Tricycle Film Club

Buddhist films and discussion for the
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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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lisa.sobieniak's picture

The message that we are all our own teachers is brought home in this very easy to grasp illustration. Scary, yes, lonely too but so powerful if we can only face it.

jth401's picture

For this one, it works eaqually well either way . . . as a professional film cleverly confronting the reality/illusion message and very good and handsome actors, or a documentary chronicling the search for answers to questions we seekers are seeking.

mattbard's picture

namaste' vikram
i love you! risk taker diving into the void and finding yourselves
i am not who you think i am either my friend gave me his password so i might watch your movie!

this one has lived in numerous ashrams spiritual communities over span of 40 yrs
only around one guru and he was in the tomb next to the temple
i found what i was seeking in tibetian buddhism as a student i am excited
to find out just what it is all about even tho it is an illusion the ultimate mystery

i related to all your devotee's/student's attachment to your illusion and all is illusion isnt it?
we all want to believe in something out of needing connection or fear of the unknown
just where are we going-- where are the "signs"? or it is their path?

your spiritual journey/documentary is amazing i dont believe you tricked these folks
they connected with eternal wisdom which you had tapped into
or if you are same family of the mahatma it is in your genes?
a circle of love was created and love is the foundation of all
according to one of my teachers ammachi

your grandmother's devotion is an inspiratioin
this one has seen many people in their celebration of life to a form of a deity - god/ goddess/ ?
i love the flowers water rice honey spices candles
once in a temple of kali in katmandu the slaughter of black roosters!!

this is not a critique just sharing one seeker to another
this one learned a lot from the film about listening going on intuition-making it up as one went along
being unafraid/courageous i sensed too your willingness to play the part and no thot of the outcome (?)

this one will reveal who i might be? a 75 yr young grt grama
subhadra is the name given by ammachi
still living out/in the illusion

love and light
joyce bovee in new mexico

Johnlatell's picture

At the conclusion of the film ,I am left with an uneasy feeling:
Not of concern ,about the confusion of humanity to find spiritual
Leadership but rather, the intent of the film. & from what ground
It sprung it's 'head. It seemed to be done out of frustration. Encountering
The world is not enough. Becoming what kumare toys with irreverently
Is the point. This is not a critique of the film- only an observation of
The apparent intent of the film: mean spirited .?

allen2's picture

Did he charge any money to these people during the course of this film?

leahc28's picture

Does it matter? His little "experiment" cost them more than money could ever buy.

matthew.immergut's picture

Social life is based on trust. Every mundane activity depends on a trusting expectation that people will perform their roles - that the bus drive will stop at the right place, that the cashier will hand back your money at the store, that your friend will keep your secret. Of course, sometimes they don't. This can create confusion. It can also be the source of great comedy. Done well, disrupting such social expectations can not only be hysterical but truly illuminating, revealing the arbitrary nature of the social rules and scripts we follow.

This movie shatters that trust. But the purpose simply doesn't seem worth it. Sure there is some pseudo lesson about being your own Guru (G.U.R.U). But really the duplicity endured and the resulting embarrassment simply doesn't seem worth it.

I have a lot more to say about this film: the type of social shame these people have to endure over and over and over; how this ties in with cognitive dissonance theory for both them and the film-maker Vikram; how if this was a book that protected the group members anonymity it would have been brilliant; and a few other thoughts.

But really, the heart of the matter is simple - imagine if it was you. Imagine you had invested trust in a false Guru or any other belief system that turned out to be a lie. Sure, that would suck, you'd feel stupid, but eventually you'd get over it and maybe learn a lesson from it. But now imagine that it was viewed over and over and over not just by friends and family members but by thousands and thousands of people. Just really let that sink in.

adra.raenolds's picture

Why should anyone be embarrassed by this experience? Because they might be ridiculed? All of the participants were seeking something - spirituality, wisdom, health, enlightenment, etc. It's only their egos which might be humiliated, and only egos would seek to cause them humiliation. It's the ego that doesn't understand. And as the film illustrates, it's not a man who appears to be a guru who can teach, but a "regular guy." This is a valuable lesson, if the participants choose to see it that way. It's all about perception and the individual's capacity for learning despite the appearance of the lesson

Jewels's picture

Oh, my sweet god/dess. I laughed, I cried, and I said "thank you". Yes, the method is a bit funky, but you never said you were a guru. Others put you on that pedestal. We spend our lives searching. For some deeper meaning. For true connections. For the good in everyone (but we don't call it that). We are starved for true love, true connections with others, for a deeper truth for our existence. You taught what we all know on some level: that we are our own teachers, and that we should look for him/her within, not without. And it's nice when someone reminds us of that (in this case, Kumare). I was shocked to hear Bhagavan Das's comment about sex at the beginning of your movie, but then again, why was I shocked? There's so much scandal in this country around gurus and their followers, it's not even funny. Kirtan never had any real attraction for me, quite the opposite.
Anyway, it must have taken tremendous courage to come through the door and show yourself as Vikram, not Kumare. IMHO, those who stayed, actually learned something about themselves.

