Written by Tracey Jackson
This laugh-a-minute comedy/satire about love, deception, the New Age and social status, though extremely light, has a great deal going for it. It begins with a young Indian boy in Delhi, bored with watching a typical Bollywood production complete with dancing chorus and a singing Indian Prince and Princess, who sneaks into an adjacent movie to see Grease. He is entranced. We next see him as an adult teaching modern dance to middle-aged Indian ladies in saris.
“Let your feet move to the beat of your heart!” he cries, his enthusiasm leading them around the room. It’s plain he has plenty of unconscious charisma because they rush to plant kisses on his face when they hear he is off to America to become a star and rich like his cousin Vijay.
There are plenty of running gags – all those about Indians trying to get rich in America who end up driving taxis and waitering – which is exactly what happens to Ramu (Jimi Mistry), at least at the beginning. Other gags point out the ridiculous nature of wannabe PC Americans who automatically correct themselves to say Native American when they have first said Indian and the rich socialite who justifies thinking that all people of colour are there to serve her by an annual stint of feeding the homeless.
After refusing to put up with the rudeness of a restaurant customer and being fired, Ramu goes for an audition for a film. The comic elements in his unfamiliarity with the subtleties of a foreign language are hysterical, as in his not realising that the name ‘Ramrod Productions’ indicates a less than mainstream type of film and continuing throughout his audition with the cynical and businesslike porn movie director Dwain (Michael McKean).
Dwain : How long are you hard?
Ramu: Errr……….yes!.. I work very, very hard!”
Hired for the film, he succumbs to camera-shyness and cannot perform. His co-star, porn-queen Sharonna (Heather Graham) gives him some advice. Whispering into his ear, she tells him, “Your biggest sexual organ is your brain, think about it!” and a few other cute New Age words of wisdom to encourage him to lose his inhibitions. After the shoot, we follow Sharonna, discovering that she is pretending to be a straight-laced and virginal teacher for her Fire-fighter fiancé Rusty (Dash Mihok) with whom she is ‘saving herself’ for their imminent marriage.
Having failed at acting in a porn movie, Ramu looks for his old boss, catering at rich socialite Chantal’s (Christine Baranski) house where she is giving a party for her spoilt, unhappy daughter Lexi (Marisa Tomei). Chantal has hired an Indian swami, since Lexi is going through a ‘spiritual’ period – oblivious to the difference between the Hindu swami and what Lexi really wanted - a Tibetan monk. The swami collapses drunk in the kitchen, Ramu takes over, and with Sharonna’s words still in his ear, he simply repeats them to his audience. Then he leads them in the same dance as with his Indian ladies back home. The party guests are entranced, Lexi is completely bowled over, and the Guru of Sex has arrived to show America how to feel good, ironically in a very Bollywood singing-and-dancing fashion. It’s even more deeply ironic when you consider that Bollywood musicals are themselves an Indian style copy of the 1930’s Hollywood song and dance extravaganzas starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Soon, Ramu is engaged in ‘spiritual sex’ with Lexi. “OOOOH stop!” she cries, “Candles! We can’t have spiritual sex without candles!” and rushes around in powder-blue lacy lingerie lighting about a dozen candles. Then very shortly afterwards, “Is guru sex always so fast?”
“Always!” smiles a very happy Ramu.
In between the satirical quips and sight gags which come at such a pace that we barely have time to recover before the next, the story of the developing love affair between Sharonna and Ramu evolves. Lexi has booked him solidly for private sessions with all her New Age friends and for huge conventions and he needs inspiration, completely forgetting how naturally he led the ladies in Delhi to the beat of their own hearts. Sharonna (unknowing of his other life, as he is of hers) agrees to be his paid tutor because she needs unconsciously to compensate for her lack of passion for the chaste Rusty with a very expensive, ridiculously elaborate wedding cake. The scenes between them are believably warm, and we can feel the chemistry growing between them as she earnestly shares with him all the secrets which enable her to survive her job and stay centred.
The performances are all up beat and tight as is the pacing. The costumes (particularly the lavish Bollywood extravaganza and the porn-film props) are fabulous and add hugely to the humour. Watch Ramu’s explanation to the advertising exec for the gladiator costume he has not had time to change.
Like the other movies of this production team – About a Boy, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary – similar themes of self-acceptance, self-deception, the value of authenticity juxtaposed with the facades we put on to create a good impression are explored in a multi-layered, clever and light-hearted way. There is a superb scene where, out to dinner with Rusty’s conservative parents and the priest who is to marry them, Sharonna the porn-queen (star of “Star-Whores 69”) is recognised both by some larrikins at the bar and the priest. In addition there are gibes against the self-righteous rich, a spoof on the commercialism of the publicity machines behind New Age gurus (Rob Morrow is brilliant as the advertising shark), and the way Americans are portrayed as so gullible and spiritually empty that they will blindly accept anyone who puts himself up as a guru and mindlessly mouth their platitudes with hypnotised, unquestioning devotion.
“You will be the next Deepak Chopra!” says Vijay, now Ramu’s manager.
“Who is Deepak Chopra?”
“Oh he teaches Americans how to get rich and be happy!”
It’s hilarious, and not least because we inevitably remember the impoverished millions in India….
Despite the glib way New Ageisms are bandied around in this movie the thread of truth can be discerned. As in real life, the discovery of one’s guru as a charlatan need not lead to disillusionment and resentment. So it is with the once-neurotic Lexi, who discovers her own inner guru through pure sincerity and projection of her own goodness onto Ramu. A truly centred spiritual growth can be achieved when she takes that projection back to her self once more. Sharonna and Ramu also begin to recognise the truth beneath their deceptions amid mutual accusations of dishonesty, allowing a deeper intimacy.
By the end all the right values have been realised, the right lovers have found each other and a gloriously colourful Bollywood ending with the cast dancing to the music of Grease leaves us feeling great. A beautifully done concept.
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