan, Manoj Joshi, Rajendra Gupta and Roshan Seth leave. Even Vidya Balan, whose character is essentially conceived just to add some spice to the Abhishek-Mithun and Abhishek-Madhavan relationships and has maybe a total of 10 lines to speak, doesn't seem wasted unless you are a big Vidya Balan fan who came to watch the movie just for her. Mithun started with a slightly over-the-top "achcha hai! bahut achchha hai" that made me cringe a little, but soon settled into a really good understated performance that is a perfect counterpoint to the punchline-driven characters of Gurubhai and Shyam Saxena (Madhavan). Madhavan is superb as Shyam Saxena. There really is no one in his generation of actors who can bring the combination of boy-next-door charm and righteous energy into his performances as effortlessly as Madhavan has done time and again. This role is right up his alley and he makes it his own even with the limited time he is on screen. After a disappointing turn in Rang De Basanti (to me he was one of the weaknesses of RDB, not necessarily due to his performance but just the way the character was probably conceived didn't impress me a lot), Guru will probably get him the long overdue recognition of people who haven't seen him in Alaipayuthey, Kannathil Mutthamittal, Ayidha Ezhuthu etc.
Speaking of punchline-driven characters, the dialogues here are brilliant. I guess the credit goes not just to Mani Ratnam who must've written the screenplay in English but also to Vijay Krishna Acharya who has translated them to Hindi amazingly. Punchlines follow one after the other making at least the first half of the movie a completely entertaining fare. So much so that at intermission the only problem I had with the movie was the placing of the songs. Mayya Mayya is pardonable as it comes right at the beginning (with extremely well done credit sequence) and so doesnt affect the flow of the movie. But Barso Re, even though very well picturized, could've done with better placement. That, however, is nothing compared to Tere Bina, that just didn't work for me at all. It plays at a time when you'd not expect it to, but rather than surprising you in a good way it just looks gimicky (like Roobaroo and some of the background score that just didn't work for me in Rang De Basanti... different, but gimicky more than anything else). THAT, however, is nothing compared to Ek Lo Ek Muft, which adds absolutely nothing to the movie. I don't know what Mani Ratnam was thinking. He probably envisioned it as another item song along with Mayya Mayya, but you don't put an item song just about anywhere in the movie. Specially not a song that isn't too great itself. Ek Lo Ek Muft single handedly takes away some points from the movie. Its a pity that Mani seems to be losing interest in song sequences lately and seems to be doing them more as a necessity than anything else (something that was clear even in Kannathil Mutthamittal and Yuva). For someone who is probably the pioneer of the great modern song picturizations, this is just not good enough. I guess the editor needs to be blamed too. Its not just the songs, there are some other places too where things just don't flow as well as one would expect from a top-notch movie.
The single biggest reason why the movie isn't as quite great as it could be, however, has nothing to do with the songs or the editing. Ratnam is just too good pre-intermission and comparatively lame post-intermission. The heady first half keeps you so interested that you tend to expect a lot more from the second half than what is there. Not that the climax isn't well done, just that it doesn't match the overall flavor of the movie, not for me at least. I guess you can't do much with a movie about business houses that is set-up like a thriller. How much more thrilling can you make the ending? I don't know what else would be more interesting, just that it wasn't quite interesting enough for me. Again, that sequence is actually done quite well, with some good writing. But it was disappointing nevertheless.
Rahman is brilliant as always with the background score. Maybe a bit too much so, in fact. There were places in the movie where the elaborate score required more a bit more punch on the screen than Ratnam was able to deliver. Which brings us to cinematography. And that is probably the only thing that is consistently awesome throughout the movie. There are some scenes here that are just breathtaking. Barso Re, even though not very imaginatively shot, has some beautiful images. And then there is this one scene when Abhishek is standing in the middle of a farm when it starts to rain. To me that one scene itself is well worth the price of the ticket! Its stunningly beautiful!
Having said all that, it is still an unmistakeable Mani Ratnam movie. For me, the defining characterstic of a Ratnam movie is the way he depicts relationships on screen. For all the action and gimmicks in Yuva, its the Ajay-Esha, Abhishek-Rani and Vivek-Kareena scenes that made the movie for me. Dil Se was all about SRK's interactions with Manisha and Preity for me. and Alaipayuthey is as good as it gets in making an engrossing movie out of a simple love story. Here too, its some of the scenes of Abhishek with Aishwarya, Mithun and Madhavan that are superbly written and performed. For all his attempts at making big movies with big issues, its sequences like these where Mani truely shines. Its these sequences where you want to give the movie 8.5-9/10.
That it probably settles at around 7.9-8/10 is due to all the little things that could've been done much better.