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Wednesday, Jun 18, 2008

It stands as one of the most unusual, and blinkered, boycotts ever. For the last few months, self-proclaimed Indo-American leader Rajan Zed has been waging a one man campaign against Mike Myers’ latest live action comedy, The Love Guru. Pointing to the fact that the film features an American Born master who comes back to his native land to help a hockey player in distress, Zed has launched a bi-weekly (and sometimes more) email “awareness” campaign, demanding everything from the MPAA labeling the movie “NC-17” to requesting the same body suspend Paramount for “unethical practices” (anyone whose seen This Film is Not Yet Rated knows that ain’t happening anytime soon).


Naturally, all of this comes from someone who, admittedly, has not seen the final film. Nor can he site specific allegations against Myers and company. All he can do is complain about the trailer “lampooning Hinduism and Hindus and using Hindu terms frivolously”. And without said personal perspective, his screeds come across as horribly misinformed. Over the course of the last few weeks, Zed has also come under fire for mixing fact with a little propagandized fiction. Back in April, he announced that the British Film Institute (better known by the initial BFI) had no intention of supporting, or in their words “screening” the film. Turns out, that’s standard policy for the organization, a procedural loophole victory at best.


cover art

The Love Guru

Director: Marco Schnabel
Cast: Mike Myers, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake, Romany Malco, Verne Troyer, Meagan Good, Manu Narayan, Ben Kingsley

(Paramount Pictures; US theatrical: 20 Jun 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 1 Aug 2008 (General release); 2008)

Review [20.Jun.2008]

As for the rest of his rants, Zed has tried everything and anything. He wanted advance screenings, and when he was awarded them, he still complained. When Paramount finally withdrew the offer, he called conspiracy. He supposedly rallied other religions to his defense, only to have them back off any major pronouncements with a “wait and see” attitude. Now, there is nothing wrong with one ethnic culture or race responding with concern when it appears that someone is about to ridicule their religion or heritage. Even worse, The Love Guru looked like it would indeed use every known concept of Hinduism and Eastern philosophy to fuel yet another regressive Mike Myer’s comedy.


Specifically, the simplistic narrative follows Maurice Pitka, a Western orphan who finds himself learning the ways of the guru alongside the now more famous Deepak Chopra. As he ages, our hero is sick of the comparison, and is looking for a high profile case to bring him to the attention of Oprah, and as a result, the American mainstream. As luck would have it, star player for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Darren Roanoke, is having marital troubles. His wife has left him for the notoriously well-hung goalie of the Los Angeles Kings, Jacques “Le Coq” Grande, and as a result, he can no longer score goals. With team owner Jane Bullard and Leaf’s coach Cherkov desperate, they turn to Pitka and his ‘DRAMA’ method to rekindle Roanoke’s romance and save the organization’s Stanley Cup hopes.


In the end, Zed shouldn’t have bothered. Certainly, The Love Guru gives certain Indian stereotypes a tweaking or two. Ben Kingsley, revered for his Oscar winning performance as the nation’s heroic Gandhi, pisses all over the famed pacifists legacy by playing a cross-eyed ashram teacher who gained his horrendous eyesight from years of masturbation. He speaks in a silly voice, makes students fight with mops soaked in his own urine, and gets a juvenile kick out of keeping Myers’ Pitka in an unnecessary vow of chastity. If it was possible, Zed and his gang should ask the Academy to take back the British thespian’s award. He does more damage to the Asian country’s people and reputation with this performance than all the good his 1982 biopic did.


Similarly, Myers does make it seem like all gurus are money grubbing materialists who pervert faith and inner peace into a series of babbling best sellers and a collection of high concept catchphrases. Pitka is always ending his mantras with a tiny “TM” tag, indicating that the wisdom he just quoted is trademarked, and therefore subject to copyrights and royalties. He has personal servants who handle all of his affairs, including a few that are far more intimate than one imagines real gurus require, and there’s a seismic, show business flare to everything Pitka does. Alongside his hopped up horndog tendencies, Myers makes his hero so flawed that we’re not sure if he’s meant as a comment on, or a crass, crude put down of, true Indian wise men.


Such a confused purpose regarding the source material leaves Zed and all others on the outside looking rather confused. Myers personal adoration for Chopra is legendary, and interviews add another level of respect to a figure the comedian feels helped himself - and millions more - find some manner of ersatz enlightenment. So it’s clear the actor would claim comedic poetic license when it comes to how he depicts guru nation. In addition, Pitka’s pitch works. Whatever wacked out system of suggestions and rituals he demands seem successful. Roanoke gets back with his wife, he leads the Leafs to the final game of the Cup, and he even overcomes his phobia regarding his mother. Of course, it takes a pair of elephants having sex to cure that sports performance anxiety ailment.


Indeed, if Zed wants to really get angry about something, one suggests he take the MPAA to task for awarding this tawdry, salacious comedy, overflowing with as many dick and diarrhea jokes as possible, a lowly PG-13 rating. That’s right, kids between the ages of eight and twelve, guided by the unmitigated buzz of an MTV saturated media hype, will be able to witness more penis humor than a dorm room full of drunken frat pledges. The movie starts with a dong joke and goes from there - and repeats said wang witticisms over and over again. If Myers is not making fun of Vern Troyer’s size (a given in this kind of film) he is finding new and novel ways to reference the male member. To say it grows tiresome would be giving tediousness a bad name.


Similarly, Myers clearly believes that Judd Apatow and his go-to gang of regulars have failed to fully develop and explore all levels of gross out juvenilia. So The Love Guru skips things like characterization, plot development, drama, insight, and substance to swim in oceans of personal offal. There are farts, snot rockets, dung, numerous mention of skidmarks (and other verbal variations on the dirty drawers), and the aforementioned wiener-palooza. While the sequence with Kingsley and the nauseating pee fight tops them all, there is still enough mind numbing noxiousness to get your gag reflex good and active. While Apatow can claim scatology with subtext, Myers is like a monkey, flinging his poo at the screen for audiences to enjoy.


Zed is wasting his breath if he thinks anyone will actually boycott this unsuccessful swill. The demographic - read: teen boys and their text-tweener dates - will giggle their way to a Summer full of sympathy mimicry, and Pitka is so completely unrealistic that anyone thinking Hindus are being defamed will look like an idiot in the claim. In fact, The Love Guru has so many insider winks to the viewer that it seems to have anticipated the fuss and foiled it by taking absolutely nothing seriously. Had this campaign actually raised the hackles of grass roots organizations everywhere, there would have been a lot of wasted protest breath. Myers’ intent is obvious - do anything, including the slightest of ethnic slams, for a laugh.


Sadly, the only honest snickers will come from anyone who has read Zed’s missives over the last few months. This does not defend The Love Guru - it’s a god-awful anti-comedy, unfunny in unfathomable, almost heroic ways. But it should teach anyone who wants to openly complain about an upcoming project (and the supposedly negative depiction within) to get their facts straight before starting to complain. This is one of those cases where everything, and nothing, could be twisted into being racially insensitive or just downright dumb - and sometimes, both.


Rajan Zed has every right to protect his people and his place among them. He also has the freedom of speech to voice his well meaning and thoughtful concerns. But like the boy who cried wolf, arguing against something you’re not sure exists means that, when the time comes to really go after an abuse, you’ll be viewed less like a savior and more like a stooge. One imagines that no one could stop Myers in pursuit of his big screen muse. It’s too bad Zed didn’t wait until he knew what he was actually attacking before taking up the cause. Anything to keep this crappy movie out of the cultural mainstream would definitely been welcomed. 


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