Indian Holy Man Goes ‘Bollywood’ to Appeal to Country’s Youth

New Delhi—In a preview trailer for a new action movie, famed Indian spiritual leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan takes on sabre-wielding villains, splinters a log with his fist and rides a monster-wheeled motorcycle in a high-speed chase.

“Some call me a saint, some call me an angel, some call me guru and some call me God,” Mr. Insan intones in a voice-over. “If it is a sin to serve the country and the universe, then I will keep committing this sin until my last breath.”

India is famous for its holy men—usually Hindu religious figures and mystics. The most popular inspire the devotion of tens of thousands of followers who flock to hear them preach and often view them as semi-divine.

But the bushy-bearded and controversial Mr. Insan, who says he adheres to no single religion and aims to teach “ultimate spirituality,” is hoping to push the gurus’ pop-culture status to a new level.

He got a head start in December by releasing two music videos—some of which have garnered more than one million views on YouTube. The pulsating clips, which feature him gyrating in the midst of huge crowds, hail him as “the rockstar saint.”

Now, he is expanding his guru repertoire with a feature-length film, to be released Friday.

Mr. Insan, who heads Dera Sacha Sauda, a social-welfare and spiritual organization that claims to have 50 million followers, says he wanted to make the movie to give India’s young people something wholesome to watch—something that would reinforce his messages against drugs, alcohol and prostitution.

The 47-year-old Mr. Insan says he wrote and co-directed the film, “MSG: The Messenger,” in which he also plays the star role, battling drug-selling gangsters and celebrating the virtues of celibacy and vegetarianism.

“There are many messages in this,” says Mr. Insan. “We have done stunts to attract the youth.”

Lots of stunts. In the flick, Mr. Insan bursts through a wall of snow amid mountain peaks, runs across flaming landscapes and weaves through traffic on his tricked-out blue-and-yellow monster bike.

Mr. Insan, who says he is already working on a sequel, says his favorite exploit was having “flown” a bike, vaulting it over a jump and becoming airborne, a feat he says he pulled off on the first take.

India’s Central Board of Film Certification earlier this year blocked Hakikat Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. from releasing the film, which the production company says cost 300 million rupees, or nearly $5 million, to make. At the time, the board’s chairwoman, Leela Samson, warned that the guru’s on-screen exploits could “incite communal tension.”

An appellate tribunal overturned the ban, but said the movie needed to carry disclaimers saying the guru’s antics were “fiction.”

For many, Mr. Insan is a divisive figure. India’s Central Bureau of Investigation says it is looking into allegations the guru ordered the castration of 400 followers. The CBI says it has also investigated Mr. Insan in connection with two cases of alleged murder and one of alleged rape. Those cases are now pending before a special court.

Mr. Insan has denied the accusations against him and said that Indian narcotics traffickers were behind efforts to discredit him.

In the flick, the guru portrays himself as a spiritual superman—pummeling bad guys with his fists, drop-kicking them and striking one with a metal bar— all in between song-and-dance scenes.

He is particularly fond of flashy outfits and makes frequent costume changes. At one point during the film, he sings while riding a mechanical winged lion in a red jumpsuit with a sparkly silver cummerbund.

In another musical number, Mr. Insan, wearing tightfitting gold pants, red boots and an oversize red top riveted with gold stars, performs a patriotic song that he says he wrote himself, dedicated to his followers in the armed forces.

“We’ll live and die for the country,” Mr. Insan croons to a jubilant crowd in an amphitheater with a band playing behind him. “First, we’ll stop them with love, weapons of humanity. If they don’t stop, we will shoot them!”

According to Mr. Insan’s website, he studied meditation with the guru who preceded him as the spiritual head of the Dera Sacha Sauda, which was founded in 1948 by a spiritual leader from Baluchistan in what is now Pakistan.

He succeeded to leadership of the group, whose iconography now includes symbols of Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, in 1990.

Mr. Insan legally changed his last name to Insan, which means human, from Singh in 2007. Many of his followers now use Insan as their last names as well.

“For us, guru-ji is our God,” says Sushila Insan, a 38-year-old devotee.

Surinder Singh Jodkha, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University who specializes in religion, said holy men such as Mr. Insan have become increasingly important amid India’s rapid social and economic change.

“These people offer an alternative community, some kind of solace,” he says.

In “MSG: The Messenger,” Mr. Insan is also providing entertainment. The film shows him dancing atop monuments and waving from a small aircraft to supporters gathered below in the shape of the numeral one.

He thrashes his opponents in a game of rugby—one of more than 30 sports he says he plays. One slow-motion scene has Mr. Insan cooling off by pouring water over his head and hairy shoulders.

Up on the silver screen, peacock feathers part to show Mr. Insan wearing bedazzled headgear. “Kill him,” a sinister voice intones. Mr. Insan bonks a man on the head with a flaming torch, throws a burning bicycle, and rides a Segway.

The underlying message of all the antics? That today’s young Indians should stay “pure” and enjoy life, says Mr. Insan, who adds, “My aim is to give youth a life that has only spring, no autumn.”