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The march of Bollywood was in its element when in August 2002 there was the release of a new comedy called The Guru. Jimi Mistry played a young Indian dance instructor mesmerized by Broadwayís footlights a world away.
Transfixed on a friendís promise of a New York penthouse, a red Mercedes and an endless chorus line of blonde Baywatch babes, Indiaís lord of the dance is going to make it big in America.

The road to fame in New York is no magic carpet ride and Ramu winds up juggling the waiterís tray at an Indian restaurant and any audition that comes along.

When Dwain of Ramrod Productions calls, Ramuís naked enthusiasm swiftly turns to stagefright when he discovers he is the unwitting star of an adult movie. A shy Ramu cannot rise to the occasion and despite sexual enlightenment from his co-star Sharonna (Heather Graham,) quickly finds himself jobless on all fronts.


The film also features star of The Kumars at No. 42 Sanjeev Bhaskar who tells us about the current trend in Bollywood movies and British Asian comedy's influence on the UK mainstream.

OutUK: Why have Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at Number 42 been popular with such a broad TV audience?
Sanjeev: I think GGM was popular because although it was written and performed by British Asians, the humour was quite universal, it was quite popular around the world. Everyone could relate to the characters, it just so happened that these characteristics lived in Indian bodies. The Kumars similarly, is really about a family, some countries are now developing their own version of the Kumars.

OutUK: Goodness Gracious Me has been described as ďthe oil of race relationsĒ Ė what if any influence do you think it has had on breaking down prejudices towards Ďethnicí races in Britain?
Sanjeev: Itís probably too early to tell whether GGM has played any long term part in breaking down prejudice, but certainly as far as TV is concerned it informed people that Asians had a sense of humour and that it could be quite cool to be Asian. Films like East is East and Bend it Like Beckham have done so for a film going audience. Itís just that TV programmes reach a far wider audience than any film does. Asians have always been cool incidentally, itís just that we didnít bother telling anyone.

Sanjeev Bhaskar
OutUK: Many comedians base characters on family members Ė how much of an inspiration was your family for the Kumars?
Sanjeev: My family was the spark of inspiration for the Kumars as were other members of my extended family. The granny was the sort of granny I hoped I would turn intoÖ if I was in a position to do soÖ most of the stuff Iíve written is based on experience or observation, so everything becomes potential material. Including this!!

OutUK: Are the Kumarsí idiosyncrasies typical of British Indian culture, or could they be applied to many other families such as The Royle Family?
Sanjeev: The Kumarsí idiosyncrasies could be applied to any family. Dadís obsessive about money because he happens to be a business man, in another family it could have been train sets or talking about his car etc.

OutUK: Who has been the most memorable guest youíve had on the chat show?
Sanjeev: There have been many memorable guest on the show: Michael Parkinson, because he really is the king of chat shows in Britain. Martin Kemp, because he was the first Ď80s pop star Iíd ever met. Minnie Driver, because she was so surprisingly down to earth, Stephen Fry, because he has the widest general knowledge of anyone I ever metÖthe list goes on.

OutUK: What effect is British Asian comedy having on mainstream British comedy?
Sanjeev: Again itís too early to tell the effects of British Asian comedy on the mainstream. Thereís only been a couple of tv shows and a handful of films. Thereís very few British Asian actors who can do comedy at the moment, and even fewer that write, but hopefully that will change. Actually I donít think thereís a great difference between British Asian comedy and British comedy, so there!

OutUK: How did you become involved with The Guru?
Sanjeev: I was working with Jimi Mistry on a film called The Mystic Masseur when he was auditioning for the part of Rami. I went through some scenes with him, and when he got the part, he generously suggested me for some involvement. The producer rang me and asked if I would act as a dialogue coach on the movie, and then realising my true passions offered me a small part in the film too. I ended up having several small jobs on the film, which was great as I got to be involved in parts of film making that I wouldnít normally. Also I got to hang out with Jimi and Emil (also in the movie) in New York for a few weeks. How cool is that?

OutUK: The Guru mixes the Hollywood and Bollywood movie cultures Ė does this work for you?
Sanjeev: The Guruís mix of Bollywood and Hollywood sits very comfortably with me, just as any John Woo film is a mix of Hong Kong cinemas and Hollywood. A mixture of styles is something that audiences donít find alien anymore. A lot of Hollywood films are remakes of European films anyway, so the styles are really beginning to be mixed up. Thereís very few Hollywood films that have used elements of Bollywood, so itís quite a new thing and I think people will find it really entertaining.

OutUK: Do you think the Guru will act as a springboard for Bollywood style film in global mainstream cinema?
Sanjeev: Iím not sure that The Guru will act as a springboard but it will certainly remind people that there does exist the option of trying new things and even mixing in a Bollywood element. Bollywood is much bigger than Hollywood, more films are produced in India every year probably than Hollywood and Europe combined. Betcha didnít know that!!

 

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