Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ebert Thoughts ‘13—Kumaré (2012) ****

NR, 84 min.
Director: Vikram Gandhi
Featuring: Vikram Gandhi, Purva Bedi, Kristen Calgaro

“Kumaré” is a documentary about an Indian spiritual leader, who sets up in Arizona to build a following of people to teach his philosophy about the illusion of spiritual leaders. His philosophy is simple, as a guru he can enlighten you to nothing that isn’t already inside you. It is only his job to teach his followers how to reach happiness on their own, without a guru.

The truth is Kumaré isn’t a guru at all. He’s Vikram Gandhi, the director of this documentary, a kid from New Jersey who was fed up with people’s reliance on spiritual leaders that all seemed to offer nothing special despite their claims. It starts off as an almost “Borat”-like film experiment, but it evolves into a serious journey to enlightenment for most of Kumaré’s followers and most importantly for Vikram himself.

Trickery is not Vikram’s intention, but rather he is genuinely interested in what draws people to these spiritual leaders, so he poses as one himself. His transformation to Kumaré is so complete that he must make up his own yoga exercises and philosophical teachings. Eventually he begins to experience the same enlightenment his students have come to gain from him. It’s rather an amazing document.

One of the most important parts of Vikram’s experiment is that he must reveal who he really is to his students eventually. This proves harder for him than he imagined because it seems that Kumaré really is the most idealized version of Vikram there is. He teaching might’ve been false to begin with, but to achieve his illusion he also had to transform himself into something better. Revealing who he is requires him to admit he isn’t this ideal version of himself. Plus, he’s come to know and love his followers.

Vikram’s conclusions are immensely interesting in that he succeeds in proving that 1) spiritual gurus are false idols who don’t necessarily have the spiritual powers they or their followers believe they do, and 2) the spiritual enlightenment gained by following a spiritual guru is a genuine road toward achieving a better version of yourself; in his case, both for the students and the guru. Out of his 14 primary followers, Vikram continues amicable contact with 10 of them, all of who still believe in the philosophy he taught. The other four haven’t spoken with him since he revealed the truth of his experiment.

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