D. Anderson's picture

The film is very well done and contains a powerful message about our hunger for a spiritual source beyond ourselves. The question will always remain: was the exploitation of this hunger worth the wisdom gained by the "gurus" and the viewers of the film?

ecwinslow's picture

Having (only) watched the trailer, I can only think: Sacha Baron Cohen in 3D.

mralexander99's picture

It is definitely NOT Sacha Baron Cohen 3D.....it is more like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in Reverse!

celine.lavoie's picture

Hello Vikram,
How could you possibly film these people with their consent? How did you explain the camera crew, the cameras, etc... Some of the encounters were personal and it's difficult to imagine that you could get this kind of shots without having at least some kind of set-up; for instance when you go through this "sound therapy". Was the camera hidden or did you have a story to explain it?
I am wondering whether this documentary is not also a "fake documentary". Which would be a very interesting "flip"and still propose the same kind of questionning about faith and spiritual teachers; with the extra perspective of questionning the documentary form.
I enjoyed watching it a lot, and thanks for your response.
Celine

Vikram Gandhi's picture

The filming process was similar to that which any noteworthy teacher might be filmed. When you meet a man whose barefoot and wearing a trident, the camera is the least strange thing in the room. That being said, always question i say.

celine.lavoie's picture

Right :-)
That's so amazing to me that none of these people ever questionned the camera being there; do you think it is because it made them feel that they were part of something important? Or that it was giving them their five minutes of glory (no derogatory intention) ? Or that it is so much part of American culture (and guru culture) to film everything that no one never ever even paid attention?
I'm also wondering if there were asked permission to be filmed or to be part of the film.
What you did is really fascinating and brave. I'm a yoga teacher and student in the tibetan Buddhist tradition where devotion is an essential part.
And I agree, always questionning is essential.
Thank you.

dalic's picture

Good and thought provoking film. I am not sure how I would have reacted to the unveiling, but think I would have grateful for the teachings and remained friends. Thank you for making this movie available.

unystrom's picture

This type of phenomenon is not restricted to eastern "religions". We have many examples of catholic priests and televangelists who are not who we think they are. We just love to have people who "seem" kind and righteous to tell us what to do in our times of confusion. I only wish that they too would come clean. Vikram in the end was an honest human being unlike those who try keep their secrets forever.

unystrom's picture

Thank you Vikram. What do we learn from this? It's all in our heads. We are desperate for somebody to see us and hear us, preferrably not a relative, but someone different, exotic... It makes it so much more special...
In the end, your "teachings" worked, the answers really are very simple. Trust yourself. Love yourself. Good job, great idea. We can laugh at ourselves and weep for ourselves... We are just human.

coffeyhj's picture

Ok too well filmed to be a documentary, etc.

arialittlhous's picture

Does anyone know how to get a copy of "The Jew in the Lotus"? Thanks.A.

Emma Varvaloucas's picture
kv83108's picture

Just some thoughts, in no particular order...
Great editing! I imagine there was enough footage to tease out at least two or three movies. There was a consistent thread to the movie, or one that I invented, that I enjoyed following.
I related to so many different aspects from my own search and conclusions up to this point. I can so rarely enjoy a movie these days, but this one was so thought-provoking and well put together that I could really let myself relax and go along for the ride.
There were some funny ironic bits, my favorite was when a class was booked, and the expectation is 30-40 people will show up, but that's not how it turns out.
I couldn't help but wonder how Vikram had the time and money to fund this film. It seems like it takes place over enough time that funds could run out or people could change their mind about doing it, even Vikram.
If one's basic needs of food, shelter, saftey, sex and money are all met (at whatever level), and one could dedicate oneself to being happy and/or a teacher, I can imagine how people would be taken in by Kumare, since there wasn't a scam happening as much as the unfolding of a process.

