The Missionary Position

A bumbling actor turns into a sex guru overnight. Ah, if only real life were like this...

Literally reinventing the schoolmaster’s stick, this raunchy comedy is about a guru done and undone by his carnal chakras, and some very energetic dancing that makes his lessons so much fun!

When Ramu Gupta (Jimi Mistry) decides to leave his dance students in Delhi for the dreams of America, he realizes, in the words of his friend Vijay, that "they call it the American dream because it only takes place when you’re sleeping". Yet for this aspiring actor, there’s no holding back the red carpet, even though he has to step past Hollywood’s grisly gates in the getup of a porn star. Unable to "perform" on the sets, he learns a few philosophic teachings on the subject from co-star Sharonna (Heather Graham), who convinces him that sex is spiritual and the mind is the prime sexual organ.

When forced to don the robes of a guru at a socialite birthday party, he impresses the audience with his recent learning and even sways them to make a song and dance out of it. Lexi (Marisa Tomei) the birthday girl, a neo-spiritual junkie, buys this new and more gravitating ideology and shoots the sham guru into stardom. In the meanwhile, Ramu continues to be coached by Sharonna, who leads a double life pretending to be a chaste Catholic schoolteacher to impress her devout boyfriend. Teacher and student fall in love, everybody learns a lesson for life, and double entendres along with double identities dissolve into the ether!

Taking root from the age-old, but renovated American fad of searching for the definitive solution to urban living, "The Guru" is as stridently showy as it is expository of the strategies contrived to uncover karmic bliss. Funny from the letter A, this product from the producers of films like "About A Boy", "Notting Hill" and "Bridget Jones’ Diary" is more East than West. It duplicates the hyperboles in dance, maintains a fundamentally simplistic plot routine and inspires a motleyed imagery. A screenplay that rises to the risqué rank of the script, it is packed with humour that sets off right at the start in the literal Hindi translation of the "Grease" title track.

The invincible Tomei is stunning in her role of an irrepressible spirit-searching student. Jimi Mistry, given the lead, works hard to prove his mettle, by sandpapering his Brit inflection with Delhi-speak, and dropping his pants without so much as a gulp. His occasional stiffness can be excused as the inexperience of a newcomer, but he manages the demanding role with admirable ease.

Director Daisy Mayer is familiar with the various facets of humour, as evident from her electric "Party Girl" to the delightful "Madeline". This only adds to her cinematic oeuvre. However, "The Guru" still reveals a couple of rough edges that gives this film the feeling of a hurriedly assembled B-grade flick. But it tickles, nonetheless.

This article was first published on 25 Nov 2002.