Clearly inspired by the life of controversial Indian entrepreneur Dhirubhai Ambani, Tamil filmmaker Mani Ratnam's politically inflected Hindi melodrama examines three decades in the life of Gurukant "Guru" Desai (Abhishek Bachchan, son of Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan), who rises from his modest rural origins to the top of the business world.
Idhar Village, Gujarat, 1951: Young Guru bitterly disappoints his father, headmaster of the local school, by failing his exams. But Guru is less interested in academics than business, and takes the opportunity to move to Istanbul, where an uncle teaches him the basics of trading. Though Guru's knack for it lands him a promising job offer from a British petroleum company, he doesn't want to live in Turkey and work for Europeans. So he returns to Idhar, where he and his childhood best friend, Jignesh Patel, decide to go into business together: The only thing stopping them is money — though Jignesh's father used to be a moneylender, he's keeping all his spare funds as a dowry for his headstrong daughter, Sujatha (Aishwarya Rai). So Guru marries Sujatha, and the three of them move to Bombay, only to find that a web of trade associations and government quotas conspire to keep newcomers from establishing themselves.
A fortuitous meeting with newspaper publisher Manikdas Gupta (Mithun Chakraborty) gives Guru the break he needs; Gupta, who's impressed by Guru's drive and energy, exposes favoritism within a local union, and Guru steps into the resulting breach. He becomes a successful yarn trader, then expands into fabric import and export. He sees an opportunity in polyester and opens a textile factory, later diversifying his interests to include chemical manufacturing. Guru's financial success erodes his integrity and he alienates old friends and supporters, including Gupta, who assigns hotshot reporter Shyam Saxena (Madhavan) to cover irregularities in Guru's Shakhti family of companies.
Guru embodies a number of trends that have emerged in postcolonial India, and when he's called before a government commission, he delivers an impassioned speech that emphasizes national pride — he and Sujatha even request that the proceedings be conducted in Hindi rather than in English — and the need for India to establish herself as a respected member of the international business community. Unlike most mainstream filmmakers, Ratnam doesn't try to include something for everyone, but he does deliver several handsome production numbers. The highlights are a sultry belly-dance sequence featuring Mallika Sherawat and a solo for Rai that emphasizes her rural roots while contriving to get her sari soaking wet. — Maitland McDonagh leave a comment