Bollywood goes Hollywood in the romantic and semi-musical comedy The Guru, when a young Indian man heads for New York and the American dream only to steal advice from a porn star and become a sex guru.
Ramu Gupta (Jimi Mistry) arrives in New York from India with dreams of becoming an actor and several misguided notions about American life gleaned from watching Grease. Ramu gets his first part, belatedly realizes it's in a porn film and is unable to deliver the goods for costar Sharonna (Heather Graham). She gives him a pep talk--his body is a rose waiting to unfold and God wants us to have sex--but to no avail; not even sexy Sharonna can charm the snake. A very dejected Ramu then lands a gig playing a drunken swami hired to entertain a soul-searching socialite, Lexi (Marisa Tomei), at her birthday party, and he teaches the party guests about sex and God--using Sharonna's words. Lexi, convinced that Ramu will be the next Deepak Chopra, vows to help him after she experiences his charms firsthand, as it were, and Ramu, seeing a way to fulfill his dreams of fame, convinces Sharonna to teach him her philosophy. In exchange he offers to buy her a fancy wedding cake for her forthcoming marriage to Rusty (Dash Mihok), a devout Catholic who thinks she's a substitute teacher named Sheryl--and a virgin. Sharonna agrees to Ramu's deal but, given her subterfuge, insists that Ramu keep her ideas private. He doesn't, nor does he let her in on his new career as a sex guru. They both have their little secrets, but as Ramu and Sharonna explore the ways of love, the only secret that matters is the way they feel about each other.
We've seen Graham do her porn star-with-a-heart-of-gold act before as Roller Girl in Boogie Nights, but no matter how skilled she may be at playing that role, there is no way she can say, ''My pussy is the door to my soul,'' with either sincerity or conviction, nor can she make it the least bit amusing. The film is full of line after line of insane garbage like this, and it's made worse by the fact that we have to hear each line once from Graham and then again from Mistry (The Mystic Masseur) as he plays guru to socialites around the city. At least both the leads are easy on the eyes and have the expressive faces necessary to deliver deadpan schmaltz, but when it comes to the musical numbers and the slapstick shtick they both seem uncomfortable in their own skin--and that translates into an awkward desperation that permeates the film. Since they share much of the ridiculous and decidedly un-funny dialogue, Graham and Mistry don't come off as well as Tomei (In the Bedroom), who at least has a few decent one-liners; unfortunately, she delivers them in same whiny voice she's relied on since her Oscar win for My Cousin Vinny.
Director Daisy von Scherler Mayer (Party Girl), the granddaughter of Hollywood screenwriter Edwin Justus Mayer, calls The Guru, ''a movie about other movies,'' saying that ''Ramu's ideas about America come from American films he's seen growing up in India.'' First and foremost among those films is Grease: of the film's four big musical numbers, the most recognizable is an Indian take on ''You're the One That I Want'' that features costumed dancers in vibrant colors and recalls the ways Bollywood films re-invented the classic musicals of the '30s. These scenes are some of the most intriguing in the film; they're well-produced and beautifully shot, yet like the performances of the two leads they're awkward somehow, as if everyone involved in getting the shots was uncomfortable with the idea and knew it wasn't going to turn out quite the way they planned. But The Guru fails for one reason more than any other: it's said that there are no new stories in Hollywood, but the ideas presented in this movie--Indian culture and emigration, the myth of the American dream, Bollywood, resurrecting the '30s musical, New Age gurus, sex and God, porn stars as purveyors of sexual truth--are each so distinctive that the film can't find a coherent focal point, even in the tried and true romantic comedy genre, and neither can its audience. To its credit, though, the failure is a case of trying to do too much, which is far better then doing too little.
All in all, The Guru is an occasionally fun, generally quirky, nearly always awkward melting pot of a movie, but it's sadly more like the cookware than the multicultural metaphor--it's dripping with cheese.