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March Film Club: Kumaré

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In the half-documentary, half-social experiment Kumaré, now playing throughout March at the Tricycle Film Club, New Jersey-born filmmaker Vikram Gandhi poses as an Eastern guru and attracts a retinue of disciples in Arizona. Disturbed by the yoga and meditation craze in the US, Gandhi journeys to India to seek an authentic spiritual teacher, only to find the swamis there to be just as phony as those in America. Inspired to make a movie about fake teachers and those drawn to them, Vikram reinvents himself as the guru Kumaré, moving to Arizona and guest speaking at yoga studios around the state. Donning robes, walking barefoot, and spewing nonsense spiritual platitudes in a fake Indian accent, Kumaré lures in a number of devoted disciples almost immediately. It soon dawns on him, however, that he's bitten off more than he can chew. In the end, he must face his followers—to whom he is sympathetic—and reveal his true identity, potentially hurting those who have placed in him their complete trust and faith.

Throughout the month, director and star Vikram Gandhi will be available to answer any questions you have about the film. Post your questions and comments below, and he will get back to you soon.

 

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Reinand Ortiz Feliciano's picture

To teach that perhaps one may not need a teacher in order to walk the path of happiness is in itself a painful lesson. It permits no excuses and empowers those who see and practice its tenets. I love it. All reality is a construction or reconstruction of significance. Synapses is spirituality!

zwatkins's picture

Was the part about the healing audiologist(?), when he was scrubbing you with the white round disc, real documentary? I mean it was so funny I was falling out of my chair and it made me think that it was an illusion that this was a documentary, I had to go back and read the movie description again...and writing this I realize I still don't know, it was so well done that I can't be sure if it was real or not!

Vikram Gandhi's picture

Truth is stranger than fiction. That white round disc was a car buffer. I wish i could take credit for making it up, but it was all Darrell! He's the real deal.

Jewels's picture

OMG, that's hilarious. The stuff/sh$t people come up with...

abacoarchitects's picture

I stopped watching halfway through as I found the whole thing very disturbing. Obviously from the comments here I missed the point but I am not interested in going back to figure out what it was.

micko's picture

to bad ,it was outstanding teaching

Mattmccotter's picture

I'm having a hard time believing the filmmaker is receiving so much praise for his work.
What I saw was the ennui of an Ivy League film school grad manifesting itself in the initial premise of "New Age consumers are suckers". The truly arresting portion of the film was when the project went awry, and the gullible marks revealed themselves to have done an awful lot more living (and loving and suffering) than the clever filmmaker. Next, rather than admitting he did a pretty despicable thing, he creates the artifice of a teaching to justify the project.
There really is a profound teaching in seeing that the smarter we are, the better we are at justifying the harmful things that we do. After all, we are all basically good people, right?
From the official movie website:
"Vikram lives in Brooklyn and Kumaré is a manifestation of his ideal self."
Vikram Gandi's need to continue his post hoc justification for the film continues long after the movie has ended. A fitting punishment.

PS: I,too, suffer from an arrogant and disparaging view of the typical "New Age consumer". The "students" in this movie were inspiring. They opened my semi-cynical heart. I would like to send them my gratitude.

yogasoup's picture

Then why aren't you bowing to, or at least thanking, Vikram for creating the vehicle that would pry open your semi-cynical heart?

yoyo's picture

The more I think about the film the more it seems it was the fakery that was fake and the joke's on us. I am enjoying more and more the ambiguity and all the layers in there.

Vikram tells us his intention is to be a fake but his connecting with his students is real, his efforts are real, and the change in his students is real. I think his exit was about as respectful and sensitive as you can get. Guess I didn't see it as clever self-serving artifice so much as his role converting him, or you could say his Buddha nature refusing to go along with his cynical ego self.

