Guru–the most important free market movie ever made?

by on May 2, 2016 at 7:20 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Guru, a 2007 movie from India starring Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai and directed by Mani Ratnam, is one of the most pro-free market movies ever made and perhaps the best.

Guru follows Gurukant “Guru” Desai from his small village in India to Turkey where in a series of evocative scenes he shows a natural affinity for the rhythms of markets. Determined to work for himself, Guru returns to India and tries to enter the cotton market but he needs a license and the license system is monopolized by a rich clique with close ties to the government. Guru has no entry into this clique, which Guruposterdiffers in class and caste from his village roots, but his cause is taken up by a liberal newspaper editor, Manik Dasgupta, a veteran of the independence movement, who shames the government into opening up the license system. Guru and Manik become close and Guru becomes godfather to Manik’s daughter who has epilepsy.

The movie’s portrayal of entrepreneurship and the problems that Guru must surmount–financial, familial, and political–is unusually smart and sympathetic.

As Guru rises to the top the movie becomes more complex. Guru bribes politicians and skirts rules and regulations. His previous benefactor, the newspaper editor, turns against him. Derek Elley at Variety says Guru “forgets his ethics on the way to the top.” That’s a common but incorrect reading. What is going on is more subtle. Ratnam is telling us that Guru’s virtues are incompatible with a corrupt system and a choice must be made. Consider that on his way to the top, Guru has promised to always honor, love and respect his elder patron and even as they are at odds, he never wavers in this promise. Nor does he waver in his love for Manik’s epileptic daughter, even as she marries the reporter who has led the charges against Guru. Rather than having been corrupted, Guru demonstrates an iron-willed commitment to virtue. Riches and success did not corrupt Guru’s personal virtue nor has his public virtue been corrupted. In contrast to the earlier corruption of the ruling clique we never see Guru preventing others from competing with him. He bribes only in order to build.

The movie is powerful not because it opposes virtue and corruption but because it opposes two ideas of virtue. Is it virtuous to follow the law when the law itself is corrupt? Other artists have explored this question when the lawbreaker opposes social injustice, ala Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but what about when the lawbreaker opposes economic injustice? The question the movie asks is a classic question from Ayn Rand, how can an honest (business)-man live in a corrupt world? The theme becomes clear in the climax, a trial in which Guru, ala Howard Roark, puts society on trial.

The director, Mani Ratnam, has great ambitions. In telling the story of India’s liberation, not from colonialism but from socialism, he aims to elevate a new type of hero for post-socialist India, a business guru. In the trial, Ratnam is also arguing that a house divided against itself, a house half slave and half free, cannot long remain standing. Either India must push forward with a new vision for itself based on business, free and open markets and liberal views (on gender, the disabled, religion and other issues) or it will indeed fall back into internal strife and corruption.

I love the theme of Guru but the movie wouldn’t work without a great performance from Abhishek Bachchan. The beautiful Aishwarya Rai, a Miss World champion, gives a very good performance (she married Bachchan as the movie premiered) as do a host of other actors.

I find it encouraging for India that the movie was a hit and has a 90% rating on RT. You can buy the movie at Amazon or watch it on Youtube.

Addendum: Guru is loosely based on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani who from humble beginnings built Reliance Industries into one of the largest and most profitable firms in the world.

1 rayward May 2, 2016 at 7:39 am

Corruption is virtue. Separating private virtue from public virtue permits one to rationalize corruption, to convert corruption into virtue. Of course, what Tabarrok is suggesting would be easily recognized by George Orwell. It’s like the extremist politician who loses the election and rationalizes her loss as attributable to not being sufficiently extreme and true to whatever mythical ideology she claims to believe in.

2 Alex Tabarrok May 2, 2016 at 8:13 am

That too would be a good theme for a movie but it’s not the theme of this movie.

