A Guru for All Nations

Nobody can get up everybody’s nose with quite as much panache as Mike Myers, the 45-year-old onetime Saturday Night Live comedian who pretty much destroyed the James Bond spy series with his portrayal of Austin Powers in The Spy Who Shagged Me, insulting just about everybody. Now he appears set to insult roughly a billion Hindus.

In a movie called The Love Guru, to be released on June 20 according to the movie’s website, Myers plays Pitka, an American raised outside of his country by gurus after having been left at the gates of an ashram by his parents, and who returns to the US to break into the self-help business. In a serious burlesque of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and other gurus who invaded the consciousness-raising business in the 1960s, Myers plays a whiskey-swilling, love-bead-rattling, dwarf-mangling mystic for all the laughs he can get.

In particular, he has got up the nose of one Rajan Zed, an Indian-American church leader from Nevada and Hindu who has mounted a drive to tone the film down, saying that “from the information available about the movie, it appears to be lampooning Hinduism and Hindus and using Hindu terms frivolously.”

Who knew?

Certainly, from the trailer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLB1r9lh7gY) there’s plenty for Zed to be worried about. True, Sachin Bhatt, who plays a dancer, is an ethnic Indian, but he was born in St Louis, Missouri, and trained in opera at the Indiana University School of Music. The Guru Sachibigknoba is actually Omid Djalili, described as “Britain’s only Iranian stand-up comedian and actor”. British actor Ben Kingsley plays the role of Guru Tugginmypudha. An actress named Gigi Dalka is described only as “busty waitress.” The popular feel-good spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra, a buddy of Myers, makes an appearance as well. Myers told the Sundance Channel’s Iconoclasts that Chopra, his longtime friend, was the inspiration for the Love Guru character.

“He is the basis of why I went down this path of a character like that, and it’s because I am interested in higher states of consciousness and I am interested in comedy,” Myers says. “The guru, he breaks down your barriers, gets you silly and gets you light so you’re in a place to receive love,” he told the television channel.

Anything about the plot seems superfluous. The movie appears to be a long series of slight gags with the usual dwarf abuse, plenty of female flesh (see “busty waitress”) and a few “mini-sutras” that Myers tossed off that won’t make you think of Rabindranath Tagore.

Rajan Zed, a kind of self-appointed one-man band who has been bombarding the news media and Paramount with his complaints, has managed to round up at least 25-odd preachers, teachers, public officials and others who have cautioned that the movie is going to make Hindus and gurus look ridiculous, and to demand that it be screened for them before it hits the movie theaters.

Attempts to reach Jessica Rovins, Paramount’s senior vice president for national publicity, have been unsuccessful. But Rovins told other media, “It is our full intention to screen the film for Rajan Zed and other Hindu leaders in the US once we have a finished print.” Paramount also issued a statement saying the movie “is a satire created in the same spirit as Austin Powers.”

The studio has carefully pointed out that the Guru Pitka (“His Karma is Huge”) is a member of no particular religion, but it’s hard to think of any beyond an Indian one, given Pitka’s flowing locks, beard, love beads, sitar strumming and other South Asian characteristics.

But, said Zed, “People who know nothing about gurus or Hindus might view this portrayal of their culture and religion as something of a reality no matter how ridiculous or humorous it may seem to Westerners. It appears the film will do little to decrease any false stereotypes.”

Natalie Kaharick, one of the leaders of the International Association for Human Values, wrote a statement for Zed: “I am incredibly concerned about the image of Indian spirituality conveyed in The Love Guru. From what little I’ve seen, the movie paints a picture of a ‘guru’ who is interested in sex, meat, drinking, and marketing his philosophy to the public. Many people who have spent time with an actual enlightened master will be offended by such a false and degrading image of spiritual teachers.

“In a larger context,” Kaharick continued, “the trailer paints a negative and ignorant image of the vedic values that are ancient and sacred to India, Hindus, and all those who have benefited from them … I feel that The Love Guru may mislead [average Americans] and keep them from experiencing the broader world of Indian spirituality, which includes yoga, meditation and alternative medicine. I hope that Paramount Pictures will consider making some edits that will make this film more appropriate, so that the original intention to make people laugh will shine through without any ramifications or misleading images.”

Meanwhile, Jawahar L Khurana, chairman of the Hindu Alliance of India, told Zed: “Paramount Pictures should resolve the issue soon with Rajan Zed and other Hindu leaders so that they do not have to take the protest to the streets.”

Best they look back at what the comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen did for the people of Kazakhstan with his portrayal of Borat Sagdiyev for the movie “Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”Then grit their teeth.