THE GURU . Director: Daisy Von Scerler. Players: Jimi Mistry, Heather Graham, Marisa Tomei. Theatrical release.


Yes, there is a mandatory elephant on the streets of India. But most of the action in The Guru takes place in New York. Ramu Gupta (Jimi Mistry) chucks up his job teaching the Macarena to housewives in India to become a star in New York. There he finds the promised penthouse is just a ratty apartment above a theater showing Zubeida that he shares with a couple of other Indians like him—driving cabs, waiting tables, trying to make ends meet.

This feel-good East-West comedy directed by Daisy Von Scherler Mayer (with Shekhar Kapur as executive producer) is being marketed as the crossover movie—the campy fun of Bollywood but only 93 minutes long. Jimi Mistry, fresh fromEast is East , is Ramu whose quest for stardom leads to him into a grass skirt in a porn movie where, despite his urgent prayers (“Aaja shamu, aaja meri cobra”), he cannot quite rise to the occasion. Heather Graham is Sharonna, whose devoted Catholic boyfriend doesn’t know she is a porn star, and who agrees to teach Ramu about the philosophy of sex.

Ramu ingests it all and regurgitates it out to a crowd of swooning Manhattan elite led by Marisa Tomei as Lexxi, the starry eyed devotee who wanted a Tibetan gathering with Rimpoche for her birthday and got Ramu instead masquerading as a guru. And Guru he becomes, the guru of sex. The plot bubbles along predictable lines. You know he can’t masquerade forever, you know when he is going to fall in love, you know with whom. You know this boy has a conscience the moment he confesses, “I miss my nani ma the most.” The prostitute with the heart of gold is a porn star in this film but you don’t need to have seen Pyaasa to recognize her.

But Guru also tries to capture the immigrant Indian experience in America. The jokes fly fast and furious and sometimes fall flat. But every now and then one is a zinger. A mock Indian sex line, for Hindi Hotties press 1, a jab at Deepak Chopra, Grease reheated Bollywood style and Mistry’s porn star audition to the tune of “purana rock and roll” are just some of the sly winks at the immigrant experience. Mistry thankfully doesn’t try and do an Apu (from the Simpsons) or Peter Sellers accent though his natural British accent keeps leaking out.

I don’t know if this Karma Cola caper in Manhattan will be the crossover film its producers hope it will be. But it had one subversive trait that may or may not have been intended. After years of hearing about Westerners taking Eastern wisdom and packaging and patenting and re-selling it, The Guru does the reverse. Here we have Ramu lifting his spiel from a blonde porn star, repackaging it and spewing it back to his Western fans, who think they are drinking from the fount of authentic Eastern wisdom. Which is a little depressing since it means everyone is either a fake or a fool. But that’s looking a little too deeply in this frothy lighthearted creampuff, or is it rasmalai, of a film.

—Sandip Roy-Chowdhury

Sandip Roy-Chowdhury is on the editorial board of India Currents and host of UpFront, a news-magazine show on KALW 91.7 produced by New America Media.