Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Guru


I swear I don't completely understand the business of readying a successful show for Broadway these days. The producers of my new show, The Girl From Oz, a minor rewrite of the current success with Hugh Jackman, seem to have an absolute love affair with focus group polling. They have been running Oz as a term in front of random groups of Times Square tourists to make sure that we will appeal to the widest demographic spread. We had no problem adding the maximum security convicts from HBO into both a dream sequence and the Australian outback scene but the pollsters now want to reference some old thirties musical about a girl who teams up with three misfit drifters and kills a couple of sisters. I'm really not that fond of sociopathic violence but, with the murderous thugs already added, I don't see why we can't do it.

I've written to Ania, my private dramaturg, who is busy restructuring the first act to add some song about a rainbow. Why there would be such a positive image in such a bleak film escapes me, but Ania insists it's de rigueur that I perform it and that I will almost certainly bring down the house. Bob Mackie, my costumer, was ecstatic at the thought of its inclusion. I absolutely rejected his first attempt, this little blue and white gingham pinafore thing - he promises to come up with something much more to my taste with a veritable rainbow of ostrich plumes cascading from the headdress. Colony music is busy looking for the sheet music for me so I can learn the song before it has to go into rehearsal this next week.

Feeling somewhat adrift in the world of New York theater, I decided that a fish out of water New York comedy might be a good idea and so Normy and I settled into the home theater with Daisy von Scherler Mayer's 2002 comedy, The Guru with Heather Graham and Jimi Mistry. It's peculiar mix of the entertainment world, New York society, and bizarre Bollywood production numbers exactly fit my mood. Normy fell asleep after fifteen minutes, but he's been exhausted trying to rearrange Grieg's first piano concerto into a useful tap number for this narrative hole in the first act of the new show.

The Guru is the story of young Ramu Gupta (Jimi Mistry), an Indian dance instructor and would be actor who decides to come to America to share in the good life of his cousin Vijay (Emil Marwa). When he arrives, he realizes that Vijay's tales of penthouses and Mercedes are somewhat exaggerated and he lives with a couple of roommates one step up from squalor and the only available job is waiting tables in an Indian restaurant. Ramu is determined to make it as an actor, a certain naiveté leads to his being cast in a cheap adult video by pornography mogul Dwain (Michael McKean in his usual smarmy style). Here he meets the lovely Sharona (Heather Graham), his costar, who uses the adult industry as a means to an end so she'll have the money to marry her clueless boyfriend Rusty (Dash Mihok). Ramu is smitten with Sharona and takes lessons from her in the nature of how she philosophically copes with meaningless sex in her role as porn actress.

When his roommates are hired to cater a New York upper crust birthday party for Lexi (Marisa Tomei), a poor little rich girl with a frantic need for enlightenment, by her dragon mother (Christine Baranski), they think it's just another job. However, when the swami engaged for the night collapses after one Cosmopolitan too many, Ramu is dressed in the Guru's robes and pushed onstage to provide enlightenment to the assembled guests. This he does through a combination of Sharona's sex advice and the Macarena which soon becomes a full scale Bollywood production number all over the upper east side town house. Lexi is convinced she's found the answer in her new guru and soon Ramu is being hyped and promoted all over town as the next big thing, bringing sex and self acceptance to lonely society widows and the inhibited. Complications ensue when Sharona recognizes it's her ideas that are being used as his philosophical message, especially when she realizes he loves her despite her porn activities while her fiancé remains blissfully unaware. This being a comedy, it's ended with everyone ending up with the right partner and a Bollywood homage to the film version of Grease which we'll have to incorporate into the current project.

The film is at its best when it's somewhat lunatic social satire is given free rein. Stuffy New York society dinners becoming nude encounter groups and things of that sort. The various Bollywood style musical numbers that materialize out of nowhere and have extras singing and dancing up and down staircases are also a great deal of fun, especially when familiar songs are all of a sudden sung in Hindi. Heather Graham looks lovely in a sari with rhinestones along her brow line. Unfortunately, the deliriously loopy moments are rather few and far between and the stuff that separates them is rather pedestrian. The cast includes able farceurs such as Christine Baranski, Michael McKean and Marisa Tomei but they're given such thin material to work with that you can practically see them sweat as they try to inject some life and sense of buoyancy into terribly forced situations.

This is, I believe, the fault of Tracey Jackson's very contrived script. It appears to have been assembled out of old parts left over from a comedy screen writing 101 workshop. She keeps falling for cliché or stock situation, which is a shame. The lives and loves of the Indian community in the US is way underutilized in American film and Jimi Mistry and Emil Marwa, in particular, are such engaging performers that you really wish they had something more that they could sink their teeth into.

The end result is predictable, somewhat uneven, but not without the occasional redeeming feature and certainly a lot more fun than a lot of star driven big budget comedies that Hollywood has been forcing upon us lately. It's good for a look on late night cable or a rent on 99 cent night.

Chicken tikka massala wearing. Tahitian grass skirt wearing. Gladiator costume wearing. Sari wearing. Rubber French maid outfit wearing. Senatorial love. Horseman love. Starchy matron self love. Gratuitous Sally Jesse Raphael appearance. Chanting extras. Holistic plumbing. Extravagant wedding cake.

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