- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

"The Guru," an irrepressibly inept sex farce about an Indian dance instructor's adventures in New York, almost ducked the Washington market. Just think: We came that close to being spared.
Ramu Gupta, played by Jimi Mistry (an English actor whom Americans may recall as the restless son in "East Is East"), is a Delhi dance instructor who migrates to the United States. He arrives in New York and takes up residence with three earlier arrivals, already comfortably assimilated as wisecracking ethnics ("What's got your turban in a twist?") in a Bronx apartment that includes a terrace the roof of a theater marquee.
Despite this auspicious omen, Ramu can find employment only waiting tables. He's so naive that he answers an ad that turns out to be a solicitation for porn actors. Adorably, he auditions by mimicking Tom Cruise's interlude of rock-star fantasizing in "Risky Business."
Finally, while being tested opposite a house leading lady, Sharrona (the latest damaged-goods role for Heather Graham), Ramu catches on that he's expected to be some kind of stud. It's a fizzled opportunity, but he's attracted to fair Sharrona and keeps bumping into her.
Moreover, he takes it to heart when she defends the gratification to be had from promiscuous and professionalized sex, little realizing that Sharrona herself is living a lie. Outside the studio, she hopes to tie the knot with a firefighter named Rusty (Dash Mihok), supposedly straight-laced and ignorant of her renown in the porn industry.
One disenchanting night when Ramu is hired to help cater a society dinner, he gets a chance to parrot Sharrona's doctrine. He beguiles the guests with a combination of his Delhi dance moves and Sharrona-inspired sex propaganda. Lexi (Marisa Tomei), the spoiled daughter of the wealthy hostess, Chantal (Christine Baranski), adopts Ramu as her "guru of sex." She shows her devotion by promoting him into a household name, like Deepak Chopra, only prurient to the max.
Becoming Lexi's paramour gives Ramu a secret life of his own to conceal from Sharrona. So there they are, two essentially ingenuous whores unable to disentangle themselves from lucrative but shameful vocations until the denouement, which obliges Ramu to dash to the altar in time to come clean and spare his beloved from perpetrating a hoax on her bridegroom.
Missing no stale bets, screenwriter Tracey Jackson has blown Rusty's cover a bit earlier: The firefighter has been living a lie of his own.
The lie Miss Jackson and director Daisy von Schlerer Mayer are trying to conceal has no chance of success. It's obvious that they are painfully facetious bunglers, rattling along from scene to scene as if they were a set of blotto swamis, repeatedly walking into doors and taking pratfalls. Miss Mayer's giddy and swaggering incompetence first surfaced in "Party Girl," which might have typed Parker Posey as a small-time chucklehead if she hadn't moved on to more skillful company.
Oblivious in so many ways, Miss Mayer condemns the actresses to lighting schemes that leave their skin looking troubled across an unflattering range from the oatmeal to the livid. She's the kind of card who likes to induce middle-aged extras to strip for the camera. Miss Graham is so clueless about how to salvage elements of charm from Sharrona's dirty-wistful contradictions that you begin to appreciate how vulnerable she is to directorial abuse. Failing to intuit a performer in distress, Miss Mayer shows her no mercy.
There may be an engaging side to Jimi Mistry, but he's just dopey and disconcerting as Ramu, or Rammy as he's nicknamed by Michael McKean's Dwain, the droll impresario of the porn apparatus.
"There's a market for this," quips an overconfident character at the end of the movie. Really? Last year, Mira Nair's "Moonsoon Wedding" made a jubilant case for domestic comedy and pathos under the influence of Indian pop culture, including the spectacle of dance ensembles in Indian movies. "The Guru" might have been conceived to vulgarize the cheerful impression left by Miss Nair's picture.
*
TITLE:
"The Guru"
RATING:
R (Sustained comic and sexual vulgarity; occasional profanity and fleeting nudity; facetious episodes about a porn-film company)
CREDITS:
Directed by Daisy von Schlerler Mayer. Written by Tracey Jackson.
RUNNING TIME:
100 minutes

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