Our definition of faith is both complex and frequently shifting. As human beings we often need to “believe” in something outside of our control. Few individuals don’t want to be led at some point in matters related to family, work or spiritual issues. When one man finds himself confused and unfulfilled spiritually, he embarks on a unique experiment to see if he can impersonate a spiritual leader and gather a flock. This sheppard does indeed find a flock, but what does he learn from them before he must reveal the illusion of his position? The new documentary film “Kumare” tackles this thorny issue deftly with genuine compassion.

Vikram Gandhi, the film’s director and “star” is of Indian descent, a man who grew up in New Jersey. Following a brief investigation of spirituality, hoping to understand what his grandmother and others felt, he is stunned by the hypocrisy of many of the guru’s he encounters both in India and in the United States. This set him on a grand social experiment to see if he could be more spiritual on his own, without a guide. When he found no great need for such a leader he decided to attempt to become a guru to see if he could then attract a following.

After developing the appropriate look; long hair and beard, robes and a deeper Indian accent, he relocated to Phoenix, AZ to start his charade. With the help of two assistants he begins to use made up Yoga and nonsensical chants to convey deep wisdom. Not surprisingly “Kumare,” as he is now called attracts a small devoted following. What happens next is both heartwarming and heartbreaking as we meet these very real, very familiar archetypes of our human experiences, for example a single mother dealing with an empty nest, a workaholic lawyer and a young woman aching to fit in.

What starts out as an elaborate experiment for Vikram, rapidly becomes a lie he cannot easily walk away from due to the faith and trust that has been given by his new “flock.” This film is a powerful examination of faith and trust, and the human condition on a micro level. Filmed in Phoenix and Tucson, the events that transpire could take place anywhere, and while there is a fairly neat and tidy ending, clearly the events of the experiment will continue to both haunt and feed the spiritual needs of all involved for years to come.

The film is showing once as part of the 7th annual Tucson Film and Music Festival on Sunday October 9 at 7:30pm at the Century 20 El Con cinema.


About Herb Stratford

Arts and culture writer and film reviewer. Historic theatre restoration consultant. Artist and arts educator.
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