After he leaves the group there was the scene where they continue with a blue light meditation. On one hand, how pathetic. But then, if they achieve feeling connected by doing it, it's hard to say they're fooling themselves. Is it their intent that redeems it (and likewise any spiritual practice), or just doing the ritual, following the form and rules, or the result achieved? The same could be said of Vikram.

jardine057's picture

Thought provoking film. Still don't know how I feel about it. A lot of conflicting emotions.

gr82brees's picture

BRAVO Vikram! Someone had to do it. Yours is a harsh but effective way of breaking through our (westerners) almost hopeless condition of denying our own brilliance. Hoping those that got duped are able to see this as a valuable tool of transformation. Someday. May the grace of maitri descend upon us all.

nicoleann's picture

I loved it! I work in the holistic health field and see this all the time. Gurus on every corner. Sometimes this happens because the students create it and sometimes teachers of various things think too much of themselves. I see lots of this in the holistic community. I also see people getting help that they need, like they did in your film. Some people are seeking anwers and some are seeking mystery. For those seeking anwers, they find ways to find them. Usually through the help/confirmation of others.
I thought the film was very practical and a good portrayal of what it looks like in the yoga world in particular. As soon as someone knows a little more than someone else and isn't afraid to shoot their mouth off about it, they have a following. In the end, whatever helps people and helps them to have the empowerment within themselves to grow and heal, it always a good thing. Well done! Powerful appropriate message.

calicci.gardachi's picture

Vikram,
Loved the film! You are a brave man. Your example of recreating yourself as Kumare is the ability that the entire teaching was based on. That of becoming who you are and living your personal teachings. I enjoyed watching you getting pulled in to your role a little deeper than expected and your nervousness and inability to reveal yourself at the appointed time. It shows that you are human even if you are a mad scientist.

Regardless of having shaved your beard and donned your western garb again, you are still a teacher albeit with fewer students except that by virtue of this film you will ultimately reach and teach many more devotees.

The film's original message which I think got kind of lost is that we are skeptics first and believers second instead of the other way round and just because someone is wearing robes and a beard does not warrant our trust. This is probably a survival mechanism and I imagine it is there for a good reason but we do tend to put our trust in people based on their uniform or outward appearance.

I'm just wondering if you keep a picture of your guru Kumare on your altar?

Vikram Gandhi's picture

No. Altars to alter-egos don't alter egos.

Jim Spencer's picture

no altars to alter-egos alters ego? my brain hurts now, more than it did during the car buffer scene.

rowdyscarlett's picture

Wow, what a great film.

loufar's picture

A real teacher pretending to be a fake teacher imitating a real teacher... It's brilliant!

gr82brees's picture

Love your perspective!

markkemark's picture

I must say, the movie was very good and I a very glad that I watched it. The message was profound and I felt compassion for both Kumare and his "gurus". Thank you!

ekoangel's picture

The message of this film has a lot of integrity, that the resources, insights and teacher that we are looking for is ultimately within. However, the choices made about how to put that across, I believe, are fundamentally flawed. The students of Kumari very generously and vulnerably shared a lot about their personal process, this was strikingly absent from Vikram and his two assistants. The footage that we are presented with leaves us to infer the difficult process that Vikram went through towards the end of the film regarding revealing his true identity. I feel this is a real flaw in the film leaving me wondering how Vikram and his two assistants could live with themselves while deceiving these good, kind people who trusted them. Had they revealed more of what the process was like for them, their struggles, realisations, doubts, perhaps it wouldn't feel so imbalanced and frankly unethical. I can only imagine that some of the students of Kumari are left with some serious psychological and emotional scars having opened their hearts to this man publicly, one woman even incorporating his teachings into her work with the public, only to find that he was a fraud.

Vikram, this was a courageous film to make and a courageous role for you to undertake. Unfortunately the lack of transparency from yourself and your assistants leaves me with a sense that this documentary, perhaps unintentionally, has exploited people and perhaps even fundamentally hurt some of them. I can only imagine, and hope, that this experience has been a deep learning experience for you. I wish you well with it all...

