Vikram Gandhi came up with a pretty good prank. The totally Westernized dude of Indian descent threw on some robes, grew his beard, carried around a ridiculous staff and, imitating his grandmother’s accent, posed as a guru to see who would follow him. The exploration into the depths of human gullibility started off pretty funny, until Gandhi clued in that the suckers he’d conned were real people with real issues and needs.
The whole journey is documented in Kumaré, named after the fictional guru who writer/director Gandhi created and posed as in Phoenix, Arizona. Gandhi is clearly coming from the position of a critical skeptic; the doc appears to have started off as an exposé of fraudulent gurus before he came up with the idea of inventing one himself.
Like Gandhi himself, we begin by chuckling in amazement at the people who willingly follow an outright fraudster whose yoga moves, chants and self-help doctrine are not only made up, but made up specifically to be as goofy as possible. But an uncomfortable feeling starts to creep in as we (and Gandhi) realize the inherent cruelty and exploitation inherent in the role of Kumaré’s devoted flock in the project.
As his guilt mounts, Gandhi starts to modify his message in an effort to give his hapless followers the self-confidence they so clearly need, while trying to figure out how he’ll go about revealing the truth. What starts out as a funny prank thus becomes a meditation on the human need for spiritual guidance.
The fact that the story moves along as smoothly as it does, and the fact that all the subjects seem comfortable being on camera so much, occasionally had me wondering to what extent the apparent non-fiction might have been ever so slightly staged. Or perhaps it’s just that, as my dad once said, “all Americans are camera-ready” (and that was before the advent of reality TV).
At any rate, the funny, touching and thought-provoking story is worth seeing — and even more worth showing as a heads-up to the flaky New Age yogi in your life. ■
Kumaré opens Sept. 14 at Cinéma du Parc