OTTAWA’S CINEMA FOR INTERNATIONAL AND INDEPENDENT MOVIES

Kumaré

The true story of a false prophet.

Poster art for KumaréWhen Vikram Gandhi set out to become a guru, he didn’t expect to really become a guru. But that’s what happens in his slippery, ambiguous, tense and finally moving Kumaré, which is officially termed a documentary but could also be considered as the video corollary to a thorny work of performance art.

A college-educated American of Indian parentage who was born and raised in New Jersey, Gandhi grew out his hair and beard and moved to Phoenix as a yoga teacher and spiritual guru named Sri Kumaré, to all appearances a loincloth-clad holy man from the Himalayas. (Gandhi says he borrowed Kumaré’s heavy accent and slowed-down mannerisms from his beloved grandmother, herself a devout Hindu.)

He arrives in town with two lissome female assistants – one of them a genuine yoga instructor – and begins to book slots in yoga studios and other New Age venues. His first class attracts exactly two students, but one of them, a middle-aged woman named Toby, immediately feels a strong connection to his teachings. In a scene that I think holds the key to the entire film, Gandhi-as-Kumaré asks Toby why she needs his spiritual help. She has a very stressful job, she says – she is a death-penalty attorney, who tries to help convicted murderers before they are executed by the state. You can see Gandhi’s eyes widen for a second, and almost hear his internal ‘oh, crap’. This lady’s life is full of profound and painful challenges, in literal life-and-death situations, and here he is spoofing her as a phony Indian holy man.

I think the best thing to say, without detracting too much from the exceptional suspense that builds throughout Kumaré – toward the inevitable and terrifying moment when Gandhi will reveal himself – is that from that moment forward the question of who is the teacher and who the student is very much in question. When Kumaré tells his 14 or so core disciples, late in the movie, ‘You are all my gurus,’ he is no longer blowing smoke (if he ever actually was). A remarkable transformation has occurred, and Gandhi’s act of deception has actually become an aspect of the straightforward self-help gospel that Kumaré preaches.

– Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
 

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