Monday, May 26, 2008

O Guru where is thy point?

raahii huu.N mai.n kahaa.N merii ma.nzil (Bappi Lahiri, Wanted, 1984)

This should probably be the theme for Mani Ratnam after the confused cinematic mess that is Guru. Or perhaps for the film as it seems to search for a reason for its existence. This disguised take on the life of is a horrifyingly bad film. Beautiful frames laid out in trains do not a good film make (Black was the colour of Death By Picture Postcards). Trying to stay optimistic about the effort out of sheer respect for the filmmaker's ouevre is Sisyphean ordeal when your confronted with footage that boasts sheen and gloss and neither the beating of a heart nor the drive of a narrative.

The descent begins with a pointless item number (another first for Mani saar) in Turkey. We then swing to a village in India, where Mani Ratnam begins to recycle samples from his past. Roja's chinna chinna aasai gets the remix treatment and is transformed into a vigorous aerobics routine featuring Bollywood's emaciated answer to Jane Fonda, Ms. Aishwarya Rai-now-Bachchan (does one dare to hazard a guess that her presence here harks back to Iruvar?). The fingers are already itching to hit the FF button. One's patience, however, gets no rewards. When tere binaa shows up, it does with an anachronistic incongruous, rude jolt that puts paid to most of the respect you had for the director. Does one need to mention that it owes a lot to kaNNaalane in Bombay? Bappi Lahiri's ek lo ek muft works well as long as you don't see it on screen. It was strange enough when he sang for Daddy B in Geraftaar, but it's surreal to see his warbling come from Sonny B (apparently, Sonny was the original choice to sing this song; go figure).

Sub-plots (the Shyam/Meenakshi tale) and interesting characters (Mithun's Manik Dasgupta) get short shrift as Bollywood's leading couple get to hog the frame and flail about; she flubs her accent (who even bothers to notice such silly details as accent and being in character anyway?) and relies on those sad looks (the late Mukesh would've been pleased to find such visual representation for his sadly happy and happily sad songs); he channels his father (the confrontation with Shyam Saxena just before he realises that Shyam has married Meenakshi is straight out of Agneepath) and even gets to filch from Kamal Haasan's performance and looks in Nayagan.

Perhaps the intent was be from the point of view of the protagonist and thus cast all crusaders and do-gooders in a bad light. This still doesn't explain the motivation and angst of Manik Dasgupta, despite all the effort that Mithun puts in. It's a shame to see the actor get a part to sink his teeth in, only to have quite a few of scenes land up on the cutting floor, leaving him with a part that makes his B-movie work look more rewarding. The climactic court room goings-on not only find Mani Ratnam unable to define the intent of his narrative but also find him paying his respects to the numerous bad court room scenes that litter the Bollywood canon.

I thought of Citizen Kane quite a few times as I endured this revolting reelfest and that doesn't bode well at all for this film. Cinematic greatness aside, had Mani Ratnam even attempted to imbue his narrative with half the substance of the Orson Welles classic, he'd have ended up with a more bearable film. He's lost almost all the footing he'd gained with Yuva.

paagal paagal tuune mujhe kar diyaa as Bappi sang in that other Guru, which starred Mithun in the title role and had more to offer in its own space than this shuffle of a dyspeptic deck does in its slot. I wish I could scream Show me the Mani, but Baradwaj already snagged that for the title of his kinder more eloquent take on the film.

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