Monday, January 16, 2012

Guru (India, 1980)

By all rights, I should have looked away from Guru, but lord help me I could not. At the very least I should have stopped listening to it. The version of this Tamil language film that I watched had been subjected to the worst Hindi dubbing job imaginable -- not only on its dialog, but its songs as well. And rather than re-recording those songs from scratch, the dubbers simply pasted the caterwauling Hindi vocals (Asha Bhosle being obviously outside the price range) over the original musical tracks, substituting, for the duration of the sung portions only, a sort of drum machine and Casio-on-factory-settings karaoke approximation of their more lush, live orchestration. It was not good.

At the same time, Guru offers a lot of the searingly colorful grotesquerie and carnivalesque thrill-jockeying that I’ve come to hope for in action films from India’s regional cinema. And this despite the film actually being a pretty close remake of Jugnu, Dharmendra’s solidly middling Hindi thriller from 1973. It even borrows the same footage from the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, as well as some footage from Jugnu itself. More importantly, we get an appearance by what is probably Jugnu’s most thrilling feature, the Jugnu-Mobile, although here it is the Guru-Mobile, thanks to the fact that Guru is, in this version, the name of the altruistic bandit played by our leading man, Tamil superstar Kamal Hassan.

But alongside these familiar elements, Guru makes an effort to establish itself as its own odd breed of beast. In addition to Kamal Hassan’s courageous thief with a conscience, we’re also presented with a pink-clad superhero -- seemingly also named Guru, although obviously played by a different actor -- who strikes terror into the hearts of evildoers through flamboyant and impractical displays of gymnastics (which, as in Gymkata, are entirely dependent upon those evildoers’ surroundings being equipped with the appropriate equipment, such as parallel bars). This Super Guru announces himself via the hurling of a small metal statue of what appears to be a pigeon covered with flashing colored lights -- a practice that I imagine would quickly become prohibitively expensive, kind of like giving everyone you meet a Kindle.

Sadly, once introduced, this magnificent creature is never to be seen again. But Guru has plenty of other gaudy and baffling visual stimuli in store for us -- some of them courtesy of its Hindi inspiration and some all of its own fevered machinations. Mirroring Jugnu, the monolithically pompadoured “Boss” wears on his arm something that looks like an oversized cocktail shaker, and which extrudes all manner of deadly pointy things on command. On the romance front, Sridevi essays the role played by Hema Malini in the original, and when Kamal Hassan first lays eyes upon her, it is in a picnic setting where she is amusing a group of female friends by blasting the words “I love you” into a giant paper heart with a revolver. Do I want to know what this means? Probably not. Nor do I need any further explication of the scene in which Kamal Hassan and Sridevi antagonistically serenade one another while she flies a helicopter and he buzzes her in a light plane.

The cycle of reciprocal remaking between Bollywood and its regional counterparts was and remains a not uncommon practice, with Telegu and Tamil hits frequently being remade for the Hindi market and Hindi films also getting the regional treatment. Then, apparently, those Tamil and Telegu remakes have sometimes been dubbed so that Hindi audiences could enjoy cheaper, idiosyncratic regional interpretations of films they’d already seen in their own language, though this time with all of the music and dialog ruined. Truly, in the condition I watched it, Guru was just one pink superhero away from being completely unwatchable, but sometimes it’s the pink superheroes that make all the difference.

And also the tasteful set decor.

[NOTE: YouTube has some clips of the original musical sequences from Guru, which demonstrate that the songs, composed by Kamal Hassan  favorite Ilayaraja, are actually quite nice in their unmolested form.]


memsaab said...

LOL@the expensive calling card! I guess I will skip this one (unless I find it in the original Tamil) although it makes my heart hurt to see you describe Jugnu as "middling".

Todd said...

Yeah, I don't love Jugnu I'm sad to say. It has a lot of great parts, but, for me, the movie overall doesn't live up to them. On the plus side, I sure don't hate Jugnu either.

memsaab said...

Well, it IS possible that Dharmendra doesn't hold you in thrall the way he does me...

Todd said...

He enthralled me until I started watching Pakistani films and realized that his version of bellowing solemn oaths while pointing was actually the "AM" version.

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