Cast: Venkatesh, Ritika Singh
Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad
Rating: 3 stars
Sudha Kongara Prasad's Guru follows the same pattern, but the execution is terrific and the performances stretches the film beyond its potential, turning it into a riveting sports drama. Indian sports dramas have a certain pattern to it. There's a stern coach with a point to prove, after his playing career finished tragically many years ago. A youngster with immense potential. A corrupt official who stands in the way of India achieving medals on the International stage, and a foreign player who beats everybody -- before eventually losing to our champion.
Guru may be the remake of Saala Khadoos but the essence is not lost in the Telugu version. From the cast to the locations, to the dialogues, the transition (from Hindi to Telugu) has been incredibly smooth and for that, director Sudha (who also directed the Hindi and Tamil versions) deserves credit.
Brash, arrogant boxing coach Aditya Rao (Venkatesh) has constant run-ins with the Boxing Association, including a long-standing feud with its president Dev Khatri (Zakir Hussain). Adi, as he's popularly known, is a taskmaster who abuses his students, throws water on them if they show up late with fever, and makes them workout till they drop. He has no hesitation in defying orders and treating officials with utter disdain. But the association cannot fire him since he happens to be India's best coach.
After Adi misbehaves in a press conference, Khatri transfers him to Visakhapatnam. 'No matter where you send me, I'll find a champion from there,' thunders a defiant Adi.
In Visakhapatnam, Adi finds his match in Rameswari AKA Ramudu (Kritika Singh). If Adi is rude and ill-mannered, Ramudu is equally abrasive.
A 'coolie' who lives in the slums of Vizag, Rameswari catches Adi's eye when she fearlessly bashes up judges of a local boxing championship, after they rule against her sister (also a boxer) in a match. Adi sees tremendous potential in Rameswari and tries to lure her to boxing, by offering her Rs 500 per day to train with him. But Rameswari isn't any student. And given the clash of personalities, the way forward isn't easy -- for her and her Guru.
It's refreshing to see the filmmakers look beyond the scenic beauty of the Vizag beaches, to actually show us the dark underbelly of the city, which has people living in slums and making do with meager earnings. While Guru may be a sports drama, the director cleverly sheds light on a number of issues simultaneously to show us where Rameswari came from. Whether it's the greedy father, who's willing to send his daughters away as soon as he's offered a few bucks, or the jealous sister who tries to sabotage Rameswari at every step of the way, or the official who guarantees her global exposure, provided she sleeps with him.
Guru is not always hunky-dory. It's ugly, harsh and in-your-face. And that's why it works.
There are a couple of disappointments though. The humour never works, and the gig involving Nasser as 'Punch Ponds' falls flat. Nasser is a fine actor, but he isn't funny. The alcohol song doesn't work either and is an unnecessary element in the film.
But it's hard to think of anybody who could pull this character off as well as Venkatesh did. The actor fits seamlessly into the role of a senior coach and surely packs a punch right through the film. It's admirable to see Venky take a step back and allow Ritika to shine. And shine she does. Ritika brilliantly shows Rameswari's boldness, vulnerability and resilience and stands out from the crowd. Tanikella Bharani, Zakir Hussain and Anita Chowdhary chip in with decent performances.
While sticking to the essential ingredients of making a successful sports drama, Guru dares to be different and is bold enough to show the viewers the real struggle behind a champion. Go for it.