What you need to get past in order to best appreciate this documentary, “Kumare,” is that Vikram Gandhi decided to lie and mislead as many people as he could in order to expose the kind of questionable gurus who are leading the yoga industry in the United States. “Kumaré” opens tomorrow, August 11 and ends August 12 at the Laemmle Playhouse 7.
The Asian Indian American imitated his grandmother’s English speech patterns, grew his hair long and grew an unruly beard (which he has kept) and equipped with a scepter and with two willing faux-followers, the Brooklyn-born New Jersey-raised twenty-something descended upon Arizona to start his experiment. He pretended to be a Hindu guru who through teaching yoga, taught his brand of Hindu spirituality.
In the beginning of his documentary, Gandhi uses a supertitle and quotes Anglican priest William Ralph Inge (1860-1954), “Faith begins as an experiment and ends as an experience.” Inge was known as the Gloomy Dean for his pessimistic views. Is anyone troubled that he doesn’t quote a Hindu philosopher?
Why not say something like “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” (Mahatma Gandhi) We do not learn more about sincere religious Hindu and what would separate the real Hindu leaders and faithful Hindu like his grandmother from these people who seem to follow the new flavor.
Early on in the documentary, we see Gandhi practicing his big reveal so that all through this documentary, we know that he intends to tell the truth and this allows us to a certain extend forgive his false prophethood. “Today is the unveiling and at the unveiling we reveal our true selves.”
“The biggest lie I’ve ever told and the biggest truth I’ve ever experienced,” he states and then we see and hear how people believe in him. In Phoenix, Arizona, where he sets up his base, he and his crew wouldn’t meet people they had known. They do not brush up against a Hindu community.
As Kumaré, Gandhi believes his job is to be happy all the time and that in itself has an effect and at one point he finds that he sees the blue light he has been telling his students about. Kumaré he says was a mirror that allowed people to see themselves and it is Gandhi’s real concerns and his real doubts that are exposed. He begins to believe in himself.
We have to question the depth of his research. He’s invited to the Be Aware Festival sponsored by the Global Community Communications Alliance, a church founded in Prescott, Arizona by Anthony J. Delevin, who goes by the name of Gabriel of Urantia with his “wife” Niánn Emerson Chase (formerly known as Nancy Chase). While Gandhi acknowledges there was an NBC Dateline exposé, he doesn’t see anything to support that 1998 broadcast report, but does find them somewhat suspicious.
And that’s also what is missing from this documentary. We don’t see the people who decide he is false, who do not return to his classes and who feel doubt. You have to ask yourself how would you feel if you were a paying customer at “Inner Vision Yoga” or the management of that establishment who was bamboozled?
As Kumaré, Gandhi doesn’t push people or attempt to humiliate them as with Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” He seems to have a real concern for his faithful followers. So when he reveals himself, after saying in his teachings he is an illusion, most of his faithful stay.
What worries me is that documentaries like this and the big budget success of “Borat” will encourage people to like in order to further their careers. We might want to laugh at the faithful, but what would the world be without faith? Think of the beauty and courage that faith has brought about in the history of humankind.
“Humanity has, alas, with increasing insistence, preferred, instead of acknowledging and adoring the Spirit of God as embodied in His religion in this day, to worship those false idols, untruths and half-truths, which are obscuring its religions, corrupting its spiritual life, convulsing its political institutions, corroding its social fabric, and shattering its economic structure.” (Shoghi Effendi)
There are still some of us who believe that “Religion is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world.” (Baha’u’llah)
Perhaps if we thought it was or job to be happy and to make other people be happy the world would indeed be a better place. Indeed, Gandhi finds a deeper connection with people in Phoenix than he made with people as himself in his ordinary so-called “real” life.