3 rayward May 2, 2016 at 9:24 am

Is it virtuous to follow markets when markets are corrupt? I suspect those who believe in the virtue of markets would respond that it’s not markets that are corrupt but corrupt people who interact with otherwise virtuous markets. And if markets are virtuous, then markets will eventually weed out the corrupt people who interact with markets (and the corruption). Professor Shiller teaches his finance students that banks weed out corrupt bankers because it’s in the interest of banks and bankers to do so (i.e., the market for banks and bankers is virtuous). In the same way, markets weed out corrupt people because it’s in the interest of markets and those who interact with them to do so. Well-meaning people don’t make markets virtuous because they are ignorant (or forgiving) of their own corruption. The contrarian would make the point that markets don’t exist in a vacuum: people, corrupt and otherwise, are what make markets (in everything). If people aren’t virtuous, then how can markets be virtuous. This dilemma is what Andrew Sullivan addresses in his long essay on democracy (American democracy) that’s in New York Magazine this morning. Sullivan is pessimistic about democracy – the more of it, the worse the likely outcome. People are corrupt, and the more freedom they have, the greater the opportunity for corruption. One can only hope that markets are virtuous (since people definitely aren’t), and that markets in politicians will weed out corrupt politicians. Markets are our last (and only) hope.

4 Ray Lopez May 2, 2016 at 9:44 am

rayward says: “:Professor Shiller teaches his finance students that banks weed out corrupt bankers because it’s in the interest of banks and bankers to do so” – oh please. Prof. Shiller has never seen Greek bankers. I’m in a load of potential trouble trying to reverse a transaction that my relative made here in Greece, withdrawing money from a Greek bank by bribing the bank officials. Now the trouble is: if you deposit this money again into any Greek bank, you’ll be taxed 33% (minimum). And it’s your own money, legally obtained (and taxes already paid on it).

5 yo May 2, 2016 at 10:39 am

Ray, 33% of it is now Angela Merkel’s money.

6 Mm May 2, 2016 at 1:24 pm

Yo-over 33% of it was borrowed from Merkel

7 Ray Lopez May 2, 2016 at 2:57 pm

@yo – but this law apparently was on the books even before the Euro (I’m researching it now for TC). It was designed to ‘crack down’ on the black market, but it has perverse effects, and quite dangerous ones too, as it forces storing cash outside the bank system. Greece, like Russia, is a ‘cash society’ (you see guys with suitcases handcuffed to their wrists walking around all the time). Well, it was a cash society, but now you’re limited due to the Euro crisis to withdrawing only 420 Euro in cash a week. You can make electronic transfers up to any amount, but–this is weird–you cannot open any new bank accounts (why is that? I don’t know). And since December there’s a lawyer and judges strike so no court cases of any kind are being heard. What an ef’d up country this is…can’t wait to get out of here and back to the Philippines, assuming I don’t end up in jail or worse. No country for old men this one is…but strangely it’s full of old men, some of them senile. Sad.

8 cowboydroid May 2, 2016 at 8:08 pm

“If people aren’t virtuous, then how can markets be virtuous.”

The pure act of mutual exchange is blind to the intent or virtue of either party. Markets don’t require virtuous participants to make everyone better off.

And to turn your question around: If people aren’t virtuous, then how can government be virtuous?

9 Mc May 2, 2016 at 8:15 pm

+1 cowboydroid

10 cowboydroid May 2, 2016 at 8:12 pm

“People are corrupt, and the more freedom they have, the greater the opportunity for corruption.”

On the contrary. People are corrupt, and the more power they have, the greater the opportunity for corruption.

It is not freedom which corrupts, but power.

11 Troll me May 3, 2016 at 12:34 am

Market can only weed out corruption if people are fully informed.

The same applies to, say, the lovely people in the nether regions of the state that somehow Congress, the Senate and the president can’t even find out about.

12 Sam Taylor May 2, 2016 at 8:43 am

Presumably if you think that the law is corrupt and decide to circumvent it, but I disagree with you about whether the law is corrupt, by your standards it’s perfectly acceptable for me to engage in vigilantism to try to stop you. Which is absolutely a cycle which ends well.

