Truth From A False Prophet: An Interview with Kumare
What would you do if suddenly people thought you were their guru? What if you started an experiment to poke holes in the yoga industry and realized people are SO desperate for spiritual guidance, they’d follow anyone, even a 30-something Indian guy with a fake Indian accent?
In 2011, Vikram Gandhi set out for answers and created a mock-umentary called Kumare. The opening line sheds light on what he learned: 'Faith begins as an experiment and ends as an experience’. Now, 5 years later, and in anticipation of his talk at Symbiosis with JP Sears - which you can learn about here - I set out to find out more about Vikram’s journey post-Kumare.
AF: Can you tell us about your career pre-Kumare?
VG: I ran a production company and directed commercials. I was in New York City and part of the rat race.
AF: So what inspired you to make the film, and how did you pull it off?
VG: I was skeptical of the yoga industry. I wondered, who are these people dressing up like gurus? I interviewed several people. I even interviewed Bikram Choudhury. I found out that is hard to find out who people really are on the inside as many people put on their 'yoga face'. So I thought: What if I became one of these guys?
I taught a yoga class, built a rudimentary website, and had a friend tell people I was his guru. I made up asanas, mantras, rituals, and even performed a ritual where I shot energy from my forehead into other people's foreheads! But, I also listened to people, made eye contact, asked them what they were gong through and that's what made an impact.
AF: How do you feel about the industry of yoga now, 5 years later?
VG: Well, I just stopped caring about the yoga industry and started caring about yoga again. I AM more interested in what was positive about the experience of making Kumare . I've learned so much from practicing yoga and meditation. We ALL have to find our way. It's not just wearing the right pants or going to a studio that's cool. I don't look for wisdom in the industry.
AF: You've been called an Enlightened Prankster. Do you identify with that?
VG: That's cool - I'll take it! I think satire is a great way to communicate. There's something in the way a joke or a prank can teach us all a lesson. And this is not new - history is filled with riddles that are supposed to give us a spark of enlightenment. For example: Zen Koans.
AF: Do you think our Western values have corrupted India as well? For example: Baba Ramdev selling Patanjali jeans?
VG: India has been selling goods and products around deities for centuries. We are ALL sell outs! The U.S. hyper-accelerates this process. We naturally believe that associating with something spiritual, such as an icon from the East, can make us happier. I believe this logic is flawed. If you are looking for inner peace, there is nothing you can buy to get you there.
AF: This weekend, you’re going to be at Symbiosis with lots of famous yoga teachers and maybe even a few gurus - what advice can you offer to those seeking guidance in such a place?
VG: The idea of Kumare is to stop grasping and looking for an answer outside of yourself.
AF: So how can we each be our OWN guru? What has worked for you?
VG: The first step Kumare says is: Decide to do a few things differently - write them down and just DO them! Less talk, more action. Do what you say you want to do.
AF: Did you ever, at any point in filming, start to believe you were the guru Kumare?
VG: Well, as a film director you have to be a leader of some kind and you have to have the philosophy almost as if you were creating a religion, albeit a temporary one. What sustains Independent Film is having everyone around you believing in it. I learned you can be a leader without having an ego or taking it personally and great things can come from that. As far as identifying as a guru - I don't believe in gurus, so there was no risk of that.
What I did realize is that if you connect with people and really listen to them, they see you in a better light. It has definitely allowed me to be someone who listens to people and is has also made me a more patient interviewer. I'm more aware if I'm distracted or not listening when someone’s speaking. When we filmed Kumare, I didn’t look at a phone for 4 months!
AF: Do you still stay connected with the people from the documentary?
VG: I have stayed in touch with a number of the students from the film. I have tried to have everyone involved in the release and I have grown to be close friends with a few of them. I even ran into people from the film at Burning Man actually and then performed their wedding one year after the movie was released! Most people know me, Vikram, better than they ever did Kumare.
For more info on Kumare and Vikram Gandhi at Symbiosis, please visit their website.