Director: Vikram Gandhi
Cast: Vikram Gandhi as Kumaré, Kristen Calgaro, Purva Bedi and disciples
Screened at: Core Club, 66 E 55 St., NYC on 6/11/12
Opens: June 20, 2012
“What do we want? Fulfillment! When do we want it? Now! What do we want? Fulfillment! When do we want it? Now!” Now there’s a street demonstration that could theoretically bring out more petitioners than a labor dispute would attract since, when you come down to it, most Americans are making a decent living and not working in a Nepalese sweatshop. They do not urgently need a better standard of living but a better standard of life. Exploiting the huge numbers of folks who are not necessarily neurotic but eager to try every means to become fulfilled (again, the major goal in life of most Americans whether they know it or not), we have armies of psychotherapists of every ideology and, in a more exotic vein, Indian gurus. “Kumaré” is a documentary about that latter people, long-bearded, heavily accented teachers who claim or imply that they have mystical powers, or a connection to The One, or what-have-you. Specifically it is about one particular guru, a fake who ultimately reveals himself as just a New Jersey-born resident with an accent closer to Scott Pelley’s than Swami Satachananda’s but who tricks a number of Arizonans into signing into his series of seminars and one-on-ones. He is Vikram Gandhi, filmmaker and self-declared guru, who makes this film to satisfy his own curiosity about why Americans seek Indians to guide their lives.
There are two things to Vikram Gandhi’s credit. When he takes on the identity of Kumaré, complete with colorful garb, huge black beard and an accent that even people in Mumbai might not understand, he does not charge money to the disciples. More important, the majority of the people who are conned—nice people all and not the racist-homophobes who populate Sasha Baron Cohen’s movie “Borat”—come away from the sessions changed for the better. One morbidly obese woman loses seventy pounds. A lawyer who handles capital cases decides to meditate every day. A fellow who has shot cocaine up his arms, smoked crack, and lost the love of his wife, makes vast changes in his life by getting clean.
What’s really surprising is that Vikram Gandhi as Kumaré is the guy who is most affected, coming away with a new appreciation of himself, one who is met during the final, revealing session with his disciples with tearful hugs (except for a few who never spoke to him again).
Consider Gandhi in the company of documentarians like Michael Moore, Errol Morris and Morgan Spurlock, all of whom uproot the genre of film that is anathema to most—the sorts of works that feature endless talking heads looking at the camera and pontificating. Kumaré’s disciples do occasionally talk to the camera but more often speak directly to Kumaré, expressing their fondest desires without worrying who is going to see the film that Kumaré tells everyone he is making. One woman is wondering whether to ditch her husband: Gandhi must feel awfully responsible in giving her his advice since the fate of the marriage may rest on his shoulders.
Adding to Gandhi’s credibility is his apparent double-jointedness, the ability to strike impossible poses, thrust one leg far above his head while the other rests a few meters distant. He corrects the tadasanas, uttanasanas and Trikonasanas of his followers, the most humorous being one in which all thrust out their tongues and hiss like a den of tigers. In one bizarre action, a group of meditators bow and pay homage to a picture of an unlikely trio: of President Obama, of Kumaré, and of Osama bin Laden.
“Kumaré” is skillfully edited at a fast pace by Adam Barton and Nathan Russell, and sharply filmed by Kahlil Hudson in India, Phoenix, Tucson and New York. Maytinee Redding’s costumes add to the brilliant color amid Ananda Shankar’s and Soft Circle’s (Hisham Bharoocha) intriguing music.
We in the movie audience learn what all of Kumaré’s followers find out: you don’t need a guru. The answers are within you. This advice, counsel that would make all psychotherapists seek employment as stockmen at Wal-Mart, is profound, one bound to make its deepest impact on those who have spent fifty hours of more in the presence of this most interesting guru and filmmaker. And if Vikram Gandhi is ever in a position that he needs employment, let’s hope he sets out for Mumbai or Bangalore working as a computer techie for Dell. Maybe then we could understand what those overseas “customer service” people are trying to say.
84 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+