13 wiki May 2, 2016 at 9:22 am

Exactly. Except in the most extreme cases — the blood of patriots and all that — modern states rely upon a constant truce between competing factions. We may disagree upon what laws are correct, but we abide by the process and enforce them regardless of our beliefs. If some laws are so repugnant to a side that to follow them would be an outrage, but if reversing the law is repugnant to the dominant faction, then this becomes grounds for civil war or outright exclusion of one group. In fact, that practically defines the limit of how encompassing a just state should be.

14 Troll me May 3, 2016 at 12:42 am

What if the people breaking the law are “legally” allowed to prevent Congress, Senate, FBI, etc., from investigating?

Full social, legislative, and judicial control over those arms of the state needs to be unambiguous, with only “reasonable” allowances for national security. “Oversight” is basically optional and “self policed”, i.e., not policed at all (or perhaps “policed” for all the wrong reasons).

15 Mr. Econotarian May 3, 2016 at 2:03 am

Uber is working out fine for me!

16 improbable May 2, 2016 at 8:47 am

Sound worth seeing.

But other accounts of Ambani differ from “He bribes only in order to build.” There was an interesting book by H McDonald which claims essentially that his competitive advantage was all about knowing how the rules were about to change… or better, writing them. The book is of course banned in India, which is one kind of recommendation!

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Polyester_Prince

17 Sanjeev Sabhlok May 2, 2016 at 9:18 am

Alex

I’ve not seen the movie (nor even heard about its alleged focus on freedom, despite having worked for India’s freedom for nearly two decades.

It is also entirely abominable that (if what you say is true) the “hero” of the film bribes politicians to get his way. This is NOT what Rand would have approved of. To compare a corrupt businessman in India with Howard Roark is beyond belief. Surely you jest? Do you even know what Rand stood for?

Ambani was totally corrupt and Reliance Industries is founded on corruption. What Ambani should have done (if he even bothered once about liberty and ethics) was to fight to change the socialist laws of India.

There are some wonderful people who have done great things for liberty in India. But Ambani CAN NEVER be counted in that category. MK Gandhi, Sardar Patel, BR Ambedkar, Rajaji, Minoo Masani and Sharad Joshi are just a few of the names who have fought for liberty in India in their own way against the onslaught of Nehruvian (Fabian) socialism.

Among the businessmen in India who did actively support liberty, was JRD Tata.

Never once would ANY corrupt businessman like Ambani EVER qualify as a proponent of liberty.

These self-seeking crony capitalists are the bane of India.

I’m sorry, but you should consider reviewing your absurd claims about this movie having ANYTHING to do with liberty.

18 Brian Donohue May 2, 2016 at 9:22 am

Didn’t Rand hint that ole Nat Taggart killed a legislator that was in his way once upon a time?

19 Alex Tabarrok May 2, 2016 at 9:40 am

The movie is about Guru it’s not a biography of Ambani. The movie needs to be judged as a work of art on its own merits. The trial scene in the movie is clearly based on Howard Roark’s trial scene in the Fountainhead. You may not like it but that doesn’t change the fact that the two scenes are related.

20 Sandy May 4, 2016 at 12:05 am

Sorry Alex, but it is a bio of Ambani.

Indians would understand the context: some stories are straight out of urban legends that are mentioned in hushed tones about the Ambanis. There’s S. Gurumurthy (played by R. Madhavan), Bombay Dyeing’s Wadia (portrayed as “Contractors” in the movie), Ramnath Goenka / IndianExpress (played by Mithun Chakraborty). The stories of building factories from imported spares by circumventing India’s draconian import laws, raising capital from nascent public markets instead of debt financing, the Bombay Dyeing – Reliance spar, holding annual shareholder meetings in cricket stadia (and building a company with the largest shareholder base in India) are uniquely part of the Ambani story.

Ambani indeed worked as a petrol pump attendant in the middle east and worked with a goal of backward integration from polyester to refining and exploration and building Burmah Shell. I can go on about the eery similarities, but let me assure you that it’s just too obvious for Indians to think in any other way. 🙂

I can’t fathom how Mani Ratnam could have been more explicit about the Ambani connection and not being tied in a court battle.

21 Sandy May 4, 2016 at 12:10 am

One minor point: check out the Shakti logo and old RIL logo. I rest my case.

