As a white American with an obvious interest in Indian culture, I am sensitive to the stereotypes of white Americans interested in Indian culture, and I try very hard not to reinforce them. Even so, I sometimes squirm a little uncomfortably when these stereotypes pop up in the movies. I can't help but wonder: is that what I look like? Fortunately, the version of the stereotype that is sent up in The Guru is so over-the-top that I didn't really have to worry. And the film, a comical diaspora story about exploitation and love that draws on a number of Bollywood-ish elements, is a light, cute, and entertaining story.
Ramu (Jimi Mistry) is a dance instructor in Bombay who longs to be a star. At the urging of his NRI friend Vijay (Emil Marwa), Ramu follows his dreams to New York, but arrives to discover that Vijay's tales of penthouse living and fancy cars were exaggerated just a smidge. When a swami-for-hire passes out drunk before an appearance at a high-society party at which Vijay is working as a waiter, Ramu steps in and fakes his way through an impromptu discourse on sex and spirituality. The ditzy, spiritually-searching socialite Lexi (Marisa Tomei) is taken with Ramu, and declares him her guru, the "Guru of Sex." Suddenly Ramu finds he can make a ton of money by churning out pseudo-exotic sexual philosophy that rich, bored ladies who lunch will pay generously for. But Ramu needs material, so he enlists the help of a porn star, Sharonna (Heather Graham). Believing that Jimi is trying to break into the porn business - and knowing nothing of his spiritual sideline - Sharonna reveals her most personal thoughts and philosophies about sex and sexuality, and Jimi repackages these for his new disciples. Sooner or later, Sharonna will find out that Jimi is using her - but not before he falls in love with her.
The story is sort of dumb and some of the humor is a little crude, but on balance, The Guru is warm and funny, offering an unlikely love story amongst a fun and diverse collection of characters. While there are some gems in the casting, the characterizations and performances are a little spotty. Ramu's childlike dreamy innocence is somewhat at odds with his willingness to carry on a sexual relationship with Lexi, whom he does not seem to care for very much. But Jimi Mistry is sufficiently cute and appealing that the inconsistencies in his character are not a serious distraction. Lexi herself is spot-on; Marisa Tomei offers a perfect comic presentation of the spoiled rich kid who is hungering for something deeper than BMWs and penthouses, but who is too clueless and sheltered to recognize the difference between real spiritual depth and flaky trendism. She is both a caricature and fully human. Heather Graham's philosophical porn-star is neither here nor there, serviceable but not memorable. There is one real treat in the cast, though - Christine Baranski, sharp-clawed as Lexi's sneering yet indulgent mother, is as delicious as she always is.
The Guru features a few musical numbers, mostly in Hindi; these are meant as tributes to the Bollywood form, I guess, and while some of them were quite good - Heather Graham was more alive in her song than she was in the rest of the movie - others left me feeling that I'd rather watch the real thing. The film's ending was delightful, drawing on one of Bollywood's favorite tropes - the interrupted wedding, with a couple of light-hearted surprises.
I would generally rather watch a Hindi movie than a western film inspired by Hindi movies. Still, The Guru is a charming enough timepass, worth a watch if you happen to stumble across it.