Bollywood's New Guru

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Abhishek, though, has the grit and charm to bring Gurukant to life. Just 30, he plays the character from his early 20s to his 60s and is persuasive for most of that span, though I wouldn't have minded if his dad had taken over in the later scenes. (Amitabh wouldn't agree. He said recently: "My father [the poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan] wrote in his biography, ‘When a father loses to his son, it is his greatest victory!' I've lost to my son! And I'm the happiest father alive!") Early in the film, Abhishek uses his dimples to underline the notion of innocent ambition. As the character ages, Abhishek's playing shades toward Hollywood models: from Godfather Pacino to Godfather Brando. He hasn't quite the capacity for leonine rage those two stars (and Amitabh) can summon, but he does an excellent job.

But then Gurukant is a simpler character than your average Corleone. The old Ratnam movies found ambiguous shades among the shadows of those gangsters and politicians. Gurukant is a hero of the people, a striver from the unprivileged classes, and gets automatic points for his vaulting ambition ("That's my problem, I can't hear the word 'no'"), for wanting to show the old-money crowd how new big money can be made. "Why should I work for that white man?" he says in Turkey. "I'll work for myself." It doesn't matter that he lacks the leisure skills of the brahmins; he has no leisure time. "I don't know how to play golf, but I'm a solid player in my business."

Ratnam skews the argument in Gurukant's favor by making the charges against him ("He converts nonconvertible debentures") too obscure to rouse audience's censure. The real Dhirubhai was the most famous Gujurati after Gandhi, and the film allows Gurukant to compare himself to the Mahatama.

For movies to celebrate an entrepreneur is rare — usually you get exposés — but not wrong. Guru's nearest equivalent might be It's a Wonderful Life, except that this small businessman has to cope with success, not failure. And there's no denying the dramatic oomph of the climactic courtroom scene, with Gurukant defending himself and the class he stands for. Still, it doesn't seem like a natural weave for Mani Ratnam. This Guru is more like a fine polyester.

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