Desperately Seeking Guru

In ‘Kumaré,’ a director starts a fake new-age movement to see what we’re all searching for

September 6, 2012
Director Vikram Gandhi, center, set up a bogus spiritual ministry in Arizona to see what it would take to attract a following.

Not to get controversial, but let’s just pretend that, at some point, some spiritual leader might have fudged some details of his life. Maybe he spent only 20 days under the bodhi tree. Or maybe he had a hand in carving a couple of stone tablets. Or maybe he wasn’t exactly born in a manger in Bethlehem. How much do the details matter to his students? Does one false statement render his message invalid?

For the film “Kumaré,” opening Friday, director Vikram Gandhi

reinvented himself as a new-age-style guru named Kumaré. He claimed to have been born in rural India (not true) and developed a “blue light” ritual to help people see their true selves (kind of true; he invented it but admits it was largely nonsense) and eventually amassed a group of followers by explicitly telling them that all gurus are false and all the knowledge they need is already inside them (true?). Gandhi believes in his message but chose to spread it through pure lies.

“Kumaré” has, rather unfairly, been compared to such pseudo-documentaries as Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat,” though “Kumaré” lacks any satiric edge.

“It’s an easy comparison,” Gandhi says. “On the surface, it’s a person pretending to be somebody else. The only thing similar is what the most brilliant parts of ‘Borat’ do — the parts that show this misunderstanding of the rest of the world.”

The recent trendiness of yoga and other Eastern spiritual traditions gave Gandhi an edge when he began his “ministry” in Arizona.

“There’s a need to look to the East for a deep wisdom we don’t have in the West,” Gandhi says. “Or a kind of spiritual inferiority complex that I think first world and Western nations have.” Though Gandhi did not model Kumaré on a particular person, “he comes out of the stereotype of an Indian guru.”

Kumaré was a real presence while Gandhi was shooting.

“Any time I left the house I was in character, whether planning a shot list or planning a [yoga] class,” he says. “In those ways, Kumaré was involved in making the film.

“But when we had dinner afterward,” Gandhi says, “I may have been wearing the clothes, but not speaking in the accent.” Or imparting universal wisdom.

West End Cinema, 2301 M St. NW; opens Friday, $8-$12; 202-419-3456. (Foggy Bottom)
Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · September 6, 2012