Reviewed Jul 16, 2012
Chris Harrop’s review:
While never as raunchy and politically incorrect as the myriad cinematic incarnations of Sacha Baren Cohen (“Borat,” “Bruno”), Vikram Gandhi’s “Kumare” matches Cohen’s committal to becoming a character in this documentary of a faux guru who tries to expose phony, New Age self-help svengali who parade around with the promise of answers and enlightenment for people in search of them.
Gandhi grows out his beard, dons traditional garb and masquerades as “Sri Kumare,” a guru providing yoga to the masses. His concocted backstory leads a host of followers to believe he is a spiritual fountainhead from which eternal truths spring and cascade into their own consciousness. We see him explain away numerous issues brought to him by his patrons. We witness crucial, emotional episodes conducted in front of the camera, knowing the ruse. It pushes Gandhi to question his own identity while maintaining his cover.
It’s a powerful film, one that drew big crowds while playing at the 2011 Starz Denver Film Festival. Gandhi, appearing for a Q&A following one of the screenings, seemed unprepared for both the enormity of the audience for this film and its impact. The answers he had for his followers on the screen came so much more natural and clear than those given to the assembled viewers of his completed work. But there’s no need to chalk it up to nerves; Gandhi’s work on “Kumare” is difficult to answer for due to its very nature — it may not be on par with Orson Welles sending out his “War of the Worlds” broadcast, but it was nonetheless brilliant and questionable.
The biggest question raised (and largely left unanswered) by “Kumare” is not why people allow themselves to be taken in by the snake-oil salesmen who call themselves enlightened, nor why more people don’t take control of their own lives (the main theme of Gandhi’s film). Rather, it’s whether Gandhi’s experiment was an honest and ethical one, something each viewer will be left to decide. The truth at which he drives seems an important message to deliver, but upon seeing the film you will be pressed to determine if the means of “Kumare” justify its ends. That the film asks this of the viewer may be its best and worst quality.