Kumaré finds truth in illusion
A documentary by Vikram Gandhi. Rated G. Opens Friday, August 10, at the Vancity Theatre
Kumaré, a real-life retort to Mike Meyers’s floptastic The Love Guru, probably owes its complicated success to writer-director Vikram Gandhi’s ability to think through his premise and still “go with the flow”, as one of his eventual students puts forth as her central goal.
After the New Jersey–born filmmaker spent years trying to find the perfect teacher, in the U.S. and India, he set out to expose fakers instead, as seen in footage with various con artists glimpsed here. Finally, Gandhi combined his serious yogic studies with memories of his devoutly Hindu grandmother’s voice and mannerisms to come up with a swami he called Kumaré (his own middle name with an extra “é”). He then went forth, with trident and orange robes, to find a following.
The documentary follows Gandhi’s newly bearded alter ego out to faraway Arizona, where he quickly builds a coterie of folks who enjoy his made-up chants and exercises. This initially seems to be a setup for satire, with earnest New Agers the butt of an elaborate, potentially cruel joke. Pretty soon, though, you realize that you’re not laughing at the former coke addict, overweight single mom, and stressed-out death-penalty lawyer who are anxiously gleaning whatever wisdom they can find in Kumaré’s charismatic sessions.
From the start, he calls his presence an illusion and tells his students not to trust any gurus but themselves, and he obviously grows fond of his “victims” while wondering if their spiritual connections could be real. The movie, in fact, begins with him about to fretfully reveal his fakery, then digresses to the back story. Still, it’s odd that Gandhi leaves so many questions unanswered. Two New Jersey women are in on the act and accompany Kumaré on his travels, but they aren’t interviewed and he never breaks character around them. Perhaps the seeker wanted to keep some things mysterious, even to himself.
Watch the trailer for Kumaré.