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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Guru, The  


The Guru

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Director: Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Writing credits: Tracey Jackson
Cast: Heather Graham, Marisa Tomei, Jimi Mistry, Dash Mihok, Emil Marwa
Genre: Comedy
Country: UK
Language: English
Year Released: 2002
Runtime: 94 min
Rating: **½ (out of four stars)

India/Bollywood seems to be becoming a popular topic for Western filmmakers, and The Guru is the latest movie to join the fray. A basic romantic comedy with a distinctly Indian flavor, there is no lack of comedy in The Guru. However, the romance between the leads is never properly realized, and Heather Graham again displays her general lack of acting talent. An interesting supporting cast, however, rescues the film, and if you’re into Bollywood dance productions, The Guru is a movie that will leave you feeling sated. If you don’t belong to this category, well, your mileage may vary.

Ramu Gupta (Jimi Mistry of East Is East) is a dance instructor in India. But he has much greater aspirations than that. He wants to become a star and make it big in the US of A, dreaming of living in a penthouse and driving a Mercedes convertible, just like his cousin Vijay (Emil Marwa) who went over to America before him. However, things aren’t as rosy as it seems - Ramu finds out that the penthouse-Mercedes bit is a lie, and he even has difficulty in securing a job. He manages to land a job as an actor in a porn film, but his performance is rather limp, so to speak. It does allow him to make an acquaintance of Sharonna (Heather Graham), his co-star in the porn film, but Ramu has to settle as a waiter in a catering company in the end.

During a birthday dinner for the fad-chasing Lexi (Marisa Tomei), Ramu has to step in the shoes of a drunken guru, but he is very well received by the dinner crowd, after using nuggets of sexual wisdom Sharonna has imparted to him. Lexi is especially taken by Ramu, and decides to help him become the Next Big Thing in New York City - the Guru of Sex. In order to keep up appearances, he consults Sharonna on the pretext of prepping for his next porno film appearance, but actually stealing her bits of sexual advice as part of his guru act. Sharonna isn’t faultless either - she’s hiding her career as a porn star from her fiancée Rusty (Dash Mihok), who is led to think that Sharonna is a sweet, virginal schoolteacher. Obviously, the more Ramu and Sharonna interact, the more they find that they are attracted to each other. Of course, Ramu’s pretense cannot be kept up for long, and Sharonna soon finds out what he’s really been up to. Will real love triumph over sex, lies and (porno) videotapes?

Director Daisy von Scherler Mayer is a virtual unknown, and her inexperience shows. The film flits from scene to scene, and there seems to be a general lack of focus both in the storyline and in the direction. She seems to be unable to evoke much emotion out of her leads, especially Heather Graham (then again, Heather Graham has never actually shown much acting talent, so the fault may not lie solely with the director). The comic timing for more than a handful of scenes feel off -- although they are still funny, they could have been funnier if the timing were tweaked a little. However, von Scherler Mayer does redeem herself with the energetic and very fun Bollywood dance sequences, which even includes one which makes use of "You’re the One That I Want" from a Western musical, Grease. They are almost guaranteed to get your toes tapping and put a smile on your face.

For a romantic comedy, the romance in The Guru fares poorly. There’s never a real sense of how the relationship between Ramu and Sharonna develops, and despite the slightly different cultural setting, the relationship is very "by the numbers." If you’ve watched a fair number of romantic comedies, there is no need to question how the story in The Guru would unfold. Meet Cute, separate for a reason, get back together - it’s been done a thousand times before, and The Guru doesn’t bring anything refreshing to the screen. The lack of chemistry between the two leads further contributes to the lack of sizzle. Marisa Tomei’s character is woefully underwritten, although she tries her best with the material given to her (which is not much). The film is redeemed by a slew of scene-stealers in the supporting cast, including Christine Baranski as a caustic mother to Lexi, Michael McKean as a porno film director with an eye for "talent," and Emil Marwa’s turn as Ramu’s cousin cum sidekick.

The Guru is a movie with missed opportunities - it could have been much better than its current incarnation, with a little bit of patching up here and there. As it is, it doesn’t fail to entertain, but misses the mark as something out of the ordinary.

Final Word: Inventive and funny dance sequences, coupled with a strong supporting cast; however, The Guru is a letdown in the romance department.