The Trial of All: National Drama and National Destiny in “Guru”

Mani Ratnam produces and directs the film Guru, in which a young commoner has a dream to become a businessman. He succeeds despite obstacles and social constructs, but in the end his life in on trial for various corruptions and scandals. In 2007 when the film released, India’s population and economy was growing tremendously. However, corruption and scandals in the country were emerging. Ratnam presents Guru’s final trial as a microcosm of India’s ongoing trial with itself and the world, and the nation must take action as it progresses in the future. The various elements of the scene, such as the anticipation, the crowd, and the panel of judges depict India’s current situation. The trial serves as a warning and immediate call of action to the people. Guru’s life depends on it. In order to survive, he must fight his case and appeal to his audience and adversaries without using violence. Thus, he gives a speech in which he installs a sense of national pride, drawing on Indian core values of resistance, loss, and perseverance. His journey parallels that of India, and the nation’s progress demands courage, vision, and unity of its people.

The way Mani Ratnam depicts Guru’s trial represents India’s current divided state. First, the anticipation of the scene reflects expectations of India from the world and its people. Guru left the last hearing with only one word, “Namaste”, meaning literally “I bow to you”. However, as he walks up the stairs of the courthouse, the environment is much different from that of the previous trial. Some people are hoping that he will be hanged while others believe in him and Shakti Corporation. This is the climax of the movie just as India seems to be at a climax of its grown. The public is questioning the government regarding recent rumors of scandals and corruption. Their loss of trust in India is the same distrust Guru’s supporters are experiencing. The upcoming scene will dictate the fates of Guru, his wife, Shakti Corporation, and the people of India.

The pressure of Guru’s trial arises from the presence of an audience, which is also the international audience currently watching India. Before Guru arrives, a crowd is gathered in front of the courthouse. One man manages to speak with Guru, “I’ve Shakti shares. I’ve got my three daughters married with that. That’s all I wanted to say…thank you. Don’t worry because I am with you.” Ratnam adds this interaction to the film in order to make the trial more personal. What happens in India affects the daily lives of billions of people; even the simple life of a taxi driver will be determined by its outcome. The courthouse is packed and Guru sits at the center of the aisle with only his wife at his side and the background of people are blurred behind him. The intense drumming music in the background paired with the slow ascent up the courthouse stairs and to his seat amplify the pressure of the upcoming trial of Guru and of India.

The people’s anger outside and inside the courthouse is the same cry of discontent from the people of India. Policemen are trying to physically hold back the public outside the courthouse despite all the commotion. Similarly, the government is trying to prevent the angry people of India from seeing the truth. For this trial only is the public allowed to enter the doors of the courthouse. In the previous hearings, allegations were made against Guru behind closed doors. The judge reminds Guru, “Beware of what you say the public is present. What you say could go against you”. This interjection by the panel not only highlights the presence of the public, but it also sheds light on the panel’s feelings toward the public. The government officials on the panel warn Guru because in front of witnesses they themselves may put on a mask to conceal their true motives.

The role of media in the last scene of Guru parallels that in the real world of India. Before and throughout the trial, lights are flashing everywhere and permeate the scene. The shutter sounds are distracting to the viewers trying to watch Guru and the film, creating a physical disturbance. Furthermore, the first row of people standing behind Guru have black cameras hanging from their necks. Just as the cameramen obstruct the commoners’ view of Guru’s trial, the media distorts the people’s view of India. The public doesn’t have the chance to see the truth, and even if they do, they are distracted by the media’s portrayal of events. The presence of the press during the climax event of the film is crucial, as viewers are wondering if Guru will manage to emerge victorious over the media.

The melodrama film techniques that heighten the scene’s drama illustrate the people’s anticipation and emotions towards India’s current state. After Guru’s prolonged entrance, the judge silences the crowd, and thus the music fades out. Without music, the scene is more realistic, which convinces the audience that the trial is serious and not invented. However, once the judge grants him five minutes, Guru recovers his heroic music as he rises to speak. During the speech, the background music varies while the audience’s sentiments towards India vary as well. Similarly, the camera switches focus during the scene as the people of India are focusing and reacting to various questions and concerns. Rather than showing an overall view of the scene, Ratnam zooms in on either Guru or the panel. Immediately before or after Guru asks a provoking question, the camera reacts, just as the people would react, and focuses on the responder. Ratnam successfully intensifies the viewers’ suspense of Guru’s and the panel’s responses just as India’s people are waiting with anticipation for the nation’s response to the current events.

Ratnam conveys India’s need for both immediate and efficient call to action through constraints of Guru’s voice and his time constraint of 5 minutes. Just before the judges leave, Guru seizes his opportunity to speak. The trial is his last chance to plead his case to the public and to the panel. Likewise, if India does not react to the present situation, the country may forever lose its chance. Nevertheless, this call to action must act efficiently as well because there is only a small window of time. Moreover, the country is constrained to a limited amount of resources and must use them wisely like Guru did with his voice. Viewers are on the edge of their seat, and within the next few minutes Guru must unite the people to save the nation from impending death.

