Kumaré is a fascinating, somewhat flawed documentary film that nonetheless should be required viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in religion and spirituality. It's the bizarre story of Indian-American filmmaker Vikram Gandhi's attempt to prove that human beings don't need spiritual leaders to improve their lives.
To make his point, Gandhi created a false persona named Sri Kumaré – a guru from India with a robe, a staff, and a stereotypical Indian accent. Having spent years meeting and talking with self-proclaimed gurus in an effort to understand them, he began to imitate their physical mannerisms and habits of speech. Employing two attractive female assistants (Purva Bedi and Kristen Calgaro), he booked himself as a guest teacher at an Arizona yoga studio. From there, he widened his influence and gathered a group of followers, teaching them made-up wisdom, fake yoga poses, and an imaginary “blue light” meditation.
What's really interesting about Kumaré is that there are several different ways to read the events it documents. You can read it as the story of a clever man who duped a bunch of pathetic, gullible people; you can read it as the story of a genuinely evil man who preyed upon the hope and trust of a group of well-intentioned people; or you could read it the way Gandhi wants you to read it – as the story of a man who set out to show how hollow religion can be, but found spiritual truth along the way through the relationships he developed with “his” followers.
Throughout the course of the film, you'll probably see bits and pieces of each of these stories, and that's what makes it so thought-provoking. Gandhi at first seems like an admirable champion of rationality, but as he gets deeper into his deception, he starts to look like a coward and a creep. The scenes where he prepares to reveal his lie to those who have welcomed him into their lives are stomach-churning in their intensity. Such a deep, personal con – whose sole purpose is to show its victims that they've been conned – may have never been perpetrated before in the history of the world.
And there's the crux of the matter: the only thing that sets Vikram Gandhi apart from just about every other spiritual leader in human history is that he eventually revealed that he was faking. Every guru, every buddha, every christ that's still worshipped by people around the globe went to their deathbeds still claiming some measure of divine or enlightened authority. They set themselves above other men and women, claiming to provide an example or a pathway to a higher state of being.
With this in mind, Vikram Gandhi starts to look a bit more courageous again. Yes, he played a dangerous and unethical game, but he had the guts to come out and say that he wasn't an enlightened soul – merely a human being like everyone else. Any truth he found with his followers was the result of their shared journey, and he's the first to admit that.
Without giving away the ending of the film, let's say that the reactions of Gandhi's students to his unmasking are very surprising. He seems to have done some harm, but he seems to have done some permanent good as well – and he's certainly made the point he set out to make: that none of us are spiritually better than anyone else, and that the only meaningful answers we can find are the ones we find together.
For Fans Of: 30 Days, Borat
Why We Like It: True irreverance showing what is really sacred. Smart direct. Brave situationalism.