×

Kumare

Neither fish nor fowl, documentary yoga satire "Kumare" raises a host of questions it can't answer.

With:
With: Vikram Gandhi, Purva Bedi, Kristin Calgaro.

Neither fish nor fowl, documentary yoga satire “Kumare” raises a host of questions it can’t answer. As director-star Vikram Gandhi fashions himself into the titular fake Indian spiritual leader, what presumably started as a “Borat”-style lark exposing Americans’ spiritual gullibility and fetishism of the exotic turns into something more complicated as he begins to be taken seriously by his followers. But the film essentially punts on the many gnarled quandaries of faith and exploitation that arise. Winner of the audience documentary award at SXSW, “Kumare” could benefit from the controversy that’s sure to precede any release.

Born into a traditional Indian-American family, Gotham-based Gandhi recalls suffering through traditions that seemed designed solely to get him mocked by his American peers as a child, only to see those same traditions become part of the dominant culture with the proliferation of yoga studios across the country. Disturbed by what he sees as a rash of unscrupulous yogis (both Anglo and Indian) gaining followings, he grows out his beard, adopts a cartoonishly heavy accent, moves to Phoenix and renames himself Kumare, hoping to see how far he can take his fake holy-man act.

It will surprise no one that the answer is pretty far. In no time Kumare has developed a stable of students, whom he keeps in thrall with his invented yoga poses and mantras (one of which translates to “Be all that you can be”). His immediate problem, however, is that unlike the racist, homophobic rubes whom Sacha Baron Cohen makes his dupes, Gandhi’s followers are all almost comically nice people: There’s a lawyer who defends death-row convicts, an earnest recovering crack addict and a sweet twentysomething girl seeking solace from a failing marriage. What’s more, his gibberish teachings actually seem to be helping them.

It’s to Gandhi’s credit that he recognizes this early on, and while he’s a decent enough guy not to push his luck with these vulnerable people, it halts his experiment in its tracks. Aside from a bizarre meditation session involving photos of President Obama and Osama bin Laden, Gandhi never tries to advance his teachings into the truly ridiculous, and while there are questions raised by his students’ willingness to go along with such a nebulous version of Indian spirituality, it’s hard to fault them, either. In the end, Gandhi becomes genuinely troubled by the hold he’s developed on these people, but his attempts to find an ultimate theological lesson in this adventure feel more like his own personal justifications for starting a project that ballooned beyond his control.

Gandhi is more convincing as a guru than a narrator, and his voiceover observations can sometimes veer toward triteness. Modest technical credits are all well handled.

Popular on Variety

Kumare

Production: A Future Bliss Films presentation of a Disposable Film production. Produced by Bryan Carmel, Brendan Colthurst. Executive producers, Cristian Gil, Nadia Muna, Eli Nhaissi. Co-producer, Adam Barton. Directed by Vikram Gandhi.

Crew: Camera (color), Kahlil Hudson; editor, Adam Barton, Nathan Russell; costume designer, Maytinee Redding; sound, Ty Chu; re-recording mixer, Alexa Zimmerman. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, March 20, 2011. (In SXSW Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With: With: Vikram Gandhi, Purva Bedi, Kristin Calgaro.

More Film

  • Refugees from the besieged Muslim enclave

    Sarajevo’s True Stories Market: Documenting the Atrocities of War

    Reconciliation and dealing with the tragedies of the Yugoslav Wars has been a major focus of the Sarajevo Film Festival and its CineLink Industry Days event in recent years. The True Stories Market, launched in 2016, aims to connect filmmakers with organizations that are researching and documenting the Yugoslav Wars that spanned 1991 to 2001 [...]

  • Ena Sendijarevic’s ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’

    Ena Sendijarevic’s ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ Wins Top Prize in Sarajevo

    “Take Me Somewhere Nice,” Bosnian director Ena Sendijarević’s coming-of-age story about a teen raised in the Netherlands who returns to Bosnia to visit her ailing father, won the top prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival Thursday night, earning the Amsterdam-based helmer the coveted Heart of Sarajevo Award. The jury heralded the “beautifully photographed, acted, scripted [...]

  • Khadar Ahmed - BUFO - photo

    Bufo Sets Key Cast for Co-Production ‘The Gravedigger' (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —   Actor Omar Abdi, who starred in the Ahmed-scripted short “Citizens,” and actress Yasmin Warsame, who made her name as a Canadian model, will topline romantic-tragedy “The Gravedigger,” the latest big screen project from Bufo, the Helsinki-based outfit behind Berlinale winner “The Other Side of Hope.” The film follows a Djibouti gravedigger [...]

  • Jacobs Ladder Movie 2019

    Film Review: 'Jacob's Ladder'

    It’s understandable that someone would want to remake “Jacob’s Ladder,” Adrian Lyne’s 1990 head-trip thriller about a Vietnam veteran haunted by fragmentary nightmare visions. I was far from alone in finding the original to be an overwrought but rather thin “psychological” horror film that was more punishing than pleasurable. And it wasn’t exactly a hit, [...]

  • Fiddler A Miracle of Miracles

    Film Review: 'Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles'

    Still beloved and routinely revived 55 years after its Broadway debut — including a Yiddish-language version now playing in New York — “Fiddler on the Roof” is a popular phenomenon that shows no sign of subsiding. Max Lewkowicz’s “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” provides an entertaining if hardly exhaustive overview of how the unlikely success [...]

  • 'Weathering With You' Heads for $100

    'Weathering With You' Heads for $100 Million Box Office Haul

    Makoto Shinkai’s animated romantic drama “Weathering with You” passed the JPY10 billion ($94 million) mark in Japan on Wednesday, according to an announcement by distributor Toho. This makes it the tenth-highest earning Japanese film of all time. Since its release on July 19 on 448 screens in 359 complexes, the film has racked up 7.52 million admissions. The [...]

  • Burn review

    Film Review: 'Burn'

    There’s more smoke than fire in “Burn,” a reasonably promising single-location thriller that never quite settles on what it wants to be — a straight-up suspense piece, twisty black comedy, oddball character study, etc. “All the above” would be a tall but not impossible order to pull off. The problem is that writer-director Mike Gan’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content