22 The Original D May 2, 2016 at 6:21 pm

Howard Roark blew up a building. Destroying private property is okay, but bribery is not?

23 Butler T. Reynolds May 3, 2016 at 12:33 pm

It has been a long time since I read the book, but I don’t think it was private property that he blew up.

24 prior_test2 May 2, 2016 at 9:27 am

‘is one of the most pro-free market movies ever made’

Here I was, thinking that the most pro-free market ever made was ‘It’s A Wonderful Life,’ for selling the fantasy that anything, anything at all, counts in a free market apart from naked greed and self-interest.

25 Cliff May 2, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Every interest is self-interest, in the end

26 Troll me May 3, 2016 at 12:48 am

Our level of altruism is normally greater than 0. It’s far deeper than just a simpler calculus for give and take, it extends to broader social benefit.

And for those to whom it doesn’t apply, perhaps by social conditioning, people generally steer clear. Would you want to do business or be friends with someone, who the best thing you could say about them is “I guess he didn’t decide to screw me THIS TIME?”

27 prior_test2 May 2, 2016 at 9:34 am

Seriously, people are criticizing an adherent of the Virginia School because said adherent seemingly has no problem with bribery to make a free market fairy tale work?

People, the Virginia School is not that obscure – it considers any and all political transactions to be bribery, at a minimum of the ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ variety.

28 dm May 2, 2016 at 9:35 am

Alex, I’m most interested in your use of the word “important” to describe a film.

Do you feel this film is important because it’s “right” or because it has the potential to change minds?

What other books, films, cultural artifacts are “important” in the same way Guru is “important” to you?

29 Alex Tabarrok May 2, 2016 at 9:53 am

It’s amazing that one of the most free market movies ever made would come out of India and it’s important because for the world’s largest democracy to escape socialism will require not just new ideas but new heroes and new mythologies.

30 prior_test2 May 2, 2016 at 11:40 am

‘It’s amazing that one of the most free market movies ever made would come out of India and it’s important because for the world’s largest democracy to escape socialism’

The Keralans are laughing hysterically at this point – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerala#Economy

31 Jaldhar May 2, 2016 at 2:26 pm

prior_test2

If you actually knew anything about the Kerala economy (or bothered reading that wikipedia entry you link to) you would know that the Kerala economy is heavily dependent on remittances from migrant labour mostly working for the feudal despots of the Gulf states.

I suppose this counts as “success” by Socialist standards but some of us would like to aim a little higher thank you very much.

32 Troll me May 3, 2016 at 12:53 am

What if the world’s largest democracy chooses something other than non-socialistic?

India needs more market forces, especially by tackling corruption. But it seems doubtful that anything remotely close to laissez faire would every come from a democracy where freedom to organize peaceful political advocacy faced zero formal/informal, seen/unseen, etc, constraints.

33 ibaien May 2, 2016 at 9:36 am

caption any evil with ‘the cost of doing business’ and you have this noxious philosophy in a nutshell.

34 prior_test2 May 2, 2016 at 9:53 am

Well, you might also get a trip to Stockholm in the winter time for espousing it, though.

35 Troll me May 3, 2016 at 1:00 am

Like tax deductions for $200 a plate business lunches?

Actually, as a bicycle courier, I ate SO MUCH FOOD I declared most of my groceries as a business expense (fuel) and got it. Then again, that was in the range of an extra $200 a month, not $200 a plate.

36 gregor May 2, 2016 at 9:45 am

Socialism or or not, apart from India there is no example of an ex-colony which escaped the the route through authoritarian rule in one form or the other after the foreigners left. That should be more important to the Randians if they really believe in liberty.

37 sunbomb May 2, 2016 at 9:55 am

This is an important point. Despite the conditions being right to tip into chaos (authoritarian or otherwise) several times during its post-independence history, India did not. While it is my home, I did not appreciate this enough about India. Not that there is not much more to be done, but that this resilience should hearten us.

38 florian v schack May 2, 2016 at 9:57 am

Australia, Canada, United States…

39 Witness May 2, 2016 at 11:17 am

When did the foreigners leave any of those three?

