Guru was released in 1997, and while it was not a box office success, it gained critical appreciation and was the first Malayalam movie to go to the Oscars. And now, it has gained a cult status. But why?
Was it because it was a Fantasy Drama; a genre that Malayalam cinema doesn’t go into as much as it should? Or because of the way it portrays the ridiculousness of casteism and religion? Or because it urges us to question established norms, rules, and “common sense”? A combination of all three perhaps.
What really struck me was the last one – Guru talked about questioning conventional wisdom almost a decade before Freakonomics did! Once Raghurāman enters the world of the blind, he literally sees what the natives could not. He sees the futility of the class structure, he understands that their traditions and beliefs are restricted by their perception of the world around them. And eventually, he realises that he is subject to the same limits of perception too. He realises that one does not just “see” with the eyes, but with the mind too. And while all of us have the ability to see things, the constructs within our minds prevent us from the pursuit of truth.
Throughout the second half of the movie, we see Raghurāman wandering the blind man’s valley correcting people when they say absurd things like, “This valley is small, and this is the only world there is.” Or the scientist who talks of deductions from sounds. In what can only be described as a stroke of genius, the creators of Guru show us that by just taking away one sense that we take for granted, the world around us would turn topsy-turvy. And through the course of the movie, they show us that we are limited by our perceptions like the people of the blind man’s valley are restricted by their lack of sight. And in comparison, we are blinded by our perception and cognitive biases.
Guru was definitely ahead of its time. It probably still is. Guru tells us that all books that have been written, all theories that have been hypothesised and ‘proved’, everything ever said are all just perceptions of people. There is no absolute truth, but what you deduce with your mind. It urges you to question conventional wisdom, to ask questions and search for the truth oneself. Guru shows us that anyone and everyone can be wrong.