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January 20th, 2007


This evening I watched Mani Ratnam’s ‘Guru’. Perhaps loosely framed around the story of Dhirubhai Ambani, the story has an ambiguous position towards ‘capitalism’.

Gurukant Desai (Abhishek Bachan) hails from a village in Gujarat. Having failed his final year school exams, he goes off to Turkey on a job offer. After seven years of progress, he decides that he will work for himself and come back to his village. He marries his friend’s elder sister Sujata (Aishwarya Rai) and invests the dowry money in business. His wife, now brother-in-law and he come to Bombay and start trading in textiles. Guru faces the hurdles of starting his business including corruption, bureaucracy and power. In the process he meets the owner of the newspaper Independent (Mithun Chakravarthy) who is referred to as Nanaji. Nanaji is a communist who believes in writing the truth. For Guru, Mithun is father figure. In the relationship that Mithun and Guru share, we see the tension between capitalism and socialism/communism.I am not even sure what Mithun’s own position is because in the beginning of the movie, he scolds Abhishek for staring at the building he lives in and later comes out as a professed socialist!

Guru goes on to start his textile factory where he produces polyester. He runs his business on the basis of public equity. He is given gifts of land by ministers. He fakes his exports to gain license. He runs two factories under permit to run one. And he establishes the country’s most successful company.

Mithun vows to reveal the corruption behind Guru’s success and get his reporter (played by Madhavan) to do stories about Guru’s business malpractices.

Guru starts to doubt whether he is a businessman or a thug. He is struck by paralysis and is served a court notice on 39 charges. Finally, in the court, he defends himself by saying that when he started his business, he faced corruption, bureaucratic hurdles, did not know what customs was, what excise was, what income tax was. He says he knows only how to do business which is what he has done and has successfully established the biggest company in India. In this respect, if he has defaulted here and there, it is for the benefit of the people of India who have also profited from his success.

The courtroom drama leaves a lot to be sorted out in our own heads. Does this film mean to say that for the country’s development and for the sake of the nation, anything is fair in business? Somehow the film is itself confused. While it wants to glorify Dhirubhai Ambani for taking the country on the path of progress, it cannot deny the malpractices that have been involved in the building of the Reliance empire. But for the sake of the nation, we are willing to overlook the malpractices is what the film comes out as saying.

This film is definitely different from a Swades type, it still remains confused in what it wants to say. If global monopoly is problematic, isn’t national monopoly equally not acceptable? Is it possible to tell a story of an ordinary entrepreneur without getting into the trap of narrating the story of national development? Who is the entrepreneur after all?


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