Dir: Daisy von Scherler Mayer. UK-US. 2002. 94mins
Featherweight, feel good escapism, The Guru grafts a modish Bollywood sensibility on to a tried and tested fish-out-of-water comedy scenario. The end result is technically polished candy floss that tries desperately hard to please, with a cartoonish approach and casual disregard for basic credibility that render it little more than disposable fluff. A saturation marketing campaign in the UK and the current appetite for all things Bollywood could produce initially encouraging box-office returns when the film is released theatrically on August 23 after a high profile Edinburgh Film Festival launch. International prospects don't seem nearly as rosy.
A promising presence in such ensemble fare as East Is East (1999) and Born Romantic (2000), British actor Jimi Mistry is centre stage throughout The Guru and the film is the kind of screen showcase most actors dream of but also a huge test of his ability to carry a film. Personable and hard-working, he possesses a degree of charm and struggles manfully against the idiocies of the script but the jury must remain out on his star potential. One of Mistry's co-stars in Born Romantic was Craig Ferguson and The Guru is a similar kind of stepping stone to Ferguson's more endearing hairdressing mockumentary The Big Tease (2000). Older audiences may also note strong affinities with the Peter Sellers comedy The Party (1968).
An Indian dance teacher, Mistry's Ramu Gupta heads to New York seeking fame and fortune and winds up working as a waiter in an Indian restaurant. He also, quite improbably, gains employment as a reluctant, low rent porn star. Nervous and unable to perform before the crew, he is befriended by philosophical co-star Sharonna (Graham) who offers fortune cookie wisdom to calm his fears. About to marry a conservative, old-fashioned fireman, she keeps her high-paying porn career a secret.
Later, at a swanky birthday party for poor little rich girl Lexi (Tomei), Ramu is persuaded to substitute for a drunken swami. He triumphs by regurgitating Sharonna's pearls of wisdom and leading the gullible upper crust New Yorkers in a liberating song and dance production number. Sponsored by the devoted Lexi and accepted at face value, Ramu is soon hailed as the guru of sex which involves the continuing deception of Sharonna to receive such blinding insights as "my pussy is the door to my soul". Naturally, romance blossoms and the cruel deceit is exposed but everything is resolved for a happy ending that has the entire cast gamely shimmying into the sunset.
Cinematographer John De Borman captures an airy, highly appealing vision of New York and the screenplay offers some acid one-liners to scene-stealing supporting players like Lexi's mother Christine Baranski and ebullient porn director Michael McKean. But these are small compensations in an otherwise flimsy screenplay that plays everything for broad farce, frantic laughs and contrived emotional highs that are often more irritating than irresistible. The colourful musical numbers, including an opulent Bollywood version of Grease, offer candy for the eye but the brain is generally left to fend for itself.
Prod co: Working Title
UK dist: UIP
Int'l sales: UPI
Exec prods: Shekhar Kapur, Debra hayward, Liza Chasin
Prods: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Michael London
Scr: Tracey Jackson from a story idea by Shekhar Kapur
Cinematography: John de Borman
Eds: Cara Silverman, Bruce Green
Prod des: Robin Standefer
Music: David Carbonara
Main cast: Jimi Mistry, Heather Graham, Marisa Tomei, Christine Baranski, Michael McKean