I don’t usually find myself in awkward or uneasy interviews, but recently my chat on Checkitow with Vikram Gandhi, the filmmaker behind the new Hulu documentary 69: The Saga of Danny Hernandez had a thick, viscous overlay of contemptuous tension you could have cut with a butter knife.
I have to be honest, as someone who considers themselves spiritual and who finds the various world religions (especially Eastern ones) to be useful to my personal development, I had as much of an issue going into this interview with Gandhi, as he had with me while I made him wait to get started (we’ll get into that part later).
Gandhi made his name a few years ago with the riveting documentary Kumare, a film I love and hate. I love the fact that in the end, the film admits the positive consequences a spiritual path can have on many people. What I hate about it, is that the premise of Kumare sets out to mock believers and what they believe as a bunch of bulls****. The devout, professional doubter who sets out to rain on spiritual people’s parade has become pedantic.
Now, what is evident in Kumare (and 69) is that Gandhi’s filmmaking, his tonal gravitas, his structure and his cinematography are top notch. His talent is unquestioned. His product is pristine. But my God, does this guy have an arrogant blind spot. Everything about him and his work say he’s a Mr. Know-It-All.
After watching his latest film, a documentary about a controversial artist that I have grown to be fascinated by, Tekashi 69, and finding it to be one-sided, incomplete, and heavy on the haterade, it cemented a baseline of contempt I had for Vikram. After all, I know he hates spirituality, and he hates Tekashi. So far, I have little-to-nothing in common with him.
Unsurprisingly, the interview starts off poorly. And the fault was with me. I was doing a Zoom over my phone, and when we started I had to ask him to wait because I realized I needed more space for this recording. It took about 45 seconds, but they felt like 45 hours, because you know how tech works when you’re in a pinch…it doesn’t. Gandhi’s face during this delay wore an expression so full of disdain – coupled with the furling brow, over-it exhales, and ultimately the dreaded index finger on the temple – that it was clear, 45 seconds into being in my life, and he already hates every single one of my guts.
So finally, I made the space by deleting the video I took of myself snowboarding in Big Bear. What sucks about that is now the only footage (proof) of me snowboarding is on my Shaman Stefan’s phone. And he’s being a d*** about sending me the video because he has an iPhone and I have a Galaxy, and he hates me for it. He’s always moaning about the fact he can’t send me voice notes over text, which is exactly what is keeping me from buying an iPhone. The last thing I need is the expectation that I’ll be listening to my Shaman’s voice notes all day. But that is another story altogether. As per usual, I digress…
…Back to my interview with Vikram Gandhi, who is leering at me through the Zoom. Straight leering. The way this guy was looking at me, even through a screen, will make me carry a self-loathing residue for at least the next three years. But mind you, this is karma (something Vikram believes in, but in the street sense only) since I’m coming into this interview harboring my own issues with this guy. So this is the universe teaching me lessons. ‘Oh you want to talk to this guy you have prejudged and don’t like?’ the Universe says, ‘Well guess what Humberto Carlos Guida, he doesn’t like you right back. Now discuss.’
So we do discuss. We talk about the phenomenon that is Tekashi, the dynamics of his rise, the drama of his personal life, so much of which is entangled in 69’s dangerous online persona. We agree on a lot. Where it gets a little testy is when I question Gandhi’s leaning in on the ubiquitous portrayal of 69 as a snitch. After all, isn’t being kidnaped and extorted by a street gang, and having one of the gang’s leaders – also his ex-manager – sleeping with his baby mama, enough grounds to turn on someone?
Gandhi didn’t like that question. I thought it was fair enough, but this guy is tuned-in, he can tell what I’m working toward and implying. His take is Tekashi used the gang, more than the other way around. Therefore all consequences that come his way are justified, at least in the streets. But he was especially annoyed when I asked why his documentary leaves out any mention of the affair between the gang member and Tekashi’s ex (and mother of his kid) Sara Molina, who is a major voice in this film.
He claps back about not wanting to offer any reason for people to take issue with Molina’s role in Tekashi’s tribulations or give anything up that might be twisted into a justification for the abuse she suffered, emotionally and physically, at the hands of 69 over the course of their publicly rocky relationship. I get that. And if the affair had nothing to do with the set-up of the kidnapping I would totally agree. It should have no place in the film. But it did have something to do with Tekashi’s set up. They were together at the time. The affair between Tekashi’s extortioners and the mother of his child was not only relevant, it’s central to the story line. Unless, of course, you want a black and white depiction of Tekashi – who (spoiler alert) was not interviewed for this film – as the sole instigator of everything that went wrong, and all these other characters who agreed to be interviewed for the film as his innocent victims.
I then go as far as to allege that the reason Gandhi left out the affair, and portrayed the gang members who extorted Tekashi so sympathetically, was that he had made a deal with them to do so in order to get them to appear in his film. At this point Gandhi is not happy with my insinuations and is showing it. I’ll leave the description of the end of our interview out, since you can watch it in its entirety below. I’ll only say that I stand by what I asked, and I stick to what I believe. But I do see Gandhi a little differently. I see much of myself in him.
I have to look in the mirror. He did what he had to to tell the story as he saw it. I’ve done that. You see, that little game Gandhi plays, where at the end of the film he shows us that he did, in fact email off a request to Tekashi’s manager requesting to interview him for this film, only to get turned down is something I’ve done too. If Gandhi wanted to reach Tekashi he could have tried harder, made a call, or maybe offered Tekashi a cut on the profits of a film that features his name and face in the title card. Gandhi didn’t want to speak to 69. That would have complicated things. Tekashi talks too much. Gandhi wanted to focus on the people around Tekashi. And use their take to make his point- basically that Tekashi is a piece of s***. But he needed to demonstrate an attempt to allow him to tell his side. It’s a trick I‘d pull during my old journalism days at the Miami Herald and New Times. Almost all journalists do it. It’s a lazy move that enables you to tell a one-sided story. Email makes it easier. Back in the day you at least had to make a phone call, and hope they don’t pick up, or offer “no comment.”
Anyway, the mirror. Yeah I think I’m a little too much like this guy. While I disagree with Gandhi’s perspective and approach, he has reminded me how stubborn, transfixed, and disagreeable I can sometimes be. I am impatient. Many times, I am convinced of my own convictions and few can convince me otherwise. I judge. And when you judge, you get judged. So I got judged…by the hyper annoyed filmmaker behind a very good, very worth-your-time, very intricately structured, and well-done…but hyper-biased, obtuse, and frankly unfair documentary. You can catch it on Hulu.
And for my memorable interview, click on the link below: