Mihir Busa, a mechanical engineer originally from Bombay, has had a little trouble adjusting to life in Atlantic Canada. “We all are used to not eating meat,” he says. “Over here it’s hard to find Indian food in the Superstore. There are a few Indian stores, but the prices are…whoof.” He says that for young Indo-Canadians, there aren’t many opportunities for entertainment, which is why on a Friday night he and some friends are at Empire Theatres Bayers Lake to see Guru, the new Bollywood film that has just opened, a few weeks after its world premiere in Toronto where it has been something of a hit. “It’s a chance to meet some new people, that’s the basic objective,” says Busa of getting out to see Guru. For him, this is “a big deal.”
The scene at the theatre isn’t crazy, like it was in Toronto, but the Indo-Canadian audience for the evening show is well represented. When Guru opened in on Yonge Street on January 12, it drew a huge crowd to see canoodling stars Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan, engaged in real life, make a red carpet appearance. The tabloids call them the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of Bollywood cinema, and it’s a fair descriptor, given their movie-star charisma.
Bollywood fan and Friday night moviegoer Amir Mansoor raves about Rai for her international status as the world’s biggest female movie star, but also Bachchan, who he points out is the son of legendary Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan. “I am from Pakistan, but it’s the same language we use both sides, so I am excited,” says Mansoor before going into see Guru. “Everybody loves Bollywood movies. For the last two, three days I’ve been getting emails from different people saying this movie was coming on Friday.”
Indo-Canadian cinemagoer Tripta Kumar shares similar sentiments. “We are really proud to have a Bollywood movie opening in Halifax. Our whole community is connected. They were phoning each other, very excited that they’re playing a Bollywood movie: Let’s go see it.”
Guru, from popular studio Madras Talkies, is directed by well-regarded Bollywood helmer Mani Ratnam, and follows a Citizen Kane-like tale of a peasant villager Gurukant “Guru” Desai, who with nothing but a dream works hard to create a business empire, but at a cost: he alienates his friends and risks being branded a criminal for cutting corners with the tax laws. The picture is a little vague on which laws were broken, or how many, but in the end it seems to come down firmly on the side of unrestrained capitalism, with Desai branded a corporate folk hero. The film stuffs its two hour and forty minute running time with gorgeous scenery, cinematography and choreography. It is a musical, after all, and a lot more satisfying than Dreamgirls.
Dr. Hari Das is a professor at SMU, teaching human resource management. He’s also been a fan of Bollywood for decades, a director of short films and has organized a film festival in Chennai (formerly Madras), India, location of the Guru studio. He says Bollywood operates under a different set of cliches than Hollywood, but it certainly works for the culture, as the Indian film business employs more people and makes more money than its American counterpart. “It’s definitely very different. You’ll find that while they do have violence and sex, its much lower compared to Hollywood. It’s more stylistic. Most of them are family dramas.” And they tend to tell tales of the triumph of love over all odds. With added singing and dancing. “The average Indian filmgoer in the past was very poor,” says Das. “So for them, it’s sort of a fantasy escape.”
That analysis is certainly played out in Guru, wherein Desai, through the strength of a heartfelt oration, convinces a court not to send him and his lovely wife to jail because his intentions are pure. At best such a plot development may seem highly unlikely, at worst a special kind of cinematic cheese. It’s really just a different set of genre tropes than what we’re used to, an optimism in the storytelling that we should be getting our heads around in this age of increasingly global cinema, with Bollywood opening even at the BLIP.
“All I can say, is that Bollywood movies are a complete package,” says Kiran Chatrathi, among the Indo-Canadian crowd going to see Guru on Friday night. “You’ll see love and some action too. Movies like this, everyone will look forward to many more to come.”
Guru is playing now. See Movie Times for more info