Anyway, thank you for a very enjoyable film, despite and because of the ethical questions it includes along with those meant for self-discovery.

tonya4444's picture

Was the documentary a real documentary? Or a fictitious movie representing a documentary?

Regardless of the answer (remember how many times we are reminded that things are not as they APPEAR?), the truth at the core of the movie is the same. Vikram, you are a great storyteller and actor. I appreciate the parable regardless of the 'authenticity' of the facts. The mirror is there, I saw it for myself. Thank you for pointing at something so obvious. Very Socratic movie...loved it!

rlbrutus@gmail.com's picture

This film made me think about how we construct identities all the time. "Vikram" is as much of a construction/fabrication as "Kumare". They're both as much of a construction as who we film viewers are. We're always constructing our selves. It was Whitman who said, "I contain multitudes." To what extent are we being deceptive whenever we are playing one of the selves in our repertoire?

zhiwa.woodbury's picture

EXACTLY! Personalities are constructs that are always under construction. They're not real. Reification is the crux of the spiritual problem - especially for Buddhists. The beauty of this film, I think, is that he never told them anything other than that he was a faker, over and over, and that he had nothing to teach them. If he had done that without the faking part, nobody would have ever paid any attention to him. What does that say about how we in the West relate to spiritual teachers? The other extraordinary thing about this film is how it affected Vikram, and how it unexpectedly worked as a spiritual awakening for him (even the blue light ; ). What does THAT say about spirituality? In the end, I think there is a great lesson in the contrast between the reactions of the "lineage holder", who seems overly attached to form, and the death row lawyer, who saw the unveiling as the perfect final lesson. I'm with her! This may have been an unskillful experiment at the beginning, but I think it became a brilliant one in the process. To those who still object, let's get over ourselves, shall we?

mbennison61's picture

Clever ruse for "15 minutes" of 'fame' but ethically 'ground zero'. And what of risk assessment? In the planning of this, with some of these quite vulnerable yet wonderful, genuine seekers after greater happiness, self-harm, psychotic breakdown or worse (after the unveiling) was always a possibility.

How was that possibility risk-assessed - and had the unimaginable occurred with one of them, how would the makers of this film, created in a genre a stone's throw away from Borat, have been held to account?

Vikram Gandhi's picture

While the film may feel haphazard at times, we were very conscious how every interaction might effect others. We all simply focused on the messge of the film.

mbennison61's picture

With the greatest of respect and whilst a nerve has possibly been touched, this simply does not answer the question. If we enter into a social experiment knowing full well that a very possible outcome is far-reaching psychological harm being created to 'vulnerable others' then our ethical values are called into question. Not exactly Stanford Prison or the Luftwaffe but uncomfortable enough to me. How and where are these people now - ALL of them? Did they ALL give signed permission to use the footage. If so and unbribed, fair enough; I am less worried. If not - appalling.

domaluna's picture

What an amazing film! I was delighted, amused, incredulous, and grateful for the veil lifted from my own eyes. Truth hurts and it liberates. Thank you for this wonderful journey into my own heart and mind.

mbennison61's picture

Are you sure you haven't just watched a repeat of Friends?

Mike Nielsen's picture

Vikram, I have to congratulate you on a story well told. That is what film is about, whether it is fiction, documentary, or some hybrid of both. You made an entertaining film so if that was your purpose, you succeeded. And it did make me think about the way in which I relate to my own spiritual journey. I saw bits of myself reflected in the seekers that connected with Kumare.
On the other hand, as a person who does not like reality TV, I found myself thinking all the way through, "So these people all signed releases?" Now from your response to an earlier question, I realize that they did sign releases. But did they agree to be pranked when they signed the releases? We live in a strange world in which the boundaries between the personal and the public have become blurred. Is Kumare a more benign figure than Borat? Why did those people in Phoenix agree to be part of such a public display of their personal issues? Maybe because I don't watch Jersey Shore, Survivor, etc., I am missing some kind of moral decoder ring that is needed to relax with this form of documentary. The bit at the end about 10 out 14 are still buddies with you kind of reminds me of how little I like opinion polls. I don't blame you for putting that in, given the circumstance. It serves as a balm to the viewer, to fully take in the guilty pleasure of seeing these folks get hoodwinked. Which group (the friends or enemies of Vikram) learned more about themselves and the world is not ours to judge. It could be either one, eh?

