In a disposable culture like ours, people find themselves searching for a greater sense of belonging, a meaningful path. This desire led to the boom of the yoga industry in the United States and for many to look for spiritual meaning and purpose in Buddhist and Hindu philosophies. To find a guru, a guide, to lead them to a better place.
Kumare, Vikram Gandhi’s feature documentary debut, starts as an attempt to understand what motivates people to follow without question and the fall-out when realizing a prophet as false. What you arrive at in the end though becomes something completely different.
Gandhi, born and raised in America to a devout Hindu family, grows his hair and beard out, adopts a clipped Indian accent when speaking English, dons the garb of a Hindu ascetic, starts calling himself Shree Kumare and heads to the vast emptiness of Arizona to find his followers.
Gandhi and his two assistants, who are in on the ruse, ingratiate themselves into the local yoga community. As Shree Kumare makes a name for himself as a guide and teacher, the number of followers begins to grow exponentially. There’s an initial sense of pity for the people who fall into Kumare’s camp. Its easy to see them as misguided as best, naive and foolish at worst.
But as the line between Gandhi/Kumare begins to blur and his philosophies become more than just pseudo-religious babble, you see the connection that grows between Kumare and his followers. These are people desperate for connection, for someone to listen to them, for someone to acknowledge their humanity. And Kumare gives them that.
Gandhi doesn’t allow his creation to fall into parody, that of the huckster snake-oil salesman in town to take all your money and sleep with your wives. Instead, Kumare proves a caring, insightful advisor; whose main teaching is that the real guide, the person who can make the most impactful changes to your life is actually you. The change in Gandhi is almost as profound as that you see in the faces of the people who follow Kumare. He realizes that looking for and finding your true self in your faith isn’t a fool’s bet.
In the end, Gandhi reveals his deception and the reaction of his followers is surprising. His message sticks with more than you’d expect, even after finding out they’d essentially been lied to for months.
As a study of faith and its motivations, Kumare works wonderfully. As a film though, its a bit problematic. The initial premise is forgotten in order for Gandhi/Kumare and his followers to sort through their various problems. As Kumare becomes an integral part of the spiritual process for many of these people, you can’t help but wonder what the eventual damage will be after they find out the truth.
Problems aside, Kumare is a fascinating look at the nature of faith and the transformative power of human connection. Its a sharp debut from Gandhi and worth a watch.
About Krishna: I‘m 34 now, but for the last 10 years, whether it be for my college newspaper, my hometown daily, or my own blog I’ve been trying to convince people what/what not to listen to and watch. I have opinions…on nearly everything. And you might not always agree with me, but I’ll make damn sure its entertaining enough to read. So get ready for the ride! You can see more at unkut.tumblr.com and if you want to tell me how you agree with me, or more likely how you think I’m completely off base, you can blast me at @kthinakk on Twitter.