The Return of the Prodigal Son

By Kavita Chhibber 

Let me say at the outset that ever since I saw him running across the big screen in Refugee, carrying the burden of a laboriously long debut film, and the legacy of his legendary parents on his then young shoulders, I have had a soft corner for Abhishek Bachchan.


He chose films based on his own sensibilities, said he was proud to be his father’s son and didn’t see the comparisons weighing him down and yet, after a series of flops, when Dhoom was declared a hit, Bachchan junior confessed he was wearing his own self esteem thin by constantly obsessing that he was letting his parents down in an interview. He also said that the scene that followed when he hung up the phone, following a call from from Adi Chopra, after Dhoom was declared a hit and turned to his mother, was straight out of a Karan Johar film. Mom Jaya was in tears evidently as she reached out to hug and bless him, while he heard imaginary violins in the background. 


Today Jaya and Amitabh can rightly be proud that their son has made it on his own steam (they chose not to launch him for that very reason said Jaya) and truly arrived with his stellar performance in Mani Ratnam’s film Guru.


And yes Ratnam can scream from the rooftops that it is not based on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani, but the story is far too close to the life of the creator of Reliance Industries, for anyone to believe it to be otherwise. Of course Dhirubhai was a multilayered personality who could evidently charm his way through a lot of deals that didn’t seem above board, and yet it was hard not to like his tenacity and be impressed by his vision. To capture those layers in a 2 hour 45 minutes movie is a tall order, and yet just by capturing some of the essence of the man, Ratnam has made what could have been an ordinary story into an extraordinary film, the songs and dances not withstanding.


My father recalls meeting Dhirubhai in Bhuj where he was commanding a brigade. The military man and the millionaire tycoon just hit it off. Dhirubhai asked dad to buy some shares of Reliance. Dad not knowing much about the stock market was charmed enough to agree, and today those shares are worth a lot of money. My brother Rajan who is friends with Anil, Dhirubhai’s younger son recalled having dinner with the family one time and Dhirubhai, pulled out a hefty tip and gave it to the waiter as they sat down at the restaurant. He then turned to my brother and said-“To get the best service always remember to tip the waiter before you order. You know you will have ensured excellent service in advance.” That small incident showed the man had his finger on the pulse of what works and perhaps that is also the USP of Mani Ratnam in this film.


But lets leave alone Dhirubhai for a minute and see the story for itself( though I think if Dhirubhai had seen this film, he’d have liked it). This is a story dreams are made of-the dreams of a young Gurukant Desai, and the dreams of every man. Guru studiously steps over his strict school teacher father’s expectations to see his son excel academically and chooses to walk in his own shoes. That march to the beat of his own drummer lands him in Istanbul where he learns to hustle, work hard and just when he is about to be handed the reins of some big time responsibility, returns with his savings to work for himself.


In a twist if fate, Sujata (Aishwarya Rai) a willful, passionate village belle lands literally on his lap-er leg while trying to elope with a beau who lets her down at the last minute by getting cold feet. Her tears, the letter telling her the beau has chickened out, her fiery resolve not to go back are absorbed by the hawk eyed Guru, who later adds her to his scheme of things as his bride, because she brings a dowry that would demolish the deficit in his bank account, and propel him further towards the city of his dreams..Bombay. 


Bombay Guru discovers is not just a city of dreams-it is filled with chameleons and people who change with the tides that ebb and flow. Guru finds new obstacles facing him every step of the way. The clique of businessmen who don’t look upon a gauche villager from the outside kindly as he tries to assimilate. His response at being constantly brushed aside? “I always lose my hearing when the word NO is uttered by anyone.” 


When he is asked-is it written on his forehead that he will make it-he taps it and says-it is written indeed-and yet he makes his own destiny, rising to dizzying heights, through sly manipulation, irrepressible charm, and sheer clout.


Manik Dasgupta is his mentor and supporter. He publishes a newspaper Swatantra, treats Guru as his son. Some of the many tender moments in this film are not between Aishwarya and Abhishek, but between Nana and Guru, and Nana’s invalid daughter and Guru. It is that tenderness that adds to the poignancy when Nana finds out that Guru’s skyrocketing success is built on dubious deeds and he has to choose between Guru and his integrity as an investigative journalist. 


Nana steels his heart and decides to expose Guru with the help of his editor Shyam (Madhavan). The scene when Sujata comes to seek his blessings for her twin daughters, and a steely eyed Nana while caressing the girls tells Sujata to tell her husband not to get to him through her, packs a punch only to melt into the tenderness in nana’s eyes when he ends up in the hospital after Guru’s paralytic stroke, a few minutes after stoically telling Shyam he wasn’t going to go to see Guru. Blood may not be thicker than water at times, but the invisible ties of loyalty strung together from the days when Guru and Nana shared a love untarnished by fallen principles, remain steadfast.


Those ties again come to the fore in the scene when Guru goes to confront Shyam about his relentless dogging and blowing the journalistic whistle on his business only to find Nana’s daughter married to Shyam. The tender gruffness with which Guru backtracks and softens his stand moves one deeply. Life is after all, nothing but relationships..It colors the grayest of moments with a rainbow of emotions that often wash away bitterness, rancor and resentment. 


Gurubhai inspires, wheedles, bulldozes and cuts deals that are not all lily white and yet he comes across as a charmer who wins over and influences the tides to turn in his favor using whatever weapon he can-money, persuasion, emotion, cunning, a razor sharp mind and oratory skills to match. You’d love to hate him, but you end up tipping your hat at his ingenious ways.


Abhishek Bachchan finally finds a director and a script that results in a power packed performance-his best so far. The dialogues are crisp, short and witty, and his mannerisms are just right for each segment from a young Guru to a Guru who comes of age. His intense passion, playful charm, a fearless ruthlessness, pathos, the tender love for his wife, his girls, his right hand man when he messes up, to Nana and his daughter, all make his character lovable in spite of the shades of gray. 


Aishwarya Rai proves again in this film that she is a director’s actress. After her forgettable performance in Umrao Jaan, she does a great job in her deglamorised, earthy depiction of a woman who is fiery and fiercely loyal even when she finds out that her husband had married her for the dowry she brought. His intentions may have been dubious but hers never falter, as she stands by his side against all odds-his redemption at the end is as much her triumph as his.


Much as I love some of songs of the film, I wish that those minutes had been devoted to developing the character of Nana and Shyam. Both Mithun Chakravarty and Madhavan are stellar actors, and left quite an impact in their not very well etched out roles. Even Roshan Seth, who was really good in his 2 bit appearance deserved more screen time.


I’m not sure what the heck Vidya Balan was doing in the film, unless Ratnam wanted to try her as a good luck charm or she was desperate just to add Ratnam’s name to her resume. She could have been slashed from the film and no one would have missed her. And yes I wish those precious minutes too had been added to Mithun’s and Madhavan’s roles.


The cinematography is beautiful, the movie fairly fast paced-it would have been even better minus the songs but I guess even good films have to give in to the demands of commercial needs of the box office.


While it was Aishwarya who sang Barso re megha (Pour down O rain clouds) in the film, I’m glad the watershed has been for her real life fiancé, finally ending the drought of good scripts for a man who has only just begin to finally carve his own niche.


A must see film.



                                     All Material © Copyright Kavita Chhibber and respective authors


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