Is he or isn’t he? Only Vikram Ghandi knows for sure whether or not he’s the real deal. Is he really Sri Kumare, a guru who can help those on a spiritual quest, or is he just another fake fakir?
As a boy growing up in New Jersey, Ghandi was always a keen observer of life. His family of practicing Hindus included his grandmother who, he noted, would happily pray for hours to a plethora of deities. Whenever he watched her in prayer, young Ghandi marveled over the inner peace reflected on her face. Yet in spite of that, he questioned whether religion was an essential part of life.
After graduating from Columbia, Ghandi made films about natural disasters, social unrest and terrorism. When he discovered the $5 billion dollar industry that the ancient practice of yoga has become, he traveled to India to document the roots of today’s Western phenomena. Interviewing spiritual leaders there, he pronounced Indian gurus to be as phony as their American counterparts. To prove it, he decided to become one himself in his new fim, “Kumare: The True Story of a False Prophet.”
Growing a thick beard, his ebony hair flowing down his back, Ghandi begins wearing red robes and walking with a staff topped with the symbol for a Sanskrit greeting of peace and harmony. Affecting an Indian accent, he spouts philosophy, fabricated bits and pieces of pseudo-wisdom, that actually sound authentic. Thus, Sri Kumare is born.
Along with two pretty, young assistants—one a yoga teacher, another a booking agent, he moves to Phoenix housed at a bourgeois retreat complete with a swimming pool. In spite of his being relatively unknown—no bestselling books or yoga DVD’s, Kumare promptly amasses a following. His mostly Caucasian clientele come from all walks of life, but they all carry unresolved issues that beg for spiritual intervention. There’s a death penalty attorney who can’t shake the stress of holding others’ lives in her hands. Another is a mother with ‘empty nest syndrome’ resulting in too many extra pounds on her body. And, another is a recovering substance abuser. Completely devoted to their new guru, these followers practice Kumare’s unusual style of meditation, blessings that involve an imaginary blue light, impossibly wild yoga postures he’s made up, and other nonsensical rituals that, ironically, don’t seem so far-fetched. Even an idea of his called ‘Kumare Sutra’ seems quite natural.
What starts out as a joke quickly turns into a deeply spiritual exchange, and it’s more fascinating than funny to watch the transformation. The more his disciples believe in Sri Kumare, the more of a real guru Ghandi becomes despite his repeatedly telling them that, “the guru is inside of you.” In fact, his philosophy that people shouldn’t follow religious leaders at all has the opposite effect on his patrons. Even as Kumare teaches them to rely only on ‘self,’ they gravitate toward him as a savior.
With his lean, lanky and extremely flexible body, Kumare’s skills at yoga helps lure his followers. His dark luminous eyes, gentle voice and soothing, but formulated proverbs, are nectar for his devotees; and, it’s easy to see why he’s so fervently adored. Some of Kumare’s exercises look a little strange initially, but viewed objectively they seem as genuine as any that are directed by ‘real’ gurus. Before long, Kumare’s followers are confessing their most intimate problems to him. Without judgment, he offers counsel that surprisingly allows them to heal even if it’s in front of an altar featuring photos of Obama and Osama Bin Laden.
“Spiritual leaders are illusions,” Kumare tells them. Hoping to break the news about his true identity, he plans an “unveiling” but falters, aware that his devotees have come to love and rely on him. Unwittingly, he’s become the very leader he has told them to avoid. Unable to betray his followers, Ghandi as Kumare finally does, and the results are astonishing.
“The most important thing,” Kumare tells them, “is helping others.”
That he does inadvertently.
Whether one’s a yoga or meditation practitioner, a religious follower or not, this highly entertaining film shot with visual clarity and purposefulness will make believers out of non. And that’s something both Kumare and Ghandi would want.