Vikram Gandhi was born and raised in New Jersey. He grew up in a devout Hindu family. In an attempt to understand that devotion – which he did not feel – he took religious studies at university, but this brought him no closer to belief in either religion or the supernatural.
Along the way, Vikram also picked up film making skills. One day, a flash of inspiration struck him: what if he grew his hair and beard, adopted his beloved grandmother’s Indian accent and put on a dress? And how about filming people’s reaction to him?
So it was that Vikram became Kumaré. He wandered the streets of Phoenix, Arizona, and was quickly adopted by a local yoga group. Someone less resourceful would have balked at inventing yoga techniques on the spot, but not Kumaré. His first disciple was a yoga student and death-penalty lawyer, who remained devoted to him.
Over the course of several months, Kumaré gathered 14 core disciples in Phoenix and Tucson. He was truthful about his teaching throughout: he told his followers that they must find the guru within themselves, rather than depending on him.
With the help of two assistants, Kumaré developed his own form of yoga and a ‘blue light’ meditation. He spoke in broken English and developed an attention-grabbing laugh.
One man insisted that Kumaré fulfilled a ‘prophecy’ given to him as a 12-year-old. A woman follower said, ‘I could tell he was very, very special even before I met him.’ This explains the power of Kumaré: the expectations of his audience were self-fulfilling. It is all too often the case that we see what we want to see: expectation conditions experience.
The film is entertaining but without ever becoming vicious. Unlike many ‘gurus’, Kumaré never belittles or humiliates his followers. What began as a prank turned into an education for all concerned, including Vikram Gandhi, who found it impossible to tell his devotees the truth at the planned ‘unveiling.’ He had become too involved with the lives of his followers to disappoint them.
The conclusion of the piece is very moving, as Vikram Gandhi realizes that he has bonded more with his followers than with anyone else in his life. He makes the transition from prankster to compassionate human being in the process.
Thankfully, ten of his fourteen followers accept his eventual admission that far from being an Indian guru, Kumaré was a projection of a New Jersey boy forced to act as if he were perfect, because of the expectations put upon him.
Kumaré is a fine study of our credulity and may well be helpful to anyone who is caught in a totalist group or relationship. As with any ‘paralleling’ approach, it is important not to steer the person towards any comparison with their own situation, but rather to allow them to digest the material, and then ask them to express their response as fully as possible.
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This movie is currently available for rent or to buy on Amazon Video.