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The story is obviously a takeoff from Dhirubhai Ambani’s life and times. But that is just a starting thread. Using that, Mani’s spins a yarn (just about the right term to describe about a story that is about success in spinning mills and polyester fibre) that gives a feeling of comfort and warmth.
‘Guru’ begins with the young Gurunath (Abhishek) setting off to the arty and raucous Istanbul. In a sense, Istanbul proves to be what South Africa became eventually for the other great Indian dreamer ----Mahatma Gandhi ----- a seed of inspiration. Appropriately, Guru too invokes the ideas (though not the idealism) of ‘Bapu’ when he is towards the end pinned down by Indian authorities for transgressions of laws that are in the book.
Guru, though appreciated for his work ethic, is consumed by the desire to make his work come good for himself rather than waste it for others (in this context, the whites). So he throws up his job in Istanbul and comes down to his dusty hamlet in Gujarat. But here again, the roadblocks before the takeoff are many (parental disapproval, monetary dryness and a general small-minded approach).
Guru, who sees Sujatha (Aishwarya) in quaint circumstances, falls in love with her and marries her. But the bigger love is for the money that she brings along as dowry (it is a truth that he will come to face at an unexpected crossroad). This would be his opening gambit on a complex, chequered board of a game in which every coin is deemed a pawn by vested interests. Guru of course wants to be the king. He understands the system. More importantly, he understands men and their minds. He strikes up friendship, by chance, with a maverick press baron Mangaldas (Mithun Chakraborthy). It is what launches him into a tumultuous world and it is what holds him back later. It is an enigmatic relationship that even amidst the no-holds-barred fight, Guru is able to strike a beautiful and bouncy relationship with the multiple-sclerosis ridden daughter of Mangaldas (Vidya Balan).
The initial days in the market are hard slog and slugfest. Guru manoeuvres them all with commonsense and conviction. But he has to subvert the system (mind you, those were the times of license raj and quota rules). This is what gets the goat of the Mangaldas, an old-world journo, who, despite his outward brusqueness, likes to play within the rules.
What ensues is a high-stakes cat and mouse game with Mangaldas using his hotshot scribe Shyam (Madhavan) to dredge up details of off-the-book dealings of Guru. It is a fight between two equal enemies. Guru, despite playing by his own rules, wins popular support. It is on these crutches that he eventually hobbles out.
The story’s strength is in the details that are too difficult to explore and experience in words and overzealous adjectives. But in Mani’s expert eyes, everything parade out in a panache-filled procession.
In the end, the film is indeed a biopic, without the attendant dreariness.