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From Mumbai to Manhattan

"The Guru" which comes to Indian theatres next week, woos young audiences in the West with a masala mix of Hollywood and Bollywood. Excerpts from an exclusive telephone interview with its UK-based lead star, Jimmy Mistry, who spoke to ANAND PARTHASARATHY on this new trend.

AS THE credits roll in the new film starring Britain-based Indian stage and screen actor Jimi Mistry, he is teaching Western style dance steps to a class of portly Punjabi behn somewhere in Delhi. They try — with visible lack of success — to jive to the beat of `Macarena'. In a film that would be outraged at the very suggestion that it has a `message', the symbolism of the set pieces that bracket the story is nevertheless hard to miss: Bollywood is Big — down Hollywood way? One suspected it when the quintessentially Hollywood product, "Moulin Rouge", unashamedly ploughed the Mumbai-masala line with outrageous hamming, romance, loud and colourful dance numbers — and the fond lift of Alka Yagnik's `Chamma Chamma' number. One was reasonably sure, when Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding" and Gurinder Chadha's "Bend it Like Beckham", succeeded in the West on general release, as mainstream, rather than niche ethnic products. And one's guess is as good as certainty, when a canny outfit like Universal Pictures picks up a product like "The Guru" for global distribution.

In a story reminiscent of that old Peter Sellers classic "The Party", as well as the1986 Victor Banerjee starrer "Foreign Body", "The Guru" follows the fortunes of a young Indian dancer who comes to the U.S. in search of fame and fortune.

Playing the central role of Ramu aka "The Guru" is 29-year old U.K. born Indian actor Jimi Mistry, who first came to our notice as one of the rebellious sons of a British-Pakistani patriarch (Om Puri) in the 1999 film "East Is East". Since then, Mistry's roles have been varied, to put it mildly — but these were British products, which did not see a worldwide release.

"The Guru" may change all that — and Mistry explained why, in the course of an international telephone conversation from Sweden where he was shooting recently.

"Unlike my earlier films, "The Guru" is very much an American film — indeed my first", he explained, "and Americans make for a fickle audience — sometimes they appreciate a film that makes fun of them, as this one does... but sometimes they don't like it. Hopefully they will enjoy the irony and take the mild ridicule sportingly. He — and for that matter, Paramount Films who distribute the film in India — have less doubts about its pulling power in India: they are releasing it on November 29, in English and also in dubbed versions in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil.

"I basically pick roles with which I feel some affinity — and I thought playing a `singin' dancin' guy' in a cross-cultural comedy would be a challenge," says Mistry. The Scarborough-born Mistry visited India for the first time at the tail end of the shooting for "The Guru".

Having had his first feel for Bollywood, would he like to act in an Indian language film? "I won't turn a good offer down," he promises. His presence in a mainstream Hollywood product has already paid off: he will soon be shooting in Ireland for a film with Minnie Driver.

When I asked him about the growing Indian presence in international cinema, both in theme and talent, Mistry enthusiastically quotes Shekhar Kapur who has said, Indians will virtually `take over' the U.K. film industry in the near future. And while the `goofy if good natured' "Guru" is perhaps not the most squeaky clean vehicle to launch an "I love Indians" movement in world Cinema, it is still a straw that shows which way the hava is blowing. And now it's blowing from Mumbai to Manhattan...

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