40 prior_test2 May 2, 2016 at 11:36 am

‘which escaped the the route through authoritarian rule in one form or the other after the foreigners left’

Well, let us be honest – Malaysia was too important to be left to the communists – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malayan_Emergency And it is a confusing history to determine exactly when ‘Malaysia’ became its own country – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federation_of_Malaya

The decades long process of Irish independence seems straightforward in comparison.

Oh wait – the Irish also managed to pull off the same thing as India, didn’t they?

41 TMC May 2, 2016 at 12:41 pm

Ireland went right to a democracy.

42 prior_test2 May 2, 2016 at 1:55 pm

Except for that couple of decade interruption between being part of the UK and becoming the fully independent Republic of Ireland – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Free_State

Admittedly, the Irish and the British seemed to have been comfortable enough with agreeing to disagree as they separated themselves.

43 Troll me May 3, 2016 at 1:08 am

Things seem to have worked out better where they were there for long enough to have established a political/administrative infrastructure which included many locals. Which obviously also includes the countries where colonists were basically left to manage the farm under the assumption that a degree of loyalty would be ongoing.

44 Ray Lopez May 2, 2016 at 9:56 am

The KAT (KickAss Torrents) site has this movie listed as a DVD rip but 3 GB (!), too large, improperly formatted. I’ll pass watching it.

As for Randians, if you read Brian Doherty’s book on libertarian free thinkers, you’ll see so many kooks that it will turn you off of Libertarianism forever. These people are largely ego-maniacs, trying to score points being extreme. However, TC gets a cameo appearance and is treated sympathetically.

45 Joël May 2, 2016 at 10:20 am

Seems interesting. I’ll see it. So far, the most pro-free market film I have seen is Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around The Corner.

46 RPLong May 2, 2016 at 10:46 am

My view on this movie is quite a bit different from yours. Bollywood is replete with stories about men of humble beginnings who rise to the top of some kind of empire. Usually, these stories are about “crime bosses.” See, for example, the movies Boss and Corporate. You could pretty much consider Guru to be a mash-up of those two films.

True, there are some pro-market messages at the beginning of the film, but by the end, the movie is playing well within the Bollywood film house. Two main issues are present in all of these movies: (1) The tension between personal fulfillment and commitment to one’s elders and religion. (2) The omnipresence and inevitability of corruption among anyone successful.

Regarding this latter point, it is absolutely, positively never questioned. In the more popular Bollywood films, the corruption of the hero isn’t even frowned upon. It’s just part of the way the world works in a Bollywood universe. It just is. The only films that question this have heroes who unapologetically turn away from financial success or power in order to maintain ideological purity. (A great example here is Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola.)

Regarding the first point, Bollywood films almost always pit “tradition” (read: family commitments, especially toward one’s elders and religion) against romantic love, power, and/or money variously. Tradition always, always, always, always wins. I could speculate as to why, but for various reasons the Indian marketplace for films won’t tolerate a truly subversive film. I’ve been submersing myself in Bollywood filmmaking for a few years, and the closest I’ve ever seen a movie come to upending tradition is Jab Tak Hai Jaan, which waits until the final scene to finally say, “Eh, okay… Religion’s not so bad.” (I’ve since wondered if the filmmaker was forced to water-down the message or face censorship.)

All that being said, I didn’t find Guru particularly unique in its pro-market stance. I found it very reflective of the whole Bollywood genre. To be sure, I was really cheering for a pro-market movie during the film’s first half, but ultimately it fell into the typical patterns.

Just my opinion, though. Thanks for this post. Bollywood is one of my favorite topics.

47 Ray Lopez May 2, 2016 at 2:51 pm

RPLong schooling AlexT!

48 CMOT May 2, 2016 at 11:12 am

My takeaway from this film was not a market message, but that no one can trust anyone else for very long. Ties of family and marriage and friendship only go so far, and even they will all come undone eventually. Corruption is necessary simply because no one in this society will ever live up to a deal in the long run, but the people who are bought might stay bought long enough to useful. The crooked economic system does not cause this, it’s just the tool the social system uses to perpetuate itself.