Barbra's picture

Because the movie involved lies and deceptions, I also find it unethical. Lies and deception plus preying on humans' vulnerability and sadness is unskillful. I'm not sure 'Tricyle' offering it was a good idea. Is the movie right speech? Right view? Right livelihood? Right effort? Intention? Right mindfulness? Right concentration? Right action?

james-morrison's picture

Nice post. An interesting, arresting film, but incredibly flawed. For this film to be taken as seriously, as a real documentary and not some kind of reality show elaborate prank, there need to be far more meaningful shots about Vikram's ethical thinking and reasoning, how the film crew behaved and were changed by the process of making the film, how the students initially reacted to the crew (surely having cameras in their faces all the time affected how they were behaving), and how they now interact with each other and feel about what happened to them months after the hoax has been revealed. I can see no decent reason why I can google Vikram and find interviews of him promoting the film, but nothing on him going back to visit with his students and having tough, lengthy, significant conversations with them about what he did to them and how they are handling it. Surely their voices need to be heard far more loudly and clearly than as present in the film.

I can't help but feel there was a deeper, yet more problematic and less self-aggrandizing film, probably less saleable, left on the cutting room floor. Perhaps the DVD will have extras on it, and we will be able to see relatively current interviews with the students so we can get a better idea of what really happened to them. I imagine Vikram is making money off the film. Are his ex-students? Or did they sign-away those rights during the initial stage of the hoax? How do they, their families, their co-workers feel about being shown this way over and over again to thousands, if not millions of people? How was the death row lawyer's practice affected by this film? So many questions in need of answering.

Vikram Gandhi's picture

For those students I've kept in touch with, they know me more as Vikram than as Kumaré. I've stayed close friends and i try to stay in contact as much as i can. Like any group, i'm in better contact with some more than others. And some people as the movie shows don't feel like talking to me. One highlight of my life since Kumaré was the day I officiated the wedding of two of Kumaré students last novemeber. no accent, no trident.

As far as making money off the film...you are watching this on tricycle's streaming film club for free. ; ) With a little research on the slow demise of independent films, I think you'll find that this film is labor of love. we appreciate your support of films like this - that challenge social ideas and break boundaries. What else - everyone signed releases. Everyone is doing fine as far as I know. The reception of the world, which has been overwhelmingly positive, has made people often proud and happy to have been in the film. While its not the case for all that met Kumaré, many people have told me that they are happy that they were some of the few people who ever got to meet the late Kumaré.

mattbard's picture

...indeed , an interesting film on many levels, finally the question of deception is disturbing and his self forgivness is a cop out for doing wrong. do ends ever justify the means? a spiritual robin hood? can you kill n rob to benefit the poor? doesn't buddha dharma show another way? write a script, hire actors, but using people as lab rats ... sigh... ethically i give film zero stars,.... matt

Vikram Gandhi's picture

Rating: Zero Stars! Everyone has a critic inside them.

mattbard's picture

thank you for answering... dancing with the stars... typical kumare non answer. good luck. matt

jkortman's picture

I have not been that uncomfortable in a long time. Thank you.

jdkees's picture

Hello,

Enjoyed the film, for the most part. I definitely cringed at the use of deception. Someone said "ethically ambiguous" . . . I totally agree. What's more, a documentary is a form of deception in and of itself. Every choice the director makes . . . where you choose to point the camera, edit the film, mix the music, etc. All those choices are designed to manipulate the viewer's emotions.

Perhaps Vikram is playing a joke on the Tricycle community. On everyone. How do we know he experienced any hesitation whatsoever at the "emotional climax" of the film? That he cared about any of those people? Maybe the entire film is exploitive--meant to entertain us at those people's expense. I think it's reasonable to question Vikram's motives given his history of deception.

