Mohanlal’s ‘Guru’ Reflects On Communal Riots And Is Still Relevant
Actors like Mohanlal, Sithara, Suresh Gopi, Nedumudi Venu and Sreenivasan play pivotal roles in this film.
Actors like Mohanlal, Sithara, Suresh Gopi, Nedumudi Venu and Sreenivasan play pivotal roles in this film.(Photo Courtesy: Janasammathi Creations)

Mohanlal’s ‘Guru’ Reflects On Communal Riots And Is Still Relevant

A JCB drenched in blood collects dead bodies strewn across the streets. In heavy downpour, police officers try to identify the deceased, “It’s difficult to identify how many Hindus and Muslims are in these sir..” says an officer. The scene immediately sends a chill down your spine. When you hear "Hindu" and "Muslim", all you can think of is conflict. Unfortunate.

Guru is a 1997 Malayalam language film, written and directed by Rajeev Anchal. It talks about the disruption of religious harmony and how people are easily blinded by it.

Guru was India’s official entry to the Oscars for the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category in the 70th Academy Awards. Also, it was the first Malayalam film to be submitted for the Oscars.

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Religious conflict is not a new concept, it’s been around for a while and that’s what Guru reminds us. That it was relevant in 1947, 50 years before the film was released, and it still is 23 years after the film released. This Mohanlal-starrer opens with the disclaimer, “This film is a mirror held towards humanity that shall help them prevent possible disasters in the coming future. The riots in this film are fictional”

Now as our country faces nation-wide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act that discriminates on the basis of religion, Guru reminds us how we who preach of unity, are at the end of the day equally susceptible to be divided when it comes to religion.

“Religion is the opium of the masses”
Karl Marx

It does not surprise us when a 1997 film perfectly reflects on this very aspect.

The central character Raghuraman, played by Mohanlal, is a ‘woke’ youth that has renounced his ‘Brahmin’ title. He preaches secularism and is a social misfit who calls out the local politician for his divisive politics. He belongs to a village known for its ‘utopian’ religious harmony, but even this utopia is not spared once the communal riots begin. Raghuraman loses his family to the riots and soon finds himself in an extremist group sending suicide bombers to attack a Muslim refugee camp.

The protagonist in <i>Guru, </i>Raghuraman, is played by actor Mohanlal.
The protagonist in Guru, Raghuraman, is played by actor Mohanlal.
(Photo Courtesy: Janasammathi Creations)

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Guru does not leave any stone unturned when it comes accounting for the circumstances that initiate communal hatred. Misunderstandings among community members, use of communal tension for political benefits, vandalism, suicide bombers, extremist groups and people fleeing homes. Communities turn against each other, first for survival then for vengeance.

Vengeance, a recurring substance in Guru's story-line. Why not, after all 'tit-for-tat' is probably the best-known justification for anything today. ‘They did it to us, so we do worse to them.’

The character arc of the protagonist shows us how even the most educated and ‘woke’ are easily vulnerable.

Raghuraman is an embodiment of how a person can be influenced by the conditions around him pushing him to the extent of terrorism, where terror and vengeance seems to be the only option left for him. And a point in the film he is so filled with hatred and ignorance that he has completely drifted from the man who he once was.

It is after this point that Guru takes a de-route to fantasy. With whatever visual effects were available to the makers in the 90s, the protagonist finds himself transitioning into a state of trance or altered consciousness. He finds himself in a dystopian world of blindness, where only he can ‘see’. This is where the film gets interesting and yes, the analogies relatable.

Although the film in this half tends to confuse the viewer with multiple sub-plots, it does not fail to send across the message. In a world where anybody who speaks of vision is executed, Raghuraman tries to convince people.

The blind have built a world around them with what’s available, they believe in their assumptions, teach it to their children and that goes on and on.

They failing to look beyond it, refuse to look beyond.

The story gets complicated further, but again only to prove an important a point. The ‘Ilama’ fruit, which once prevented children from dying prematurely, is the reason everybody is blind. Addicted by its taste, Raghuraman turns blind after eating the fruit. He is sentenced to die by the King for misleading people and is fed the ‘poisonous’ seed of the fruit, only to regain his eyesight the next day. He convinces some villagers of his findings and encourage them to eat the seed, hence helping them gain their eye-sights. Raghuraman stops the ‘sighted’ from seeking revenge on the ‘blind’ king, remarking how absence of knowledge has to be blamed and not the King.

The <i>Ilama</i> fruit fed to infants at birth is the reason for the tribe’s blindness.
The Ilama fruit fed to infants at birth is the reason for the tribe’s blindness.
(Photo Courtesy: Janasammathi Creations)

What do we know? What do we learn?

Here, the analogy drawn is between how the sweet fruit has driven people blind like religion does is smooth and profound. The blind block out anyone who fails to acknowledge it, kills anyone who disagrees. They fail to acknowledge the existence of a world beyond their beliefs and are willing to act inhumanely in its regard.

But yes, considering that the ‘blind’ refuse to believe in a world of ‘sight’ because ‘blindness’ is all they have known, we cannot rule out those who choose to stay blind, do we? Guru fails to deal with those who choose to stay within the comfort of blindness.

The film, roughly based on HG Wells’ Country of The Blind (1904), yet again leaves us wondering how stories as old are still relevant in today’s date. We continue to be surrounded by those who have chosen to stay blind.

Guru won three Kerala State Film Awards for Best Costume Designer, Best Art Director and Best Make-Up Artist in 1997. The film did not do well at the box-office.

However, Guru is a must watch, a film that conveys a message largely through its analogies of communal conflicts. The film encourages its viewers to look at India’s ‘culture’ of Hindu-Muslim conflicts where either are blind ignoring an alternate existence, or/and that of harmony. It makes you question your own stand, forcing you to imagine yourself in the protagonist’s shoes.

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