49 asdf May 2, 2016 at 11:18 am

Clearly, the world needs more capitalist propaganda.

50 prior_test2 May 2, 2016 at 11:42 am

Marginal Revolution – taking those small, but well renumerated, steps to ensuring the world has enough capitalist propaganda.

51 Viking May 2, 2016 at 1:01 pm

You are incredibly repetitive. How about stopping annoying us, and post a weekly brief FAQ, so newcomers can be informed that the Koch brothers are supporting the Mercatus center, and the hosts are paid prostitutes. Btw, given the hosts immigration attitudes, why don’t you accuse them of being paid by Soros?

52 prior_test2 May 2, 2016 at 1:50 pm

‘that the Koch brothers are supporting the Mercatus center’

Yet, oddly, the last few times I’ve mentioned any major player behind GMU and its Foundation, the name has been Til Hazel. The Kochs mean extremely little to me, though they seem to have immense attraction to many commenters here. Besides, you really need to keep up – the last major donor that I have repeatedly referenced (apart from the GMU Foundation, of course), is the Templeton Foundation – http://mercatus.org/expert_commentary/john-templeton-foundation-awards-5-million-mercatus-center-george-mason-university

‘the hosts are paid prostitutes’

How rude – I just point out that the hosts are adherents of the Virginia School, something they claim to be proud supporters of, by the way. You must not be a loyal reader.

‘Btw, given the hosts immigration attitudes, why don’t you accuse them of being paid by Soros?’

I’m sorry, but why would Prof. Tabarrok, an immigrant himself, require any funding from Soros? I mock the Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center for any number of things, but he is certainly understandable in his support of immigration, having benefitted from it himself.

53 asdf May 3, 2016 at 2:08 am

I lol’d.

54 Dain May 2, 2016 at 1:28 pm

There’s a love affair with entrepreneur as evidenced by biopics like Jobs and The Aviator, but maybe libertarians don’t consider them capitalist propaganda? (I do.) I think it requires for them that government officials be explicitly portrayed as antagonists.

55 Cliff May 2, 2016 at 1:35 pm

Yes, the story of a real person’s life is capitalist propaganda for sure

56 Areendam Chanda May 2, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Alex
Talking about movies, since this is an economics blog you should probably highlight the unique achievements of Suman Ghosh – a Bengali film director and an economics professor who is having a very successful run doing both.
Areendam
(In the interest of full disclosure- he was my classmate at Delhi School and I have been involved in the production of his latest non-commercial film- Peace Haven. )

57 mulp May 2, 2016 at 1:25 pm

India has “free market capitalist” government, at least as those opposed to government regulation seem to describe “free market capitalist”.

For example, Apple is held up as a great example of free market capitalism because it vigorously maintains a monopoly and extracts rents at every turn to generate massive profits which are not paid to workers or in taxes, but it then blames government for failing to provide it with the employees with high skills and experience in the US, and for limiting its ability to import workers from high tax, high spending on education nations.

If you try to use Apple products in ways Apple does not approve, they disable your product, and getting your product you paid for free of Apple’s grasp is called a jail break.

Or the coal industry in the Appalachian States where the corporations control everything from the water you drink to the air you breath to the land under your feet. And it’s the coal corporation who has your interests at heart, not the rebellious individual whor is organizing a union or seeking to protect a pure water spring or their home on the mountain side from destruction.

Government in India does for its favored sons the taking of property that the “free market capitalists” demand corporations in the US be able to do, like taking private land by a Canadian corporation to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

One difference. Indians vote for the top officials in the Indian government who make the laws and run the government. The Indian people own the government.

Every effort to have the owners of corporations elect the corporate officials who set the rules and run it are opposed ten times more by the management than the existing officials in the Indian government.

58 Kris May 2, 2016 at 4:16 pm

What does Apple have a monopoly on?

59 cowboydroid May 2, 2016 at 8:04 pm

If you pull at that thread, you might unravel his entire argument.

60 jorod May 2, 2016 at 8:11 pm

Technology freed the miners from the mines. Now we have oil and gas. Innovation always destroys monopolies. In fact, monopolies form their own petard.

