If you begin to act like a guru, then you can become a guru.
Originally, I thought Kumaré would be a tale about cultural appropriation, and why it’s problematic. Which, of course, would still make it a very interesting and important movie. However, there’s a lot more subtlety to this film than that, largely due to the charisma and reflections of the filmmaker himself, Vikram Gandhi.
Gandhi was raised in New Jersey in a religious, Hindu household. Like many of us, he began to question his relationship with religion throughout his adolescence and adulthood. As yoga and other Eastern practices began to permeate Western spiritual and fitness culture, he decided to dive more deeply into what it meant to be, and to follow, a guru. What makes one person a guru, he asked, and not another?
Beginning with a documentary on gurus around the world, Gandhi found one thing: there isn’t anything that distinguishes these folks from others. He spoke with some gurus he agreed with, and others that he didn’t. Some seemed to take advantage the power given to them, and others eschewed it, but were still treated differently. A guru, it seemed, wasn’t necessarily someone different from others, but a person upon which we collectively placed our need for guidance and community.
With that, Gandhi decided to become a guru. And thus was born Gandhi’s alter ego, and idealized self, Kumaré.
Kumaré is an exploration of how he went about becoming a guru, developing a following, and the teachings he decided to impart. Ironically, Kumaré’s philosophy focused entirely on finding the guru within because all gurus are an illusion.
The movie was done extremely well. It’s uncomfortable, and inspiring at the same time, and you can tell Gandhi is sitting with that same sense of discomfort. As he prepares to tell his followers that he isn’t who they think he is, he struggles with the worlds, verbally chastising himself in the mirror. Was it a gigantic prank, or the best example of his lesson?
Surprisingly, almost all of his students are supportive of his method, so to speak. After empowering them to create actionable steps to improve their lives, he announces that it’s their turn to reveal the guru and teacher within themselves. With this final reveal, Gandhi also reveals the guru within — that he’s not Kumaré, but just another regular guy. In this final act, he proves that anyone has the capacity to become a leader, teacher, and guide.
Kumaré is on Netflix, and available to buy on YouTube. It’s a really good watch, and very unique.