WFTB Score: 4/20
The plot: Dance instructor Ramu leaves India for America, dreaming of fame and fortune in New York. The reality is less than glamorous but Ramu’s emergency appearance as a swami at a swanky party bags him not only a girlfriend but also a new career: as a sex guru. Ramu, however, knows next to nothing about sex and relies on the supposedly confidential advice of adult film actress Sharonna, who is hiding her career from her fiancé. Will love get a look-in in this scenario of lust and deceit?
The Guru opens in an Indian cinema with a young boy who gets bored of watching a traditional Bollywood picture and sneaks into the next screen to watch Grease. I don’t know if this was a subliminal message to cinemagoers, or how many took the film up on the suggestion: but those that did can consider themselves as having had a lucky escape.
The boy, as it turns out, grows up to be Ram or Ramu (Jimi Mistry), a dance teacher much loved in his home town but keen to discover America, especially as a cousin has written back with tales of penthouse suites and Mercedes cars. But when he gets there, all Ram finds is a job in a restaurant (from which he is promptly sacked for covering an abusive customer in curry) and a share of a room above it; the only acting role he gets (after showing producer Michael McKean his macarena and taking off Risky Business) is in a porn film opposite Sharonna (Heather Graham), but even here he isn’t (ahem) up to the job.
Things look bleak, so Ramu turns up at the birthday party of spiritually-confused poor little rich girl Lexi (Marisa Tomei) to beg for his job back; however, the mystical swami booked for the occasion becomes permanently indisposed and Ram steps in. He is initially tongue-tied but Sharonna’s encouraging words in the ways of love come back to him and he is a sensation with the crowd, sending Lexi into spiritual ecstasy and causing a stir with her repressed friends and family. Whilst Ramu pretends to be a mystic, Sharonna pretends to be a supply teacher to keep her Catholic, abstemious, firefighting boyfriend Rusty (Dash Mihok) off the scent; the two agree to see each other so that Sharonna can pass on her ‘wisdom’ in a sex-talk-for-wedding-cake deal, but as their lessons continue a relationship grows. And all the time, Ram’s sham swami transforms the sex lives of New Yorkers and threatens to become a Broadway smash.
This being a romantic comedy, you may well be able to guess most of how The Guru resolves itself without any more information; and you might assume that the novelty of Indian main characters lends the film an enchanting Eastern feel, especially when Lexi’s birthday party turns into an impromptu Bollywood dance (albeit one performed by Americans such as Lexi’s mother, Christine Baranski).
And yet, almost nothing about Mayer’s film works. Firstly, whilst I am sure the film had the best of intentions about depicting Indians (taking pot-shots at obsession with status symbols, for example), Ramu’s friends come over not so much ‘Aren’t we funny?’ as ‘Aren’t we annoying?’ If Mistry is the least worst offender in this, it is only because he is so bland: he certainly doesn’t offer much by way of comedy, and (to British ears, at any rate) we know his accent is fake because we’ve seen him in soaps like Eastenders. But he’s not helped by the second point, which is that the writing of The Guru is lousy. The script provides a witless parody of the porn industry, dreaming up film titles like ‘Guess Who’s Coming at Dinner’ and ‘Glad-He-Ate-Her’; and in Sharonna, a miscast Heather Graham somehow thinks up profound proclamations about the nature of sex even though – in fact, because – she hates what she’s doing.
And what are these profundities? ‘Feel Billy Joel between your legs’ is the big one, leading to the hilarious sight of a theatre full of people chanting the words of ‘Just the way you are’ in a loved-up trance. At least Graham is spared Marisa Tomei’s fate; Lexi is an annoying, spoilt nothing of a character who exists solely to confuse religions and deities (is she supposed to be satirical?) and speed up Ramu’s progress towards stardom.
To be absolutely fair, there are a couple of bright lines in the film (especially the joke about America’s most famous Indian being the one in The Simpsons) and the actors generally do their best, but at every stage predictability and incompetence overtake them. Sharonna and Ram are almost discovered – he pretends to be a holistic plumber; the two have a fight and Sharonna vows to marry Rusty – Ram discovers he can think about nothing but her and rushes to tell her; he acknowledges his deceit, not only on a TV talk show, conveniently passing the mystic’s hat onto Lexi (that’s her dealt with!), but also in a cloying speech in the church; and Rusty, whose avoidance of sex has been suspicious all along, declares his love for the fireman who also comes to disrupt the ceremony (that’s him out of the way too! What a clever writer I am, says Tracey Jackson).
I was going to give this film a 5, until the director insisted on going full circle with the Grease idea and…well, you can picture the rest. There’s nothing particularly offensive about The Guru, but there’s nothing to get excited about either, and this is perhaps the greater crime. When a film contains New York, pornography, sex, Indian Cinema, religion and all the opportunity for sparks that the collision of these materials seems guaranteed to generate, the soporific harmlessness of the end result and the lack of fire is more than disappointing. For your own sakes, if Grease is on next door, go and watch that instead.