61 Vishal May 2, 2016 at 1:47 pm

Also check out this powerful track from this movie, composed by academy-award winner A R Rahman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmCSBadJcw4

62 Tom T. May 2, 2016 at 4:35 pm

I get this movie confused with The Love Guru.

63 jorod May 2, 2016 at 8:08 pm

Reform comes slowly to India. But as the economy opens up, it has the fastest growing middle class in the world. Without welfare.

64 jojoboi May 2, 2016 at 9:04 pm

What does economist know about free market? Not much, if anything of value at all. So…

65 shrikanthk May 2, 2016 at 9:30 pm

You are bringing in the caste angle needlessly. Licence Raj had little to do with caste or religion. It mainly favoured rich incumbent businessmen no matter what their caste.

Desai is an upper caste surname. There is little reason to believe he faced any caste prejudice. Nor did Dhirubhai Ambani.

But yes, those with an aversion towards India and Hinduism do raise the caste bogey at the slightest pretext.

66 Dmitri Helios May 3, 2016 at 12:04 am

You’re kidding right? Everyone knows Banias (Vaisyas) dominate the Indian business world, and naturally favor other banias, whether because of network effects or caste loyalty. Even in the supposedly liberalized Indian economy of today, most successful entrepreneurs are Banias. Recognizing this has nothing to do with an aversion towards India or Hinduism.

67 shrikanthk May 3, 2016 at 5:56 am

Banias dominate business for the same reason that Jews dominate academia, cutting-edge sciences, or the Irish dominate in politics or the Germans in beer-making in the United States.

They happen to be good at it.

It has little to do with “caste privilege”

And there is no dearth of brahmin businessmen or even Muslim businessmen in India. Narayana Murty, the founder of the leading Indian software company Infosys, is a Brahmi, not a Baniya. Azeem Premji, the founder of Wipro a rival firm, is a Muslim. Dr Reddys, a leading Indian pharma company, is promoted by Reddy’s – a south indian shudra middle caste which is neither brahmin nor baniya.

68 Troll me May 3, 2016 at 12:25 am

Haven’t seen the movie, but it seems like a well-done review.

69 Arun May 3, 2016 at 6:51 am

Great to see notice being taken of a great director- Mani Ratnam- who is as good choreographing song and dance numbers as dealing with hot-button political issues.
Ratnam is a Tamil film maker. Tamil Nadu must be unique in that the Film industry took over Politics. Strangely enough, an American- Ellis Dungan- contributed to this extraordinary development. How it happened was this- Dungan was friends with a wealthy young Bengali at Film School. He followed his friend back to India to make movies in the Thirties. The Bengali concentrated on Bengali movies in Calcutta and left Tamil films, in Madras, to Dungan.
Since Dungan didn’t know Tamil, he didn’t interfere with his scriptwriters. This enabled an anti-Gandhian- Congress, anti-Brahmin, Rationalist- named Karunanidhi (later Chief Minister and head of the current opposition party) to present radical ideas. This enthused a younger generation of actors who were effective propagandists for the ‘Dravidian’ ideology which looked upon the puritanical and casteist Brahminical Religion as something imposed upon the South by the ‘Aryan’ North. Once the Dravidian movement embraced the Indian Union- this was because the movie stars spontaneously started fund-raising and doing morale boosting shows during the Indo-China ’62 War- and the language issue (the spectre of forcible imposition of the North Indian lingua franca) was resolved- the Dravidian parties, led by Movie hit-makers, came into their own and monopolised Tamil politics.