Cheers,
Joseph

Vikram Gandhi's picture

I agree always question!

siva's picture

I was truly surprised at the reaction of most of Kumare's followers when he revealed his true identity. It just proved their integrity and reinforced the warm feeling I had about them during the film. While watching the film I often wondered if the deception could be potentially damaging to some people's faith in humans. I'm not sure I would be as generous if I was a pawn in this experiment. To anyone who is reading this that experienced 'Kumare' as a 'teacher' , please realize that it is not you who is weak, vulnerable, foolish. You are the inspiration in the film. You are the most beautiful and uplifting part of the experience. Watching the purity of souls bond together (without Kumare) was so inspiring. People are not blind followers. We find in each other a light that allows us to go on, a breath that sustains us through the moment at hand. Vikram showed us that humans do not have higher power over each other. We help one another through difficulties that arise. We must never let anyone lead us to believe that we are dependent upon them for this. Love is nurturing and supportive, but not dependent. All of you 'followers/students' proved that the love and compassion we have for other humans is in us and cannot be taught, just uncovered.

Bagdad's picture

Greed, hatred, and delusion....and the greatest of these is delusion.

And perhaps this films speaks to need we all have to be connected, to be heard, to be understood and appreciated, to be loved...

and what happens when the trust in that love is deceived?
May those who's hearts were rendered find peace and forgiveness.

hollyg's picture

Very raw and stirring film. I agree that at times it was painful to watch because I'm the "observer" who had the "inside". It really shows that deep within us is the longing to connect, to belong, to find some common thread to hang to and ground to stand on. It also made me realize that like anything and everything, intentions themselves behind any action evolve, and their evolution depends on the choices we make. As human beings, we have experiences that make us feel grounded and therefore secure and safe, whether they be some physical, financial, mental, emotional. I find that the important question to ask is: what do you do next when the rug is pulled out under you? How do you conduct yourself when you suddenly feel that familiar scary feeling of groundlessness upon realizing that throughout the journey, your idea of yourself has actually merged and attached with this view, thought, opinion? Do you build your new walls back up and shut yourself from the world, or do you come back to that tender heart of kindness and gentleness acknowledge and accept the experience as just that...an experience. In the end, the teacher and the teachings are truly within us if we are willing to look inside.

Thank you for sharing!

tbanach's picture

Wow, awesome film and experiment. I had some reservations when I read the synopsis and still do find the method ethically ambiguous, but at the same time feel there's a lot of value here. Kudos to those "students" who had good humor and benefitted for their experience. I certainly can't say into which group I may have fallen if it were me. At the same time, we humans allow ourselves to be deceived every day by people and things that provide little lasting goodness, with far more negative intent! Fascinating and thought provoking...thank you!

nelierea's picture

Vikram, I really enjoyed this film, though I have to say I felt a lot of compassion for the people who were deceived and I'm not totally comfortable with the deception. Nonetheless I do think there is a lot of deception in the Western new age/yoga/meditation/guru environment as a whole, and at least in the case of your teachings you were paradoxically always telling the truth--that you were not a special teacher, just a mirror, and people could find their own truth within themselves

What was most interesting to me was how playing the role of spiritual guru changed you. It seemed kind of the like the reverse of how Zimbardo's role playing "prison experiment" changed the "guards", who knew they were playing a role, into genuinely cruel and authoritarian people in some cases. The role brought out their worst self. It seemed at the end you were saying the role of guru brought out your best self. How have you kept parts of that self, if you have, since the end of this?

Vikram Gandhi's picture

I grasp everyday for a little more of those days of Kumaré - both as a filmmaker and as a human. Kumaré's motivation as character was to be open, caring, connected and helpful. I don't need the memory of Kumaré to get back to that place, but it is helpful!

jackelope65's picture

Vikram, you movie reminds me of one of Buddha's teachings to spend years, if needed, to pick the right teacher; you teach us as well to trust in our own abilities. Your advice to the students often reflected common sense that for some reason modern man does not trust any longer. I have studied various religious teachings over years but found Buddhism the closest to common sense. Ultimately you did help some of your students very much, but I feel it would be ethical for you to remain open to them for any long term consequences of your actions.

