From Bollywood with Love
One of the pleasures offered by The Guru is that of watching a guy having to wing it, think on his feet, bluff his way through situations and wince while he waits to see if the fibs are going to pay off. But there's an essential sweetness to the movie, too; the hero is a good man who wants to help people at the same time as staying afloat. We get a core of feel-good humour within the rhythm of a con comedy, allowing director Daisy von Scherler Meyer to deliver crowd-pleasing warmth at the same time as some genuinely sharp laughs.
Jimi Mistry plays Ramu Gupta, an Indian dance instructor who crosses the oceans to New York City with dreams of peace, comfort, stardom and spreading a simple message: "Dance is the language of love!" Things don't quite work out immediately, and Mistry's first job involves working on a porno shoot and failing to rise to the occasion. The experience is not all bad, as the co-star, a wholesome Christian pornstar played by Heather Graham, agrees to meet with Mistry and give him lessons on the wisdom she has learned in the business.
Meanwhile, Mistry hooks up with a catering service to help pay the bills, and one night ends up serving at an upper-crust party where the Indian guru hired for entertainment has had a few too many drinks backstage. Mistry steps in his place, showing the crowd his dance routines and passing off Graham's porno tips as pearls of wisdom about being comfortable with our naked bodies. He is embraced as a sex guru, and finds a number one fan and willing agent in a spoiled little princess type played by Marisa Tomei.
There is some light satire about how well Mistry's 'teachings' take off in high society, and it makes sense, because he drops common sense phrases that really do end up helping people out. Tomei gets a little too into the phenomenon for her own good (one night when she's really getting carried away with words, Mistry has to drag her onto the bed and inform her, "Guru sex is much faster than this!"). At the same time, of course, we get a background plot in which Mistry starts falling for Graham.
This is mainly a comedy about how Mistry fools a lot of people, lies through his teeth, and means well throughout. He's an actor of open face and clear intelligence, and makes a fun hero whether bungling his way through fibs or tackling big emotional challenges. Alongside him are two great women: Graham's character could have been too much of a cliché, and Tomei could have played the faddy rich girl with too broad a touch, but these are actresses of style, wit and grace in roles of energy and joy; they play straight to our hearts, and reach them.
The Guru is snappy and sexy, borrowing vibrancy from the texture of Bollywood. The palette is filled with bright colours, and the screenplay features three big dance numbers -- two in Hindi, one a daydream sequence that segues into "You're the One That I Want" from Grease. Obviously there's all the obligatory stuff whereby the hero must reject materialism and tell his followers to think for themselves, and we get a climax in which Mistry and Graham are left to realise that they're right for each other just in the nick of time. But the film is so well made that it's hard to get bored.
There's also an exchange I've been waiting to hear for years. One of Mistry's friends informs him, "You can't just stop a wedding and steal the bride!" The response: "Sure I can! Don't you watch American movies? It happens all the time."
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "R" for strong sexual content including dialogue, and language.)
Review also posted on www.ukcritic.com.