Mani Ratnam himself, like most Tamil Brahmins in creative fields, is left Liberal and critical of conservative Hindu values. In ‘Guru’ he makes an equation between conservative ‘casteist’ religion, whose hypocrisy had been exposed by films in the style pioneered by Ellis Dungan’ ‘Ponmudi’ in 1950, and Puritanical, ‘License Raj’ Bureaucratic Socialism. The idea was not new. Some influential Hindi films of the Fifties did in fact make this equation. The ‘Gandhian’ politician, clad in homespun cotton, got rich while pretending to protect the poor. Meanwhile all the youth and energy of the country was strangled by the need for “Permit’.
Hindi Cinema, however, was vulnerable to Govt. pressure. Unlike Hollywood, which secured Finance from New York, distribution through the length and breadth of the country, and wide-spread political and community support thanks to its deep pockets and oligopolistic set up, Hindi Cinema did not get the legal right to Institutional Finance till a couple of decades ago. It failed to establish high quality distribution within the Hindi speaking belt. Thus, it had to turn to Music sales and, later on, Video sales to the Diaspora to survive . This explains why ‘Bollywood’ got a reputation for producing rubbish during the Eighties and into the Nineties. There was plenty of talent but Govt. policy had shackled the industry.
Tamil Cinema, meanwhile, was thriving because the Film industry had taken over the Government. People like Mani Ratnam, in Madras, were able to penetrate the Hindi market because of their slicker presentation and higher production values- thanks to their sounder finances, distribution etc.

Dhirubhai Ambani- the inspiration for ‘Guru’- was perceived in South India as the archetypal ‘Dravidian’ (i.e. salt of the earth, son of the soil) hero who challenges the Puritanical ‘Casteism’ of a Corrupt and Hypocritical oligarchy whose ideology is actually alien and not autochthonous at all.

It so happens, that a Tamil Chartered Accountant turned journalist was an enemy of Ambani and so Ratnam’s film (he had previously scored a big success with a ‘roman a clef’ on the rivalry between the two Film industry based Political Mammoths in Tamil Nadu) plays up this aspect of the story (which in fact was not particularly significant- the Tamil journalist was equally pro-market) and so it might appear that the Rayndian element is down-played. However, Alex is right in drawing the parallel that he does. ‘Guru’ is a rare example of a Left-Liberal producing an unambiguously pro-market film.

70 shrikanthk May 3, 2016 at 7:23 am

Such poisonous ridiculous rot.
Huh

71 Arun May 3, 2016 at 12:37 pm

I’m sorry, I don’t understand why my comment is ‘poisonous ridiculous rot’. I met Mani Ratnam through Shyam Benegal more than twenty five years ago. What I have said here is nothing very controversial or mischievous or what they themselves would term ‘poisonous’ or ‘ridiculous’ . Obviously, I have painted a picture in broad strokes. But, for the ordinary reader of this blog, and given the comments which appeared before mine on this particular post, this was the right thing to do.

Alex is right about ‘Guru’ because he sees it with fresh and unbiased eyes. The fact is, back in 2005, people like Mani Ratnam were sure that Dr. Manmohan Singh- the incorruptible ‘bleeding heart’, Economist, Prime Minister- would deliver a type of Mechanism Design savvy ‘Market Socialism’ without having to appeal to those Religious or Traditional Values which, otherwise, have proved potent in less developed Economies to defend Property Rights, Due Process etc.

Alex’s apercu is a genuine contribution to the hermeneutics of Indian Cinema- one that Mani Ratnam himself would judge wholesome. Obviously, Ratnam is a brilliant auteur and his response would be very sophisticated because his understanding of American Cinema is far higher than that of mere Economists, like myself- or even Alex!

I congratulate Alex on having said, in a few brief words, something many Indian critics missed or failed to highlight. Like Ellis Dungan- whose contribution to Tamil Cinema, Indian Music (he helped turn M.S Subbalaxmi into an all-India Music Icon) but also Tamil Politics!, is immeasurable- Alex is making a contribution to the hermeneutics of Indian Cinema even though he is not Indian, does not know any Indian language, and is solely concerned with highlighting excellence no matter where it may be found.

72 Javed May 8, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Gandhi, actually bought about his biggest resistance when he took on the economic injustice in the form of unjust taxation.
The salt on tax opposition and liberating local salt farmers to ignore the British diktat over salt was the pivotal moment of Indian freedom struggle. It is popularly known as the Salt March https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_March

Economic injustice is paramount, dare I say more than any other form of injustice, coz you may hate me but as long as don’t take away my right to work industriously and prosper, your bigotry doesn’t really matter. It is at best a private hate group with very little externalities

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