Hoodoo Gurus

Erik Davis has a wonderful piece up at Aeon Magazine discussing the 2011 documentary Kumaré (trailer above), the 'prank' at the heart of the film, and what it might mean for spiritual seekers, placing the experience with the framework of "the theatre of transformation":

Religion (and its shadowy ally, the occult) has always managed the boundaries between things — life and death, order and chaos, self and world, novelty and tradition, the knowable and the infinite. It is absurd to imagine that the force of such preoccupations should dissipate at a time of cultural crisis and confusion such as ours. Many of those ever-fluctuating boundaries, once patrolled by religion, have erupted into border wars, just as the very notion of a border has been dissolving. It's easy to take up a simplistic position when we try to appreciate how spirituality and the secular, belief and scepticism, dance their tango, but surely it's far better to pay attention to how and when these boundaries get drawn — and what happens when they dissolve, or turn out to be not what they seem.

This is what makes Vikram Gandhi’s trickster documentary Kumaré (2011) — for all its considerable problems — one of the more thought-provoking and unexpected takes on the dynamics of modern spirituality I’ve come across in many a moon. I’m happy that the film is now available for digital download after a year or so of touring the festival circuit to rather mixed — and sometimes puzzled — reception.

Gandhi (his real name) was born in New Jersey and is an alumnus of Columbia University. But in the film he impersonates a long-haired, orange-robed, heavily accented Hindu guru called Sri Kumaré for months on end, gathering a small New Age flock that then witnesses its teacher’s shocking ‘Great Unveiling’ at the close of the film. Gandhi’s experiment is essentially a cruel sceptic’s prank, designed to expose the exotic projections and gullible fantasies animating today’s spiritual seekers. In this, it shares some creative DNA with Sacha Baron Cohen, the British comedian whose sometimes merciless hoodwinks reveal a seething political subconscious that is hard to glimpse without these sorts of ethically problematic ruses. Kumaré provides a number of easy yucks and painful gotcha moments. But in a manner that Gandhi himself did not seem to anticipate, his story winds up being more emotionally nuanced and even charming than its prankster précis implies.

Rather than setting up an atheist’s honey-pot, Gandhi actually staged something more interesting, and more ambiguous: a theatre of awakening that transforms himself as well as his students.

Head over to Aeon Magazine for the full read: "Trickster and Tricked.

Those interested in exploring the topic further might also want to check out Vikram Gandhi's TEDx Talk discussing his experience in making the film, titled "Become a Story Now" (embedded below).


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Inannawhimsey's picture
Member since:
14 April 2009
Last activity:
10 weeks 4 days

a thing of beauty, Greg...thankee sai

All that lives is holy, life delights in life.

--William Blake

Guiderman's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
Last activity:
2 weeks 1 day

Hooked me in.

Interesting film, but not what I was expecting.

Gwedd's picture
Member since:
8 April 2006
Last activity:
2 days 17 hours

These sorts of "gotcha" programs have no appeal to me. Despite some of the more ignorant types fawning over them as wondrous productions, in the end they are on the same level with 10-year old boy's pranks of short-sheeting beds, putting shaving cream into shoes and other such adolescent garbage.


alanborky's picture
Member since:
29 January 2009
Last activity:
3 years 26 weeks

An Idries Shah story goes a high level Sufi student found himself at a party in Hollywood where all the stars of the day were surrounding this practically naked guru type with wild dung caked hair ash smeared skin and necklaces of bloody skulls and bones dangling round his neck.

Listening to the corny platitudes the guru endlessly trots out the student pities the clearly awed stars even as he congratulates himself for being able to see through him.

Then just as the stars now start drifting off to other parts of the room he suddenly rushes across and gasps "Master why're you pretending to be precisely the sort of charlatan you warned me about before I left India?"

"Silence you fool!" hisses the master "The moment they finally cotton on I'm genuine they'll have nothing to do with me!"

Andreakim's picture
Member since:
18 September 2013
Last activity:
3 years 48 weeks

I have seen a lot of films like this in the past. At first any new film excites me because I am a sociologist and I am interested in knowing how other people think. But themes similar to the one conveyed in this film are kind of old.

Dr. Andrea Kim
Professor of Archeology

red pill junkie's picture
Member since:
12 April 2007
Last activity:
6 hours 47 min

Don't all critics agree that there really are only but a handful of themes explored in all literature & film, which get repeated & reinterpreted over & over again? ;)

BTW, welcome to The Grail :)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie