“Kumare”: Clever Doc Satirizes New Age Nonsense

Prepare to have your assumptions pitched out the window by this tense, surprisingly probing satirical documentary — not just about religious longing and “spirituality,” its ostensible subjects, either, but also about how deep the genre that gave us Borat can go. Kumaré is essentially the chronicle of a joke turned serious: Director-star Vikram Gandhi, a middle-class Indian-American from New Jersey, transforms a faltering doc project debunking bogus gurus into an immersive lark when he assumes the movie's titular persona. A shaggy baba complete with gob-smacked gaze, impenetrable accent, and questionable underwear, Kumaré attracts a following among the New Age-curious in southern Arizona despite an arsenal of idiotic fake-yoga moves and half-gibberish koans, as well as open admissions of his fraudulence. Incredibly, Gandhi forms a genuine, mutually enriching bond with these apostles, which serves his thesis—that no single person or belief system has a lock on the cosmic and that we're all seekers in our own way — rather than exposes it as Michael Moore-style overstatement. It helps that Kumaré's “teachings” are bolstered by Gandhi's strict Hindu upbringing, obvious real-yoga expertise, and the memory of his devout grandmother. Whether Kumaré's happy alignment of cinematic inspiration and philosophical awakening is simply a feat of editing remains open, and the element of racial pandering in its teacher/student dynamic goes entirely unaddressed, but the white-knuckle climax is incredibly moving all the same.

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