For a movie that’s all about sex, The Guru is awfully sweet. I wish that was as redundant as saying, “For a movie that’s all about terrorists bend on destroying the world and the half-crazed rogue cop intent on stopping them, Armageddon Now is awfully violent.” It should be that unnecessary. But alas, movies of late just manage to make sex dirty, a mechanical activity that horny teens do in between getting killed or horny twentysomethings do in order to avoid engaging in meaningful conversation with a fellow human being.
But wonder of wonders, The Guru — about a porn star and a sex guru and loaded with advice on letting go and enjoying ourselves — is silly, fluffy, lighthearted, and bursting with joie de vivre. I’m not saying The Guru appropriate for children — of course it isn’t. But it is appropriate for adults, which is more than can be said for 90 percent of the other movies that will eventually surround The Guru in the Romantic Comedy section at Blockbuster.
That the sex stuff is all sort of accidental only adds to the film’s charm and refreshingly casual attitude. Ramu Gupta is a dance teacher in New Delhi, blissfully unaware that the middle-aged women in his class are all madly in love with him — or maybe he’s just blissfully unfazed by the adoration, which would seem unlikely for this movie-star handsome young man in a film more concerned with turning sex appeal and those who exude it into something nasty than The Guru is. Ramu leaves Delhi and heads for New York, his head full of dreams of actually being a movie star, and English-born actor Jimi Mistry (The Mystic Masseur) imbues his Ramu with such unself-conscious appreciation of his own lovely body and such a winning blindness to the seedy that he can throw himself into an audition, dancing and stripping down to his shorts with wild abandon, without ever realizing he’s trying out for a porno… and then without being too daunted when he gets the part and is told what he’s expected to do for the camera.
It turns out that he can’t go through with it, though — all those people watching spook him. But his would-be costar, Sharonna, takes pity on him and agrees to share with him her secrets, the mysterious knowledge she has amassed for making her onscreen performances as sexy and realistic-looking as possible. And the real magic of The Guru isn’t that it makes the cold impersonality of porn appealing — though the always wonderful Michael McKean (Teddy Bears’ Picnic, Best in Show) gives porn producer Dwain a sleazy kind of charisma — but that it ends up pointing out that it what’s really sexy is an intimate connection with another person that has nothing to do with bodies. Heather Graham’s (From Hell, Sidewalks of New York) Sharonna, as innocently captivating as she was as the ditzy sleeparound actress in Bowfinger, insists that her tutoring of Ramu will be strictly professional — she’s engaged to a respectable Catholic fireman — and it stays that way. And yet it’s obvious to us, as clueless as Ramu and Sharonna are, that there’s a real spark between them.
Things get complicated, though, when Ramu accepts an impromptu acting job, filling in for an Indian guru as the entertainment at the birthday party of spiritually confused socialite Lexi (Marisa Tomei: In the Bedroom, Happy Accidents). At a loss for deep thoughts in the pressure of the spotlight, he draws on Sharonna’s philosophy of sex and hits a chord with all the unhappy people of New York, which is everyone. He’s a huge hit, which isn’t quite the kind of fame he was looking for, and he’s feeling guilty to boot, for sharing Sharonna’s secrets with the world and passing them off as his own.
Director Daisy von Scherler Mayer, working from a delightful and knowing script by Tracey Jackson, never lets the shrewd sweetness flag, buoying the marvelous nonsense with hilarious dream sequences of Bollywood-esque musical numbers and keeping it down to Earth by refusing to give in to ethnic clichés and often even giving them a bit of a tweak. Is this goofy? Oh yeah. But it’s a grownup kind of goofy that will leave you grinning from ear to ear.