Guru’s speech is a critical turning point in the film as he generates support from his audience in the courthouse in addition to his audience on the screen. To overcome the recent division and trials of his company, he must appeal to both the panel and to the people. Thus, he attempts to create a sense of national pride by comparing his individual story to the personal stories of others, and ultimately to the story of India. All these journeys are united through common themes of poverty, social structure, jealousy, and loss.

In his speech, Guru discusses his own struggles with poverty to identify with his audience and India in his speech. He connects his early life to current India, “I roamed around carrying cans as a petrol pump assistant, just like our country goes to the World Bank begging, ‘Give us money’ – ‘we want to make roads’”. India and Guru may seem powerful and rich to the people, but the truth is that both encountered poverty. Guru humbly says, “All I know is business, and to work hard, and poverty”. With this attitude, the audience sees that Guru is vulnerable, and consequently, the people understand that they are all in fact facing the poverty issue.

Just as the rigidity of India’s social structure almost prevented Guru from succeeding, the division among Indian social classes is stunting the nation’s growth. He comments on the activities of the wealthy, “I don’t know how to play golf and I don’t go to horse races” and then says what he can do “but I’m a solid player in my business”. Guru states that the trivial differences distinguishing the wealthy are unrelated to one’s business capability. He further discuses his experiences, “But the doors to business opened only to the rich, Doors made by the government”. In the last phrase, he directly blames the Indian government for social class inequalities, and therefore the people are unified through a common enemy.

Next, Guru discusses anger and jealousy that causes division among people in his company and India. In his own journey, the main conflict arises when his brother-in-law is angry that the company is growing without his input. His feelings of disconnect to the company and Guru transform into jealousy and he leaves the company. Similarly, according to BBC, during the year the film was released (2007), India’s government announced its strongest economic growth figures for 20 years, which was 9.4% in the year to March. Some people were concerned with the country’s rapid growth, and perhaps other countries were jealous of India. Guru asks, “What are you angry about? My growth or the speed of my growth? Or that I’ve surpassed your expectations of an ordinary villager?” Guru claims that India is finally proving itself at the international level in addition to the micro-level. He encourages the public to ignore adversaries, whether those are the government or other countries, because their anger comes from envy.

A common sentiment that Guru and the country of India share is loss. Guru tries to gain sympathy from the audience, “I’ve lost a lot reaching here. I lost this hand. Damn thing hangs uselessly. And by the time this enquiry ends…I don’t know what else I’ll lose…my voice…my mind…” He explains that his journey to become a businessman has not been easy with his demographic background. Similarly, people of lower classes in India feel that they must work much harder than the wealthy. Families and children are starving and loss is present throughout their daily lives. Though India may seem strong, the nation suffers from national disasters, Pakistan conflict, and inter-religious conflict. Acknowledging losses is necessary for an individual or a country to survive and progress.

Guru’s hard work in his journey illustrates India’s need to continue persevering. In the film, Guru never accepts no as an answer, just as he will not allow the trial to end his life and accomplishments. He explains, “I fell many times before I learned”. With failure comes knowledge, and Guru inspires the audience and the people of India to overcome trials in their own journeys. He also discusses dedication, “To save money I walked 20kms from Pydhonie carrying huge bales of polyester on my head”. Guru was committed to his goal of becoming a successful businessman, and India as well is capable of becoming a world power. Nevertheless, every individual of India must carry some of the nation on his back. The road ahead will not be easy, but Guru demonstrates that it is possible.

In the later part of his speech Guru declares that India needs a vision of the country’s future just as he has a vision for his company. He asks rhetorical questions filled with emotion, “Why can’t we reach the top? Why are we called the third world? We have as much right to be a first world country…and we can be!” Guru is trying to aspire the people to share a common goal and rise as a nation. He refers to Gandhi in regards to vision, “In his time slavery was the law…he wrote a new law…our freedom” Guru explains that although Gandhi was radical at the time, his efforts produced something greater. In order for India to become a powerful and influential nation, it must have a concrete and radical vision.

As India progresses forward into the unknown, Guru states that courage is the most permanent and essential element of India and its people. Despite various obstacles, such as fear of failure, the government, and adversaries, one must not lose courage. In Guru’s words, “But there is one thing you can never snatch from me: my courage. I won’t lose that. Because my courage is the common man’s courage…this country’s courage.” Courage makes India unique, and in the film the audience and the people of India all share courage. This shared trait unites the public and empowers them to believe that anything is possible.

Although the courthouse scene begins as a hopeless and chaotic mess, at the end of the speech the audience is clapping in unison. India currently may seem divided with recent conflicts and knowledge of corruption occurring behind closed doors. However, if the people of India can come together through their shared journeys and values, then the nation can overcome all trials. Not only will the nation be able to survive, but it can also develop further. The people must have the courage to and perseverance to fight itself and its adversaries. National pride holds the nation together. Although Guru is dishonest, immoral, and corrupt, Ratnam reminds the viewers that division leads to disaster. In some ways, India’s trials of corruption, loss, and struggles strengthen the nation and compel the people to unite and support one another.