As a casual student of Indian culture and an aspiring comedy writer, I was curious to check out the Bollywood-biting American rom-com The Guru (2002), and see what I could
rip-off learn from it.
According to classical Hindu thought, there are three acceptable objectives for all human endeavour: First and foremost is virtuous living (Dharma), second is material prosperity (Artha), and last comes aesthetic and erotic pleasure (Kama). When these objectives conflict, you’re advised to err on the side of virtue over all else, and a stable livelihood/home over the dictates of your dumb stick (or “dumb button”, in the ladies’ case). Which seems like a pretty good rule of thumb to me… but the main protagonist of The Guru seems determined to work through them in completely the wrong direction!
‘Ramu Gupta’ (Jimi Mistry) quits his day job as a dance instructor and leaves his comfortable middle-class home in Delhi, in order to travel to America, where he believes fame and fortune awaits him. He ends up working as a waiter to make ends meet… until a wacky mix-up at a fancy party allows him to step into the shoes (and turban) of an intoxicated guru, and dazzle the uptown crowd with his funky dance moves, and the sex-positive philosophy he plagiarises from a delusional porn star he met at a failed audition. His side-business as a “Sex Guru” blossoms, as more repressed white people seek his counsel, but his whole schtick is founded on the second-hand self-help techniques he’s secretly stolen from his “actress” friend, ‘Sharonna’ (Heather Graham), under the guise of seeking her help with his own performance anxiety. They fall in love along the way, of course… but can’t admit it to themselves or each other, because… well, then the film would be a helluva lot shorter, right?
When she finally tumbles his game, and sees him stood on stage sharing her personal theories with a paying audience, she’s heartbroken and humiliated. And when he realises that he’s lost her, he renounces his lucrative new career live on international (!) television, in order to rush after her, and ruin her dream wedding to another man (who, by a convenient stroke of luck, also loves someone else, and is looking for an out). The film ends with Ramu driving his car up into the clouds, with Sharonna by his side (a la Grease), so we don’t get to see how they resolve the whole “Sex Guru” resignation thing… and I’m still not entirely clear on which of the three objectives you’d ascribe “romantic love” to… but I’d argue that he jacks in his Artha for the sake of his Kama, and never gives so much as a passing thought to his Dharma!
Meanwhile, Ramu’s most ardent acolyte is ‘Lexi’ (Marisa Tomei), a wealthy socialite (and New Age dabbler) who surrenders her material wealth to his greedy entourage, in order to follow what she believes is her spiritual destiny. She’s treated as more of a plot device than a serious contender for Ramu’s affections, so we don’t get to see very much of her… which is a shame, because I thought Tomei was very funny and winning in the role. There is a scene at the end where Ramu places the turban of Guru-hood on her head, and anoints her as his successor… which was very sweet, but it made me wish that they’d made the movie about her and Ramu, instead of Sharonna. Sigh. Oh, and Lexi’s disapproving mother was played by the always-excellent Christine Baranski, so there’s another reason to expand her subplot right there!
[Fun fact: The closing credits music is a cover of “Every Kinda People” (a song about how the world needs people of all kinds and colours to get along) performed by Jo O’Meara… who’s best known these days for the part she played in the racist bullying of Indian actress Shilpa Shetty in the Celebrity Big Brother house. Ironic, no?]