Kumaré | Movie review
A doc filmmaker reinvents himself as a fake spiritual guru.
Attempting to parody charlatanism among spiritual leaders, agnostic, New Jersey–raised filmmaker Vikram Gandhi reinvents himself as a fake guru named Sri Kumaré. He develops his own philosophy and finds a willing flock in Phoenix. Perhaps it’s to be expected that these disciples would interpret Kumaré’s half-true aphorisms—“I am only the same as everyone here,” “this whole thing is a big trick”—as profound. This is, after all, a group of people who’ve signed up because they want to believe in something. Nor is it a shock that Kumaré’s lessons would have a placebo effect on his adherents—or that Gandhi would come to see at least some value in his teachings.
While the film apparently prompted some genuine soul-searching by its maker, it shouldn’t be taken as an honest depiction of cult formation. Never once does Gandhi cop to the power of cameras to bolster his alter ego’s credibility; if you were there, would you assume a film crew was trailing a fraud? It’s also possible constant filming provided an attraction for Kumaré’s often-attention-starved followers.
This sincere version of a Sacha Baron Cohen stunt stops being heartwarming the minute Kumaré’s students begin to share personal details, as if he’s earned their trust. Other con men have used the same methods to less benevolent ends; the film’s notion that the ruse here was okay because it ultimately helped people seems like a specious rationalization.