THE GURU is a fluffy confection that mixes the exuberance of Bollywood with measured lunacy of 30s screwball comedies and adds just a dash of The Joy of Sex to leaven the mixture with a millennial sensibility.
Our hero is Ramu, an Indian dance teacher who was marked as a child by seeing John Travolta in GREASE. Not for him the hyperbolic excesses of Bollywood production numbers. For him, its American stardom as a dancer or nothing. As he says to pretty much anyone who will listen, his feet have to follow the beat of his heart, and that heart lies in New York where he can follow his dreams with the help of a pal who has made good. Alas, things are a little rougher than he expects.
The vagaries of classified advertising jargon lead him to the producer of porno flicks, while the economic necessities of life without the American Dream lead him to work as a waiter in an Indian restaurant. In a strange, synchronistic turn of events, the combination leads him to the brink of having it all. On the set of the porno, he meets Sharonna, his marriage-minded co-star whose take on sexuality has a decidedly spiritual cast. While trying to put him at ease so that he can, ahem, perform, she shares some pearls of wisdom that fail to do the trick, as it were. But later, when working at a swank party at an even swankier townhouse, hes forced to step in after the guru hired for the evenings entertainment falls victim to spirits from a bottle rather than from above. With all eyes on him, Ramu does some quick thinking, repeats what Sharonna told him, and then leads the group in a spirited, curry-flavor Macarena. Presto! Hes the Guru of Sex leading a new New Age movement. one thats carried along by the money-to-burn rich with time one their hands and hole where their inner lives should be.
Unfortunately, he has to keep returning to Sharonna for sexual enlightenment to pass along to his own disciples and he cant let her know what its for, because hes promised he wont tell anyone else. Its a little clunky as a plot device, but it does lead to nude meditation, further adventures on porn sets, and an unexpectedly tender romance, plus the sort of hellzapopping situations that just get more absurd, but no less funny, as the film progresses.
From here the film could have continued along with it light-hearted look at the foibles of the rich, but it does something very interesting. While never losing its light touch, it takes these rich but sad people and, instead of making sport of them, shows a knowing compassion. This is particularly true of Lexi, the spoiled rich heiress whose search for fulfillment has cut a wide swath through Bloomingdales and rock stars. In a nice bit of balanced writing Tracey Jackson and direction Daisy van Scherler Mayer, shes funny but her quest is anything but. Marisa Tomei plays her with an eager desperation, whether complaining that her mother didnt get her a Tibetan Rimpoche for her birthday, or reading astral implications into her spirited seduction of Ramus guru incarnation.
Mistry is perfect as Ramu, the libidinous Candide who fails ever upward in pursuit of the Amercian Dream. You dont doubt for a minute that he hasnt an inkling of what sort of film hes auditioning for, even when sleazy producer Michael McKean asks to see his baloney pony. And you dont doubt that hes game when he finds out on the set what exactly McKean was talking about. Heather Graham as Sharona is dreamy herself, with a wholesome sexiness that would almost be at home on Sesame Street. Okay, maybe the seamier part of Sesame Street where Big Bird never ventures.
THE GURU is kitchy, sweet, and a whole lot of fun as it careens along. It folds in some smarts in amongst the laughs with some trenchant swipes at the spiritual chic trends that promise enlightenment if you have an hour to spare and the cash up front. Youll laugh a lot and you might even nourish your soul. Besides, where else can you see songs from GREASE done with the full Bollywood treatment?