What is faith? Is it a tangible belief in a God or is it a delusion of the self, helping one go on when all is seemingly lost? Director Vikram Gandhi tackles this thorny subject by conducting an experiment. He “becomes” a Godman, “Kumare”, a holy man from India – long hair, loincloth, thick accent – and sets up base in Phoenix, Arizona. He conducts yoga classes with his made up chants, professes to impart wisdom by sharing his experiences and points of view. Does he gain a following? Do people believe him to be the real thing?
This is an unusual film. It is made by the actor starring in the film, and he is an American of Indian heritage, so he has his “traditional” ideas of belief and the American notion of Godliness. In the film, he attempts to test both. Gandhi “transforms” into the Indian guru full-time, i.e.; he actually grows his hair and beard, learns yoga before attempting to teach it. Essentially physically he appears to be an Indian god-man; the spirituality is made up though. His “followers” of course have no idea.
In his teaching as Kumare, Gandhi appears to be a humble, good man and tells his followers that they actually do not need a godman or a teacher – that their faith in themselves, their goodness is enough. The film follows Gandhi and his helpers – two girls, one Caucasian, and the other Indian American Purva Bedi (of “American Desi” fame) as they conduct classes in the ashram. As Kumare, Gandhi also tries to understand other spiritual healing methods.
Are we actually looking to follow a leader, a “holy” man/woman who appears to be in direct contact with God ? Do certain cultures, with “proven” spirituality have greater influence? This film plays out in the American context, where Gandhi as “Kumare” has an “exotic” quality about him; I wonder how this would play out in an Indian context where long-haired, Indian accented babas are a-dime-a-dozen. The film raises many questions, and answers some towards the end, as the experiment also ends. An interesting, though-provoking watch – highly recommended.