TORONTO — Mike Myers was a big fan of the buffoonish Insp. Clouseau of the “Pink Panther” films as a child, introduced to the rip-roaringly funny but politically incorrect movies by his beloved father, a comedy junkie himself.
But is the brand of cultural humour that has infused the Toronto-born Myers’s work – from the “Austin Powers” franchise to the upcoming “The Love Guru” – becoming a relic of the past?
“The Love Guru,” about a goofy Hindu self-help coach who tries to solve the marital woes of a Toronto Maple Leafs player, doesn’t arrive in theatres until June 20, but it’s already controversial as Hindu groups around the world complain that Myers is lampooning their faith.
Hindus in India have even called for the film to be banned, while North American Hindus – led by the man who has been called America’s most savvy Hindu priest, Rajan Zed – are actively trying to block the film’s release by appealing to distributors and theatre chains.
In Canada, one Hindu leader is calling for edits to the film and is planning to contact Paramount Pictures to demand them.
“It should not be released in Canada without editing,” said Kanayalal Raina, executive director of the Canada Hindu Heritage Centre in Mississauga, Ont. “There are only some portions that are offensive, not all, so it doesn’t mean that we should completely ban the picture, but it should not be released until it’s edited properly.”
Paramount Pictures is apparently so nervous about the controversy, they’ve decided to screen the movie for Hindu leaders before its release.
The film, starring Myers, Jessica Alba, Ben Kingsley and Justin Timberlake – who plays a Speedo-clad Quebecois hockey player – is “a satire created in the same spirit as ‘Austin Powers,”‘ says Paramount’s Jessica Rovins.
But Zed, the Nevada-based head of the Universal Society of Hinduism, has seen the trailer and isn’t impressed.
“The movie appeared to be lampooning Hinduism and Hindus and using Hindu terms frivolously,” he told the Times of India.
Richard Crouse, the film critic for CTV’s “Canada AM,” says it’s tough to successfully make movies based on racial stereotypes anymore, with the possible exception of the recent “Borat” film.
Some of the biggest comedies of the past have featured scenes, language and jokes that would likely make audiences squirm today – from Mel Brooks’s “Blazing Saddles” to Peter Sellers’s “The Party” and even the 1980s teen flick “Sixteen Candles,” in which a gong mysteriously sounded every time the film’s Chinese exchange student walked into a scene.
“‘Borat’ did it, but look at Borat’s choice of locale – Kazakhstan,” Crouse said Thursday. “It doesn’t have a real international voice and it’s a country that no one had really ever heard of before the movie came out.”
“Borat,” in fact, was skewering the ignorance of some Americans far more than it was ridiculing people from Kazakhstan, and that’s why the film was such a critical success, said Charles Keil, director of the Cinema Studies Institute at the University of Toronto.
But the buzz about the “The Love Guru,” he notes, isn’t positive.
“You can negotiate any of these potential landmines if you handle the publicity and the marketing properly, and if the film gets a warm critical reception,” Keil said.
“If, on the other hand, the film gets bad reviews and you don’t have the critics in your corner, than you’re left defending it on your own. Nobody wants to see a dumb movie that also offends people, whereas you can defend a smart movie that offends people.”
Like Myers, Sacha Baron Cohen has long cited Sellers as an influence, but the late British comic’s memorable portrayal of a boneheaded Indian in “The Party” would not fly today without engendering the same kind of outrage confronting “The Love Guru,” Crouse says.
“Look at ‘The Party’ – it’s a classic, but you simply could not make it today in the way that it was presented then. You just couldn’t.”
But Crouse says he finds it hard to imagine that the brains at Paramount did not anticipate the controversy that has reared up over “The Love Guru.”
“I haven’t seen the film yet, but there must be some cultural sensitivity – there has to be,” Crouse says. “I just can’t believe that a major release from a major movie star is going to drop the ball completely. There must have been some work done behind the scenes beforehand to make sure this movie is not going to get swept away in a sea of controversy.”
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