Kumare: The True Story of a False Prophet
Pros: very engaging narrator/character; amusing, true story
Cons: may offend serious guru followers
One of my favorite documentaries has been 2012’s very engaging Kumare and I thought this time before Easter was a good time to review it especially for people who are seeking meaning in their lives and are wondering if they’ll discover that by becoming spiritual. As for me I watched this as a religious and spiritual skeptic and was amused by the film, but if you take your spirituality seriously, you may be offended or perhaps more enlightened by it.
Director and main actor Vikram Gandhi moved from India to the eastern United States with his Hindu family and became more and more befuddled by what people got out of religion, even studying it in college. As he explains in his film, he left the yoga and guru movement as it was becoming popular in society. Gurus just didn’t impress him at all as he observed them in his homeland.
Finally his curiosity led him to grow his hair and a beard, to mimic the way gurus talked and to wear loose garments (or maybe nothing at all) as a guru named Kumare, which means something I don’t remember. He and his female assistants would pass himself off as a guru in Phoenix, Arizona, because that seemed like a place that would welcome him. There were plenty of yoga centers he could visit to become known and see if he could build a following.
Well, to his surprise Kumare was taken very seriously and fourteen men and women eventually became devoted followers. I never saw money being asked for or given; there was no sex being offered. He made up his message on the fly and it was a lot of nonsense, in his words, but he was a great listener when they confided in him. It started getting to him, how close they felt to him and considered him so holy. He taught that he was only a guide for them to find themselves, and that looking for answers from somebody else, like himself, was an illusion.
Not a bad message. It certainly was an unique one among gurus, but they loved him and wanted to understand him. There were stages to attaining their enlightenment (how long was left vague) and he visited Tucson as Kumare where he found people even more eager to welcome him and a pretty hilarious guy who called himself an acoustic theologist. Another fun part was when he met the spaced-out Uranthians, people from another planet living in a lovely commune. Gandhi found it very difficult to reveal to his followers that he was really from New Jersey. He’d been telling them that he was just like them, but finally he needed to get rid of his guru image and appear as himself to them. In his own smooth voice he introduced himself as Vikram Gandhi whose inner or idealized self was Kumare.
Four of his followers have never spoken to him again. One of those four appreciated the message, but not his method. Ten did remain friendly with Gandhi. He returned a couple of times over a month later to discover if they were pursuing their dreams. They seemed to be doing well and one woman ended up losing seventy pounds. Maybe his method is questionable, but who said life is supposed to play fair? It was a tough, but necessary, lesson for people who would rather put their trust in a prophet who was really a fraud.
I really enjoyed Kumare. I too like Gandhi don’t get anything out of religion or spirituality. It seems a waste of time and a whole lot of navelgazing for bored, insecure people. If you want to be spiritual, it seems to me you would be better served to go live in the woods like Thoreau.
I do highly recommend this intriguing documentary. May we all take ourselves and gurus less seriously.