In a country where movies in the science fiction and fantasy genre won't find much acceptance if not backed up by heavy spectacle, Rajiv Anchal's 1997 film Guru is a testament to the fact that it's possible to attain a fine balance between stimulating ideas and grand visuals. Replete with metaphors, much of it obvious, the themes in Guru make it more relevant now than ever.
Despite enjoying something of a cult status today, the film's dismal performance at the box office -- it managed to recover only one-third of its 3 crore budget) -- ensured that no other ambitious filmmaker would dare try something of a similar magnitude. Was the film 20 years early? Would audiences be more welcoming if it were made today?
That it was the first Malayalam film to receive an Oscar nomination proved the fact that it was made for an international audience. Perhaps if someone had given Rajiv the opportunity to make the same film in Hollywood with a bigger budget, it would've been a completely different story. Though the alternate reality concept was new to Malayalis, similar subjects have been explored by Hollywood in the past.
Mohanlal played Raghuraman, a man whose family is affected by the communal violence orchestrated by a corrupt local politician (NF Varghese). Consumed by vengeance, he joins a radical group to hit back at the people responsible. This decision leads him on a dark path that unexpectedly lands him at the doors of a holy guru's ashram. There he meets one of his followers, Vaidehi (Sithara), who manages to put him under a state of trance, subsequently transporting him to an alternate reality.
The world of this alternate reality is populated by a tribe led by their king Vijayanta (Suresh Gopi). Raghuraman, to his surprise, sees that everyone here is blind. In this land of the blind, Raghuraman becomes the "one-eyed king" whose repeated attempts to convince them of the existence of a world of sight is met with strong resistance. They refuse to believe his theories, dismissing them as lies and the blasphemous ramblings of a madman.
Raghuraman discovers that their blindness is caused by the flesh of a special kind of fruit; and he is told that its seeds, when consumed, can cause death. In an interesting turn of events, Raghuraman learns that the seeds have the power to bring back their eyesight and that the tribe has been deprived of this secret for a long time. While the fruit symbolises religion, its seeds represent the truth.
Though Rajiv Anchal had admitted that Guru's story was influenced by HG Wells' short story, The Country of the Blind, the way he moulded the story to suit Indian sensibilities is certainly commendable. The film is all about the importance of critical thinking. Wouldn't it be cool if it were made essential viewing in classrooms where critical thinking is one of the subjects being taught? In this age of fake news and misleading WhatsApp messages (fruit), a film like Guru asks you to dig deeper for the truth (seeds).