© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
L to R: Abhishek Bachchan as Gurukant Desai
and Aishwarya Rai as his wife Sujatha
© 2007 Madras Talkies, Yash Raj Films, Adlabs

Ratnam, begins with the usual disclaimer about
not being based on any individual and any
similarities are purely coincidental. In this case,
it is more than just legalese: the film is
acknowledged to be loosely inspired by the life
of Indian entrepreneur Dhirajlal Hirachand
Ambani, better known as Dhirubhai Ambani, the
founder of Reliance Industries Limited. His firm,
initially called Reliance Commercial Corporation
and set up to import polyester yarn and export
spices, grew into the largest petrochemical firm
in India and is reportedly the largest private
sector company in the country as well.
Additionally, the company held interests in textile
manufacturing, telecommunications and financial
services. Ambani died in 2002 and a dispute
among his surviving family has led to the
company being split into several smaller entities.

Ambani was a colorful figure whose ethics were
not always above board. His life was chronicled in
the unauthorized biography,
The Polyester Prince by Hamish McDonald.
Instead of taking a purely biographical approach
to the material, Mani Ratnam instead opted
to fictionalize the story (I would guess partly
to avoid lawsuits). What he has crafted in
is a superb film that profiles a man driven
to succeed. The movie opens in black-and-white
with Gurukant Desai (excellently portrayed by
Abhishek Bachchan) recalling how his father
always told him that it was pointless to dream.
Defiantly, he dared to dream -- and he came to
realize nearly all of them. From a rural upbringing
as the son of the local headmaster to the
corridors of power as the nation of India grew
and developed.

GURU takes the young man to Turkey where he
excels in his work for an oil company. Offered
a promotion and a large salary increase, Desai
turns it down to return to his native area with
the idea of going into business. His father scoffs
at his schemes, certain he will fail, and that is
partly the psychological spur he needs to find
success. He marries Sujatha (Aishwarya Rai),
whom he had encountered on a train ride after
she had been spurned by her lover. That she
happens to be the sister of Guru's best friend
and future business partner (Arya Babbar) and
that she comes with a large dowry also play into
the equation. At first, she is unhappy with the
idea but gradually warms up to her spouse --
until her brother informs her in anger about why
Guru really married her. The couple eventually
overcome this little bump and settle in together.

As the story evolves from roughly the late 1940s
into the 1980s, Guru schemes to succeed, never
taking "no" for an answer. With success
and power, though, come critics, notably his
former mentor, newspaper editor Nanaji (Mithun
Chakraborty), and an avid reporter (R Madhavan).
The film reaches its climax in the early 1980s
when Guru has to defend himself before a
government board and he delivers a bravura,
inspiring speech.

The film is anchored by Bachchan's terrific
performance. As always, Rai is lovely to look at,
but she doesn't make much of her character.
The large supporting cast is uniformly good,
with Babbar, Madhavan, Vidya Balan and the
always reliably great Roshan Seth as the

In mulling over this film, I kept trying to think of
an American movie to which it may bear
comparisons and I kept thinking of Orson Welles'
CITIZEN KANE. While GURU is not quite on the
same level as that masterpiece (after all, what
is?), it does rank pretty close in its depiction of
the life of a man consumed by his business
pursuits and his dreams. Even if you have never
heard of Ambani or know little about India and
its history, you can still appreciate
GURU for its
terrific cast and its strong direction and script.

Rating:             B+
MPAA Rating:    NONE
Running time:    165 mins.
  (shown with an intermission)

  Viewed at The ImaginAsian