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About.com Rating 2 Star Rating


Future Bliss Films
Imagine the sound of one manipulative and unfocused documentary clapping.
Kumare, essentially a drawn out segment of "Candid Camera," begins with some noble intentions. Vikram Gandhi, an Indian-American from New Jersey raised in a strict Hindu tradition, has no need for religion. While he holds a lovely image of his grandmother soothed by morning prayer (which looks to this Westerner like she's about to burn the house down, but that's a different story) he is a skeptic.

If that were all it probably wouldn't have inspired a life-altering quest, but after studying religion in school, Gandhi came face to face with a cascade of charlatans cherry-picking bits of the Hindu faith to promote themselves as gurus with easy answers to all of life's problems.

Some of 'em are creepy old white dudes in dreads diddling college students, others are bonafide Indian ascetics with bony knees and pipes full of herb. Annoyed, Gandhi realizes that all he needs is to grow a beard, wear a robe, "put on his grandmothers accent" and, voila, dopey rubes will start following him in no time.

Cut to Arizona. Vikram is now Kumare, carrying a staff that would make Gandalf giggle and doing his best Peter Sellers Indian voice.. With two aides-de-camp he is quick to hold special breakout sessions in strip mall yoga centers (think of Danny McBride's studio from The Foot Fist Way ) and, wouldn't you know it, soon he's got followers.

Some of the people who get on board are true slobs and it makes you weep for the future of humanity that these people are allowed to drive cars. In time, though, we meet some other members of the group who are . . .just lost. And sad.

Suddenly the "gotcha" of Kumare isn't fun any more. At first, Gandhi's ruse was pointing up. Take that, organized religion! Take that, scammers! But it is hard not to hate the guy when he is lying to the faces of desperate people who, for whatever ill-informed reason, have turned to his guru teachings to try and get their lives in order.

"Kumare's" teaching is just a basic hodge-podge of yoga with some made up silly moves, "fake" mantras and Dr. Phil -ish pop psychology. To be fair, on the face of it, Gandhi's shtick of "we are all wearing masks" does allow him to back up and say "it was obvious from the beginning that I was faking." Time and again he says "I am not what I say I am" but with the accent so thick all anyone does is say "of course" and no one follows up.

At the end there is a big reveal, shot like the season finale of The Bachelor . By now Gandhi and the film are trying to spin that he helped these people find the "Guru Within." (Some stats appear to show that many in the group have actually found some healing - weight loss or financial responsibility - because of the experience.) This, to me, feels like a lot of sacred cow shit.

Not only does Vikram Gandhi come into this "Guru Within" line late in the game, the movie itself isn't slick enough to sell it. It feels like something re-edited after an early cut seemed too dark for audiences.

Also undisclosed: why didn't the pupils ever ask why there were cameras following Kumare everywhere? And were they paying money to join the sessions? Or being paid?

Kumare is not without its interesting moments. As I said to my wife after watching the film, "that was a little bit fascinating." It's fascinating, however, in a train wreck way, then feels guilty, switches gears, and tries to cram a message down your throat. Perhaps Kumare would have been better as a short, where it wouldn't feel obligated to conform to a three act structure or audience expectations.

  1. About.com
  2. Entertainment
  3. World/Independent Film
  4. Independent Film
  5. Spring 2012
  6. Kumaré - A Review of Vikram Gandhi's documentary Kumaré

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