michaelken's picture

What a great film with so many different layers. I love the chord it struck in so many people, and the wide range of comments shows us the film made people stop and think. Truth can come veiled, unveiled, wrapped up or naked, but in several small ways, it came. The mind has tremendous power and it seems that oftentimes humans need something greater than ourselves to get permission to tap into it, even if that greater something is just an illusion. One thing I will say about Kumare' is that he listened to people. He really listened, and in many ways, that seemed to give people permission enough to change and grow. Thank you Tricycle for featuring this film. -mk

diana_collins's picture

I loved this film. Thanks.

budman's picture

Wow, I almost had to leave the room before the end.
It was nice to see so many embrace you in the end,
but all our hearts go out to the ones who didn’t.
We all need the rug pulled out from under us every once
in a while, unfortunately some need the rug.
I have to thank you for proving my only life theory.
“Everything in Life is made up”
Yes everything,
From one Jersey guy to another, this is a film that only a guy from
Bergen County could make and get away with it.
Next time you’re in New York lunch is on me at Indus Express on 48th St.
Stay well.

bluesharper's picture

I loved this film!!! Truth can be painful, and teachings can be painful. Everyone involved in the film and those of us who have watched it have received a great teaching. We take from it what we need to hear. I'm grateful that I am one that wept at the end rather than one who scoffed and offered judgement.

rpeter's picture

What a terrible breach of trust.

rebrites's picture

I agree. I like a bit of irony as much as anybody, but this film takes the hipster smirk and turns it into a public exploitation of sad, needy yet sincere people.

eagarry's picture

Thought provoking film. The comments are even more thought provoking. I saw the whole process as a search for spiritual truth. He did his research going to various gurus in the beginning of the movie and felt they were not the authentic thing. And don't we all, at various times put on different masks and roles? When I go to work I am the "professional". When I play tennis or fencing, I am the "athlete". Which is my true face? Do I even have a true face. In Zen there's a koan about what is my original face, maybe Kumare is just looking for the answer. In the grand scheme of things were the individuals hurt? Were their true faces hurt? Or was everyone a pawn of the universe teaching a lesson?

Jewels's picture

I just hit the imaginary "Like" button for your comment :-)

Joanne Lehman's picture

I laughed at first but now that it's finished the tears are rolling down my cheeks.... tears of compassion for all of our strange, seeking species. What a fine tenderness evolved in this film!

Jewels's picture

And another "Like" button for this comment :-)

franschaper's picture

I actually see no deception in the film. Kumare seems to me to be a self fulfilling image. When Vikram starts out be saying that he is not what they perceive and that he is not needed there is no deceit. We all fall into the web our expectations... ( as for me, it was kind of scary, because he even looks a little like Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh! )... A brilliant teaching! Indeed we all should bow to the guru within us... Vikram, you rock!

kehaglund's picture

Stirring. The one thing I would love to know from Vikram,
Would he do it again, having already done it? I'd love to know the answer from his heart and the answer from his head.

Vikram Gandhi's picture

Not sure what this is exactly asking so I'll answer all my interpretations.
I would not do it a second time. no sequel. I'm always looking to do something different and challenging I've never done before. If you mean, if I knew what i know now would I have done it? Stepping into unknown was the greatest draw of all. If you mean: do I regret it - I would regret not doing it.

kehaglund's picture

You answered it all - and more. Thanks!

Kokuan's picture

For me, this film brought to mind the koan: "Medicine and disease subdue each other" (Blue Cliff Record, Case 87). Sometimes medicine can become the disease, and disease the medicine. We've seen how even authenticated teachers have done harm by abusing their position, and how students put their teachers on pedestals and give their power away.

Could it be that Kumare is like a serum that is made from the disease it's created to prevent? Kumare was a fake, but didn't a teaching still take place?

Thank you, Vikram, for stirring the pot!

nicoleann's picture

I like what you said about medicine and disease! Thanks!

Vikram Gandhi's picture

it could be! you are welcome.

duozumi's picture

In my opinion an unspeakably cruel (Jersey Shore) exercise in exposing ugly fraud by means of creating new victims who happen to be actual, living, thinking, loving, trusting, searching human beings.

There are valuable documentary exposes and there are reality-tv self-serving stunts.

liberty's picture

I love that Tricycle chose this film. Of course it makes us think about whether this guy is a "real" guru, or whether he was "right" to do what he did. But I like that it's making me reflect a lot on my various practices, and what makes them powerful/helpful, and on teachers, and what makes them powerful/helpful. And then it reminds me to stop thinking and go sit!