Finally, Guru in the theater (although now Salaam-e-Ishq has been cancelled due to its lackluster reviews, thanks very much, rest of the world). I have deliberately not read anyone else's thoughts on the movie, so while I may be last, and everything I say may already have been said, and better, at least my thoughts are still my own.
Subtitles are supposed to accomplish one basic and very important task: in the language of the audience, communicate the dialogue (and occasionally relavant printed text) of movies made in languages other than that of the audience. Simple. So why bother with them at all if they're hardly going to fall into the general realm of functional? Geeze. I'm really ticked off about this problem here - the subtitles were so sparse and so dull that I'm convinced I missed at least half of the story and even more of the verbally-expressed emotional heft. For example, someone would say three or four sentences, and we'd read "He has left the room," which clearly was neither the whole information nor the whole emotion of the speech. I think I could have done almost as well without them just by reading expressions and gestures and filling in with some of my other film-taught words. If anyone in the film industry reads this post, please tell me whom to address about this problem. I think Gurubhai would agree that it's just bad business to put out such a shoddy product. Of course, I don't have a choice in provider, do I? If so, I would gladly have paid 50% again as much to watch a version of this that left me feeling confident that I actually saw the movie. Wondering how much of the movie I missed or don't adequately understand is making it very hard to think about it - let alone write about it.
(Aside: would anyone like to comment on the purpose of having events for this movie in Toronto and New York? I don't know if those events were designed to increase awareness of the movie to general movie-going public in those cities [or their respective countries] or perhaps more specific targeted audiences, like various NRI/desi communities there? If they were in fact trying to attract attention of more of the "I don't tend to go to Hindi film" movie-oging public, doesn't it seem weird that the filmmakers would go to all this trouble to tout a product that a significant portion of those potential new audiences can't even understand? If this was my first Hindi film, I would have thought, "Wow, that was a pretty movie with pretty people in it; I wonder what was going on?")
Okay. There are two things that I think I understood adequately enough to comment on. The first is polyester, the raw material of his success. Why polyester? One of my Fulbright colleagues is obsessed with the symbolism of fabric in India, and I hope he'll post here about what he thinks about this question. I'm still mulling it over, but I thought it was pretty significant that the story was built around something modern but synthetic, something that's an alternate to Gandhi's homespun, something that's slick and malleable, something that we try to make look like other things.
The other is reconciliation. Though I have no idea what happened in the song that follows Sujata on her flight from Guru after she discovers the reason behind their marriage, I was really moved by the idea that apology, forgiveness, and real, complex, durable love can be expressed without spoken words. I wish my life worked more like that.
Overall, Guru didn't cohere into an especially interesting story for me. The performances were fine, although I thought Abhishek's work here had nothing on Yuva or even the taut and funny Bunty aur Babli. [Pause to duck behind the desk, anticipating rotten vegetables thrown at one.] Aishwarya too was adequate, but I much, much prefer her as smart and sparky, like in Kandoukondain Kandoukondain, and overall I thought this was yet another movie in which talented female performers didn't have material up to their abilities. I did like Madhavan much better here than in the other two roles I've seen him in, and of course if you only know Mithun Chakraborty from Disco Dancer and Commando, like I do, you'll be duly impressed.
Okay, wow, sorry, this is getting boring even to write. I might give this movie another try if I hear reliable reports that the subtitles have been vastly improved for the DVD. I wanted to like this, and I believe other non-Hindi speakers when they say they did, but personally I'm left shrugging. The question that nags at me is about Guru and his knowledge. I get that he was driven, but I don't understand which aspects of his company's success and problems were things he knowingly did and which were things his underlings decided. From his first days in business we know he smilingly plays the game to win, but those were in the days when obstacles and enemies were ethically simpler, and no one would feel particular outrage at a slimy broker being tricked by a fresh-faced upstart. But I never felt I saw Guru contemplate the costs of playing as his games became increasingly complex and affected many more people - his family and his country that he kept talking about, who at some level have to be considered as victims. So I can't say whether I'd call him a thug either, because I don't know what he did deliberately, knowingly, maliciously. And that's where I think the character of Guru is related to the connotation of polyester. We all wear it, but do we really know what it is, how it's made? No, and most of us don't care, either, because it's practical and budget-friendly and can survive being chucked in the washer countless times - the same as Gurubhai, except I had no doubt his purpose and trajectory through life were thoroughly inherent and not at all synthesized.
You can read Desi Music Club's review of the music here.