Gandhi is a New Jersey native who, on his own journey to find some meaning in his faith system of Hinduism, decides to invent a faith system of his own by becoming the guru Sri Kumaré.
Gandhi winningly and humorously crafts the story of Sri Kumaré, an enlightened master from the East who comes to America to spread his teachings. After actually traveling through India, inventing a credible backstory, and learning Yoga, Gandhi grows out his hair and beard, and affects an accent he borrows from his beloved grandmother to complete his transformation. Then, with the help of a Yoga instructor and a marketing person, the fake guru decides to test his system out in Phoenix, Arizona. Within three months, Kumaré builds a group of devoted students who embrace him as a true spiritual teacher. However, Gandhi/Kumaré discover the dangers inherent in taking on this role: People who confess deep secrets, such as a past drug addiction, eating disorders, spousal abuse, and the struggles of a painful, yet rewarding career. Now, he finds himself conflicted—can he unveil the truth to these disciples with whom he has spent so much time, and who now look to him for guidance?
Crafted in the vein of some of my favorite mockumentaries like This is Spinal Tap, and Waiting for Guffman, Kumaré is surprisingly serious in exploring the impact of spiritual leadership, and a person’s willingness to give themselves over to a particular belief or faith system.
What I appreciated most about the movie is that it neither condones, nor condemns the role of spiritual leaders, but gives a nuanced (and pretty accurate) dilemma from the point of view of the actual leader.
While the Hindu/New Age faith Kumaré exemplifies is different from Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, the depiction of spiritual leadership can be applied to any faith system. To adherents of any faith, leaders appear to embody the solution for those who are hungry for guidance, a touch of the divine, or who will tell them that they are okay, but also give direction on how to be a better version of themselves. The path to these, and the methods the spiritual leader uses, vary with the particular belief system; but the needs are always the same.
In Sri Kumaré, Gandhi embodies the humanity, compassion, and focused care that a believer hopes for in their own spiritual leaders; and it is this fact that Gandhi/Kumaré comes to genuinely care for these people that keeps in check concerning the depths to which he carries his ruse.
Gandhi also gives an accurate portrayal of the followers. Unlike Bill Maher’s ill-conceived Religulous, the individuals who choose to follow the teachings are not presented as rubes wanting to be willingly deceived, or fools who wish to only escape reality. They are shown as real people, with real problems, who are on a real quest for something outside of themselves. From the Christian worldview that I adhere to, we were designed for this: to worship the God who created us, who is with us, yet beyond us. If we do not choose to worship the particular god (or gods) of the faith system that we were raised in or have chosen, we will still always strive for it in one form or another. Gandhi does not cast judgment, or paint this as a problem or a panacea, but as an inherent part of the human condition.
I got to see this gem at The Cinefamily independent theater in the Los Angeles Fairfax District. Kumaré is in residence there through Thursday, August 9--check the Cinefamily website for days and showtimes. The film is in limited release across the country. See the Kumaré movie website for listings of cities and theaters.
At 84 minutes, Kumaré is well-weaved, humorous, yet surprising touching. It leads the audience on an unpredictable exploration of faith, belief, and the role spiritual leadership plays in the journey.