Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Guru Bhai's Sorry Ethics

There was a time when people avoided any film that enjoyed exemption from entertainment tax, the rule of thumb being that if the government deigned to overlook entertainment tax from a film, then for certain, that film was not worth spending money on as it going to be boring and preachy. But this much was certain, that though usually the films so exempted from tax were often dry and pedantic in their presentation, at its core they had a message and an ideal that they tried to convey.

They consciously avoided the song and dance and running around trees kind of scenes because they detracted from the gravitas that the director often wanted conveyed. At the end of the day, the films exempted from entertainment tax, even if they did not go on to win the national awards were fine films. Of hand, I can recall two, Shyam Benegal’s Bhumika and Manthan. I do no remember the story of Bhumika much except that it was based of the life of a Gujarati stage actress but Manthan was based on the origins of the milk cooperative movement and though not a pot boiler in any sense of the term, it was a good film with a lot of its lessons still relevant today.

But when films Mani Ratnam’s Guru get exemption (as happened in Uttar Pradesh), one has to probe hard to seek a reason. Of course one knows about the political angle between the lead actor’s family and the then government as well as the connection to the industrial patriarch whose biopic, the film is without saying so. But although the film has the flourish that one would expect from Mani Ratnam and an equally enchanting music from. A.R. Rehman, the ethics the film promotes could do with out the additional prop in the form of cheaper tickets. For it is tantamount to the state endorsing a kind of life that is any way flourishing in Uttar Pradesh, with or without state patronage.

Women have typically served to bring nothing more than a touch of glamour to a Bollywood film. In this film the protagonist, Guru Bhai crowns the commoditization of women by marrying his wife solely because her father was rich and he could use the dowry that he would get as a start up capital for his first business. In a day and age when dowry is illegal in the eyes of the law and there is a movement that is gathering momentum to challenge its social and cultural roots, the tax exempted film goes ahead and tells one and all, the practical uses to which dowry money could be put, the last thing a feudal state like Uttar Pradesh needs.

The principles of entrepreneurship that are brought out in the film are that the road to riches , success and power are paved with generous doses of bribes, muscle power and black mail marinated in a brew of deadly ruthlessness. Laws can be broken with impunity by invoking Gandhi and by buttressing the fact that Guru Bhai’s wealth is shared not just by him and his wife who are the promoters but by lakhs of two bit share holders who have hit pay dirt. Mean while to enhance shareholder value, fraud, manipulation, coercion, insider trading are all taking place without as much as a by your leave.

Typically Hindi movies end with a good versus evil sort of climax with good winning, so that people can go home happy. But in Guru, the definition of good itself has got distorted. The victory of good in the movie is that of Guru Bhai, felled by a stroke and now recovered addressing a stadium full of people about heady things like being big and bigger and daring and about how life has no means that matter, only ends that count. And the vulture like glitter that Guru bhai accumulates over the years tells only one tale – that money and the greed and grit to make more of it by fair means or foul, is the one thing that matters. Now , is this the ethic that we so value , that we want to nurture it by removing entertainment tax and making available cheap tickets, so that more people gravitate towards lucre and wealth….. in the manner that Guru Bhai amasses it? if that is consistent with our national ethos of Satyam Eva Jayate, then it is very disturbing indeed.

No comments: