If Borat and the Maharishi had a baby…

If Borat and the Maharishi had a baby…

“Faith starts as an experiment and ends as an experience.”  This is the quote that opens the comedic documentary, information pills “Kumaré”.

Vikram Gandhi, a spiritual skeptic and everyday American, is sick of watching spiritual leaders elevate themselves and prey on the masses’ gullibility. In his research on the subject he travels all over the east and west and finds that most divine leaders, gurus and the like share the same sense of pride and self-righteousness. Yet, Vikram believes that these holy ones are no more holy than anyone else. So he sets out to see if he can do what the so-called divine leaders can do. After all, if he can do it, anyone can! His heritage is East Indian, so he grows his hair, his beard, wears guru-style clothes and talks “like his grandma”, as he puts it. He rents a house in Phoenix, Arizona and calls it his ashram. Then he sets up yoga classes. He creates his own yoga moves. My favorite one has his students unknowingly air-guitar. He calls himself, Kumaré.

However, it’s not long before Vikram’s experiment starts to morph into something he didn’t predict. As his following grows he is faced with troubled people coming to him with their darkest secrets of pain. They are genuinely seeking, in him, the answers to their questions and comfort for their pain. Kumaré gives simple, truthful, common-sense answers, but Vikram is increasingly troubled by the people’s dependence on his leadership.

But this is what ultimately led him to his experiment. He believes spiritual leaders are simply an illusion. We don’t need these so-called chosen ones to heal our emotional wounds. What Kumaré teaches is that the mystical powers are fake. All you really need is to love yourself and support each other. No one is more divine than another. No one is chosen. Or as Kumaré teaches his disciples, each of us is our own guru.

Like all good things, this experiment must come to an end. But as the “Unveiling” approaches Vikram becomes increasingly distressed. He’s actually developed genuine relationships with his followers. He  has developed deeper connections with some of these people than he’s ever developed before in his life. He worries how his revelation will impact his followers…his friends. He doesn’t want to hurt them. Certainly, this is a social experiment gone wrong.

“Kumaré” is not so much an examination of religion or spirituality as it is a study of people’s need for peace. It’s what drives the multi-billion dollar New Age market. “Kumaré” begins as a very funny and satirical look at this prevalent obsession in Western culture. But it slowly becomes a sobering glimpse into everyday people’s lives. As Kumaré’s character becomes more deeply entrenched in his own hoax, he is increasingly aware of the real and beneficial effects of his made-up religion. He says he starts to believe what he’s teaching. But does he? So much of this movie is about perception. Vikram has created a filter (the illusion of a guru) for his followers to perceive his teachings through. And yet his message, taken at face-value and translated into common-sense language comes across as something quite different. So what version of his teaching does he believe in???

While “Kumaré” is funny and entertaining on the surface, it ends up going deeper and unearths a mass of philosophical quandaries. For such a fun movie, it is incredibly thought-provoking. More confounding is that I don’t believe the director fully understands what he’s created. Vikram Gandhi does an amazing job at pulling his prank together, coping through the unexpected and tying it all up in a pretty bow. But you walk away feeling elated and disturbed at the same time. Was what he did ethical? He essentially betrayed the trust of a bunch of people with whom he became good friends. Should they be understanding? Should they be angry? What would I do if I was in their shoes?

Honest, hilarious, complex and even touching at times, “Kumaré” is a rare film. I’m not sure everyone will appreciate what Vikram Gandhi does in this documentary, but I think that’s what makes it a great doc. It evokes emotions and questions and presents the audience with dilemmas that create discussion. In the end, “Kumaré” is an experiment that is definitely worth experiencing.


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Craig the Critic

Comments:

  1. Really interesting review. Definitely sounds like it’s worth checking out this film.

  2. Surely a perfect piece of writing! We’ve book marked it and sent it out to all of my friends since I know they’ll be intrigued, thank you very much!

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