Criticism

The Guru

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Bombay Schemes

Sex and spirituality collide in The Guru

In India’s distinctive Bollywood movie-extravaganzas, musical numbers abound and happy endings are always a foregone conclusion. So it is with The Guru, a merry – if quirky – romantic comedy that pokes gentle fun at Bollywood even as it gleefully embraces every corny convention of the genre.

The intentionally silly plot combines the classic fish-out-of-water tale with old-fashioned, formulaic romance, while cleverly satirizing the clash of cultures between East and West as well as the trendy spiritualism of shallow New Yorkers. If that sounds like a lot to accomplish in 90 minutes, well, welcome to Bollywood.

We first meet Ramu as a young boy, bored stiff in a cinema watching a flashy Bollywood musical. When he can stand no more, he slips out of his seat and sneaks into a neighboring auditorium, where, to his delight, he’s just in time for the Sanskrit-subtitled finale of Grease.

This amusing introduction tells us all we need to know about Ramu (Jimi Mistry), whose love of all things American stays with him even as he grows up to become a popular dance instructor in India (specialty: the Macarena). With a dream of being the next John Travolta, Ramu heads to New York, where he quickly realizes America isn’t quite like it is in the movies.

Responding to an ad for “ethnic types,” Ramu unwittingly lands the lead role in an adult film. When performance issues surface, he seeks advice from his more experienced co-star, Sharonna (Heather Graham), who gladly proffers her own philosophies on sexuality.

While Sharonna’s pep talk fails to inspire Ramu – he realizes he’s not cut out for porn – it comes in unexpectedly handy when he takes a job as a cater waiter and is obliged to impersonate a guru at a swanky soiree. At a loss, Ramu recycles Sharonna’s sexual affirmations, to the titillated delight of the well-heeled guests.

Particularly moved is Lexi (Marisa Tomei), a neurotic New Age devotee, who quickly becomes an ardent follower of Ramu, whom she dubbs the “Guru of Sex.” As she hypes her newest fad throughout the Upper East Side, Ramu becomes a self-help sensation.

In order to continue the charade, though, Ramu must seek out further instruction from Sharonna, who agrees, thinking he’s preparing for a career in adult films. It’s only a matter of time, of course, before things become much too complicated, forcing Ramu to choose between the fame and fortune he has finally found and the desire to come clean to Sharonna, with whom he has fallen in love.

With his question-mark eyebrows and boyish bowl haircut, Mistry makes a winningly befuddled leading man. He’s well matched with Graham, who appears to be having great fun revisiting her Boogie Nights roots as a triple-X star who tells her fiancé she’s a schoolteacher. Tomei nails the comic sincerity of a spoiled rich girl on the constant lookout for greater meaning in her life. And hysterically droll cameos by Christine Baranski as Lexi’s perpetually underwhelmed mother and Michael McKean as an unusually affable porn director round out the cast.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in The Guru, which, like director Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s previous Party Girl, never takes itself too seriously. It succeeds most when sticking to its Bollywood influences, as in several elaborate musical numbers that dazzle with Technicolor brilliance. Hilarious one-liners zip like bottle rockets throughout, keeping things light and lively. That the characters are invariably cinematic clichés hardly matters, given that they’re played with such giddy fervor by everyone involved. While far from perfect, The Guru wins viewers over by evoking the qualities of the films it sends up: sincerity, humor, and enthusiasm to spare.

Michael Rucker writes for In Touch Weekly and HX Magazine and is a regular contributor to Gay City News. 

(Appeared in Gay City News)

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