MadhaviG's picture

Amazing "experiment" and film.
Reminded me of Tootsie in a way. The Dustin Hoffman character did acquire new qualities from "pretending" to be a woman.
In the same way, when Vikram "pretended" to be a Guru, an enlightened teacher and embodiment of Truth, he brought forth inner wisdom and compassion, most likely parts of himself he didn't know existed previously.
Shows the power of putting on robes and such --.
-taking on spiritual roles.
Of course in 'real life', there are many pitfalls in doing so.
But by "pretending" to be our true Selves, we can actually become That
The movie, of course. also shows how we project our own higher qualities onto others, while having difficulty seeing them in ourselves, in recognizing our true Nature.
One note: Because Vikram was pretending to be a Guru for a worthy purpose, in many ways, he acted more purely than the average false spiritual teacher who deceives himself as well. He didn't take advantage of anyone for his own benefit-as his agenda was to perform an experiment, to make a film, and to make a point--not to aggrandize himself in anyway. Thus the pure response of his "disciples" is understandable in that he did not judge nor exploit --as many unenlightened spiritual teachers do. And he was a true mirror---ironically.
A very self-empowering film. A great teaching for all involved.

khickey's picture

I did love how thought provoking your film was as well as the message...but I can't help but think of the potential harm caused to the 4 students who no longer have contact with you. Is it worth it to violate another human being's trust to prove a point? My heart aches for them and their future ability to trust other human beings. I am sure you have been deeply affected by this as well and will have to carry their pain with you. May you and those you deceived be at peace.

beatrice's picture

Vikram,
I salute your efforts. I, too, wonder how you feel you are different. Are you carrying Kumare's attributes in your everyday life? Has "he" made you realize your inner goodnes more deeply? It seems "he" has. i think you really suffered in the end and were brave enough to walk through it and reveal yourself. That took great courage. Perhaps it was more than you thought you had. I don't think you could have imagined the impact you would have on people just by loving and listening to them. Hopefully they will forgive you for the deception and not be bitter but better.
Thank you for the inspiration you gave me just watching the film.
Namaste',
B

Sarah11.11's picture

I love this documentary for reminding me how far human beings will go to achieve permission to love themselves and others, and to live free and joyful lives. When we don't have the esteem and faith in ourselves to give ourselves this permission, we need a wise guru to grant it to us. Lovely.

Trb1888's picture

Mr. V.
Love it, what it shows me is how hungry people are, how they want to believe in a spritual connection to something, or a process to get there, I don't think this will hurt the spritual path. A good example of: See it and Be it!
I think it just goes to show that we have the light within ourselves.
Be the light or reflect the light.
Good luck with your filml I giggled through it.
Namaste,
Teresita

amclellan's picture

Very interesting film but sometimes painful to watch. I can understand your own discomfort, Vikram, when you realised how much faith and trust people had put in you. I am glad that most were happy with the denouement and maintained the progress they had made in their lives.
The whole process reminds me of the story about the woman who prayed with a dog's tooth thinking it to be a relic of the Buddha but how many of us really take refuge in our inner guru as well as the external one? It is sad to think how many of us are suffering and looking for someone to catalyse our change when we have all we need inside. A good teacher will act as a mirror and help us to outgrow them but it is scary to think of how easy it can be for someone who is not realised themselves, or anywhere near, to feed on the faith and trust of others for their own needs rather than in service to spiritual growth.
The conclusion did not really explore how your own life had changed as a result of the experience. Have you had more faith in your own inner voice?
Andy

noellena's picture

Hi Vikram,
I just watched your film. Really excellent! Although I can understand why some people would disagree with the method, I think if we, human beings, really think we are ready to face ourselves, delusions,, etc. then you have found an excellent method. You did not cheat people out of money or possessions. You simply reflected. Brilliant job.

Best of luck with your films!

Pema (England)

loufar's picture

A real teacher pretending to be a fake teacher imitating a real teacher.. It's brilliant!

micko's picture

Excellent observation of the reality