Friday, March 22, 2013

Kumare: Like Borat With A Point

I watched this independent film, Kumare, last night on Netflix streaming. The premise intrigued me. I'll only say a little about it but really thought it was one of the best things I've seen recently. Thought provoking.

A young filmmaker, Vikram Gandhi, raised in a devout Hindu home in New Jersey, begins to question the veracity of spiritual experience. As he grows older, his cynicism blossoms into full-blown doubt. Although he remembers with fondness his own grandmother and her praying Hindu chants and practicing the rites, he believes that spiritual experience is more or less a sham. To prove the point, he takes on a made up identity of a guru named Kumare. He grew out a beard, wore the saffron robe, put a bemused fish-out-of-water look in his eyes and took his grandmother's thick Indian accent.

I was thinking he was a bit like Borat but with heart.

After training in yoga and meeting yogis from India and, I believe, elsewhere, he starts his own following and spreads his made-up spirituality to a group of mostly white middle-aged people ranging from a capital defense lawyer to a recovering drug addict.

I must admit, the last few minutes made my palms sweat.

Gandhi as Kumare affirms his followers with his simple words of positivity. His touching and hugging fulfill their needs for affirmation and at the end, it takes a toll.

At the end of the movie, one of Gandhi's cooperators tells the followers that rituals are good as they veil themselves and prepare for another session. They do so and launch into the made-up Kumare song.

I think of our faith, our rituals, our tradition, our morals and just about us...Catholics.

In the 90's, there was a bloom of priest-prophets. They were exorcists, preachers, healers,heresy-fighters and moralists. At one point, it got so out of control that even bishops were doing the guru thing, and the pope had to reign it in.

The rock-star guru priest was still around when I was newly ordained. People would flock to seminars and workshops not to hear a message but to marvel at the messenger. I was constantly met with wide-eyed people telling me of the powerful Fr. John Corapi (people a fellow priest would call "Corapi-ites") or the pastorally groovy Fr. John Shea. Both men no longer serving as priests. There are so many more as well.

I find comfort that our religion has never proposed to be a spirituality. To our fault, people who claim to be "seekers of spirituality" are rarely comfortable with our traditions and uniformity. They aren't happy with knowing there may be borders around their desires and that although we believe in love and tolerance, we also hold stronger to obedience, service and fidelity.

This is the crux of what we were all nuts about a couple weeks ago: Our Pope is not our guru or our spiritual master. He's the one who holds us to the tradition and faith. That's why he loses himself and gets a new name.

This one chose Francis, a guru-like figure with a following for sure, but who also became who we was because of the Church and it's head, Christ. He never wanted to be someone who was "god" to others.

And the Church doesn't allow for it. That's why priests and professed are to be obedient to their superiors. It keeps them from going all rock star. And fake.

Rock stars fade away or wrestle for relevance.

That shouldn't be the fight for religious people.

Gandhi, in an op-ed with the Huffington Post says this:

It was not a matter of fooling people -- everyone from the footsteps of the Himalayas to the Mexican Border believed in Kumaré. I suspect this is not because I am a great actor, but because Kumaré is a dream worth believing in. Being a fictional spiritual leader has a lot more rules than being a real a guru. No money can be earned. No temptation can be acted upon. My character only saw the highest in people, his 'motivation' was to make them happy -- to trick people to be happy.
At Q&A's, people ask me if I'm still as critical of spiritual leaders as I was when I started. I can say now that I understand why we have spiritual leaders, and how slippery the slope is from hero to villain, when one takes on that role. I may be more sympathetic now, but I still always think back to something Kumaré once said: "It is you real gurus that make us fake gurus so necessary."