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NEW YORK — He sings, he dances — and he’s not afraid to bare his backside in his first major movie. All signs point toward British actor Jimi Mistry becoming a big star.
In “The Guru,” which premiered in Los Angeles last Thursday, Mistry plays Ramu, a naïve dance instructor from Delhi who comes to New York in search of the American Dream — in his case, becoming a “Grease”-era John Travolta. Instead, he lands a lead in a porn flick and is then mistaken for a sex guru. Mayhem and misunderstandings ensue.
At a time when British and American audiences are receptive to all the chutney charms of India’s Bollywood movies, “The Guru,” which was a hit in England, picks up momentum from “Bend It Like Beckham,” another Indo-English flick. And while it’s unlikely “The Guru” will win any awards, it doesn’t claim to be anything other than a Hollywood-style Bollywood romp. Read: Skimpy plot overshadowed by colorful, energetic musical dance numbers. It’s pure fun, and let’s face it, one billion people can’t be wrong — Bollywood is the biggest film industry in the world.
Mistry, with a high-wattage smile and requisite leading-man looks, is at the center of it all. “It was just one of those things where it couldn’t fail,” he says of the movie’s musical numbers, including a lavish finale set in a Punjabi-style wedding sequence that morphs into “You’re the One That I Want” from “Grease.”
It’s a departure from the dramatic fare Mistry, 29, is known for in the U.K., including a lead in 1999’s acclaimed “East Is East” and a stint on one of England’s favorite soaps, “EastEnders.”
For his “Guru” role, the Manchester-born actor, who’s half Irish Catholic-half Indian, adopted an Indian accent, but he refused to lay it on thick. “I really wanted the issue of where he’s from not to be an issue,” says Mistry in a phone interview during a whirlwind trip from the U.K. to New York and then Los Angeles. But he’s not afraid of being typecast, either. “You can’t be. You have to do your best to do different things.” After all, the actor’s résumé includes playing a talking book in a screen adaptation of Gail Carson Levine’s “Ella Enchanted” and a psychopath in the King Lear-based “My Kingdom” with the late Richard Harris.
But shooting “The Guru” in New York will always be a defining time in his life. “My daughter was born here while filming,” he says. “I’m very fond of the place.” The city also provided some of the most surreal moments, especially when shooting in Times Square. “Now, I’m not Tom Cruise,” he says. “So I can’t shut it down. It’s 7 o’clock in the evening. There’s me, dressed like a guru, and Heather Graham with all these people lined up, taking photos of her and asking, ‘Who’s the guy in the turban?’”