‘Kumaré’ documents one man’s exploration of the value of religious figureheads and the capacity for individuals to achieve enlightenment independently.
The atheist population is rising as is their visibility (think of the last controversy regarding TTC advertisements); however, the number of agnostics is also increasing as people become disenchanted with organized religion and spiritual leaders, but still believe in some higher power. Director Vikram Gandhi grew up in a religious household, immersed in Hinduism from a very young age; but he didn’t feel the prescribed connection or spiritual enlightenment. As an adult, Gandhi’s further explorations exposed the artificiality of most spiritual leaders in every religion. This was the initial subject of his documentary.
As Gandhi was filming, it occurred to him these so-called guides were no different than any other person outside of their decision to self-appoint themselves your link to a higher power. If they could do it, why couldn’t he? And thus the guru Kumaré was born – Gandhi’s long-haired, bearded, religious alter ego. The documentary is about “the biggest lie [he’s] ever told and the greatest truth [he’s] ever experienced.” The line between the lie and the truth is just densely obscured.
Kumaré is described as a “post-modern comedy,” which is accurate; however, the trailer on the film’s official website gives no indication of the film’s funny side. They encounter and interview a variety of spiritual leaders, including other gurus and swamis in India that are “trying to out guru each other,” and Gabriel of Urantia, the head of a religious order that believes he will save them from the apocalypse. When waning in his commitment to the project, these people serve to remind Gandhi why he invented Kumaré.
To create his ideal self, Gandhi meticulously studied yoga and meditation. He then created his own nonsense chants, such as “Be all you can be,” and fake yoga moves, including a leisurely air guitar. However, Gandhi does not set out to humiliate or fool his disciples. On the contrary, he hopes to prove to them the power and enlightenment they seek can be found within each of them. Consequently, he repeatedly tells his followers he’s not who they think he is and they are their own leaders. Kumaré’s “Mirror Philosophy” involves taking action to unite your real self with your ideal self, which only the individual can accomplish.
Gandhi always intended on revealing his true identity. Nevertheless, the unveilings still render surprising results. As a filmmaker, he walks a complicated ethical line and sometimes the situations he invites with his disciples are questionable. The saving grace is Gandhi addresses these issues during his narration.
This film is humorous and thought-provoking without being insensitive or ridiculous. The best way to make a point is ‘show, don’t tell’ and Gandhi utilizes this documentary to do this very effectively.
Kumaré is playing at Toronto’s The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema from August 3 to 9 at select times.