Guru movie review: Venkatesh and Ritika Singh battle egos in this intense sports drama
Venkatesh, Ritika Singh starrer Guru is not only an intense sports drama but also an important film in the context of Telugu cinema.
It's not everyday that you get to see a well-made sports drama in Telugu and it's even more rare to find a lead actor who is gracious enough to let his co-star take the centre stage. Although it hits all the tropes of a sports drama, Guru does everything with so much integrity and attention to detail, that it knocks you out in the first round itself before you find yourself back in the ring.
Directed by Sudha Kongara Prasad, the film, which was earlier made in Tamil (Irudhi Suttru) and Hindi (Saala Khadoos), also sets the template for how to write a strong female character. The film's lead actress Ritika Singh pours all her energy and intensity into her role so much that you'll find yourself rooting for her long before she puts on the gloves for her final round in the bout.
It's not just the boxing scenes alone, the actress pulls off a stunning performance as a 'coolie' from Vizag who finds a sense of direction and focus in her life, thanks to a boxing coach. Ritika nails the irreverence and misery of her background extremely well and when she emerges as a new person altogether after empathising with her boxing coach, she channelises all her rage a fight a different battle in the ring.
Guru narrates the story of Aditya (Venkatesh), a former national boxing player turned coach, who goes to Vizag to select potential candidates for a women boxing tournament. In the beginning, he has no hopes on find young talent in Vizag, but all his notions go out of the window when he meets Rameshwari aka Ramulu (Ritika Singh).
He finds a spark in her and pushes her to take up boxing. The rest of the story is about how Rameshwari beats all odds to emerge as a champion.
All the hype surrounding Venkatesh's makeover is completely justified. The actor is at ease with himself and sticks to the characterisation no matter what. All the muscle that he has put on for the role makes him look all the more formidable and Venkatesh does a terrific job as a coach who has to control all his anger and let go off his ego for the sake of his protege.
This, however, isn't the most impressive facet of Venkatesh's role in the film. The fact that he lets the focus be on Ritika all the time speaks volumes of how the whole team stuck to the soul of the story. And kudos to director Sudha Kongara Prasad for that.
Having said that, the tone of storytelling in Guru digresses a lot from the conventional methods of Telugu cinema. It's not just Venkatesh who finds himself in an unfamiliar territory, but Sudha pushes the audiences too to look at life beyond the glamor of RK Beach and birds eye view of Vizag from atop Kailasagiri. A significant part of the story unfolds in a slum and it takes us a while to get used to the setting. The same holds true for even Ritika Singh's accent.
In the process of striving for authenticity, you can't help but feel some sort of disconnect with the story initially. The Vizag depicted in Guru resembles the environs of North Madras, which is a tad too unsettling in the first act. However, the film soon steps into a familiar turf once the narrative shifts to boxing.
It also helps that director Sudha Prasad gives all the characters a backstory, which makes us empathise with them instantly. Aditya is an eccentric coach who is fighting against the system and internal politics to find young talent, Rameshwari is from a poor socio-economic background who wants to make her coach proud, Ponds (played by Nasser) is a product of the system who has lost all hope and so on.
Ultimately, the objective of every rags-to-riches sports drama is to inspire the viewers and believe that miracles do happen.
In Guru, whether you're inspired by one woman's journey to reach the top of the boxing world or not, it's a miracle that the film encloses plenty of positive changes that Telugu cinema needs.
A strong female protagonist, an actor who doesn't hog the limelight, a director who charts her own path without succumbing to too many cliches, and more than anything else, a belief that there is a space for such stories too amidst hundreds of mass entertainers — this is what Guru champions.
At a run time of just under two hours, Guru gives you plenty of stuff to brood upon long after you watch the film. Venkatesh delivers a nuanced performance as a boxing coach, but it is Ritika Singh who lands a sucker punch in the end. A big thumbs up.