Film Review: KUMARÉ: THE TRUE STORY OF A FALSE PROPHET (directed by Vikram Gandhi)

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by Ella Martin on February 8, 2013

in CD-DVD,Film


Kumaré, Vikram Gandhi’s spiritual alter ego and the subject of his navel-gazing documentary, questions the growing Western trend of seeking personal fulfillment through self-sublimation to Eastern gurus.

Ella Martin's Stage and Cinema review of KUMARÉ

Gandhi, who was raised devoutly in the Hindu tradition and even studied religion in college, initially begins work on a documentary about seeking a true guru. After the interviews he conducts seem to confirm his worst suspicions – that modern gurus are all, to greater or lesser degree, deeply unworthy of the reverence they inspire – he embarks on an unconventional spiritual quest, transforming himself into a “false prophet” and heading for Phoenix, AZ to share original meditation techniques along with made-up teachings and pretend yoga moves. He is aided and abetted by two accomplices: Kristen, a yoga instructor, and Purva, an actress and associate producer who books his tour and plays the part of his number one devotee.

Ella Martin's Stage and Cinema review of KUMARÉ

Gandhi discovers the power to influence real people’s lives – whether from truth or illusion – is not something to be treated with flippancy.  While the changes he undergoes to become Kumaré are initially cosmetic  – he grows out his hair, dons flowing robes and speaks with his grandmother’s accent  – their effects on others are much more profound.  One follower decides to leave her marriage and move out of state based on her work with Kumaré, troubling Gandhi’s conscience.  “Under this beard and this outfit, I was just like them.”

Ella Martin's Stage and Cinema review of KUMARÉ

At times the filmmaking is stylistically less of a documentary and more reality TV, cinéma vérité replaced by an insistent, unapologetic falseness. A first feature, it is hampered by some unnecessary narration and not-so-funny humorous interludes (such as when Purva, Kristen and Kumare cavort briefly in the desert on their way to Phoenix). With a director like Gandhi, so committed to exploring the relationship between truth and fiction, documentary is an ideal medium, though the way his story unfolds cinematically becomes confusing.  When Gandhi travels to Tucson for a sound-healing, does he experience it “authentically” as Gandhi in a Kumaré costume, or as the invented Kumaré?  And why do his sidekicks Kristen and Purva participate in the deceit?  Do they share any of the self-doubt or uncertainty Gandhi begins to experience as his social experiment progresses, and followers show up with more and more “deep personal questions and stories of suffering” to lay at his feet?

Ella Martin's Stage and Cinema review of KUMARÉ

By committing an act of deception, Gandhi succeeds in teaching himself a truly meaningful lesson.  All he can offer the world is the highest version of himself, and yet to do that is to bless both the world and himself with his greatest gift.  If the film itself is, like its protagonist, at times imperfect and inauthentic, the message that shines through – like Kumaré himself – is ultimately both genuine and inspiring.

Ella Martin's Stage and Cinema review of KUMARÉ

photos courtesy of Kino Lorber, Inc

Kumaré: The True Story of a False Prophet
2011 Future Bliss Films
released by Kino Lorber, Inc
U. S. / 84 minutes / not rated
available on VOD at Film Buff

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