Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rupam Sarmah's IN SEARCH OF GOD: a kind of religious-style 60-minute gourmet

Among the stranger theatrical releases in recent weeks (years?), IN SEARCH OF GOD -- a 60-minute documentary conceived and directed by Rupam Sarmahshown below, that has television written all over it (at least via its minimal running time) -- purports to show us the spiritual journey taken its protagonist, Kavita, an American girl of East Indian descent, from the depths of atavistic materialism into the realm of spirituality and god.

That our young lady looks (below) and sounds like the very personification of an East Indian "Valley Girl" adds immeasurably to the unintentional humor of the film. When she arrives in India, she gasps, "It's so beautiful!" in near-perfect Valley Girl intonation. Halfway through the film, after her consciousness has been considerably raised and upon visiting a new location, "It's so beautiful here!" she gasps again. Truthfully, either place sure beats out the scene of her strutting along the streets of Hollywood, as photographed in her more materialistic incarnation, below.

Though you may initially wonder if this whole thing is a joke or maybe a put-on, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that it is not. In Search of God may be a kind of "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" for would-be acolytes of eastern philosophy and religion, but it is serious. Or means to be. As Kavita wends her way around India, she hooks up with a young monk named Ram ("He's a lot cuter than most monks," she explains to us), who guides her from tribal villages to temples, dance and theater concerts to a crazy/holy man who lives, it is said, upon air (below).

In one of Kavita's more cogent moments, she tells us that this fellow's life style seems a bit extreme but that his words make sense. We watch as some cross-dressing monks perform an interesting dance, and later we visit an artist who creates fascinating masks and puppet-like characters (below). Then comes a museum tour in which Ram explains various objects. All along the way, with everything reduced to a kind of eastern-tinged sound bite, the philosophy (which may be true for all I know) still comes across as cheapjack. (The question, What is the purpose of life is actually asked here, and an answer given! Sorry: no spoilers.)

We get a gander at Gandhi (below), and eventually we visit Ram's home town and meet three generations: child, adult and senior. At one point along the way, a dog wanders into the camera frame and, for a moment, we get the kind of reality missing elsewhere. And although the movie and its spiritual seers keep making a point of how bonded all major religions are to each other in their final goal (it's just the pathway that differs), it may still come as some-thing of a shock to viewers later in the movie to hear one fellow tell us, "If you choose the right path , you go to heaven. If you don't, you go to hell." Really? And what religion is that, pray tell?

Finally all of this seems beside the point. The real question concerns Kavita's journey and change. Who is/was this girl? We really never know. And why is her story any better or more interesting than that of so many others who have journeyed to India for enlightenment? Truth be told, it is not. It's just another tale of faith pricked into some kind of consciousness. And faith, as we should know by now, is an awfully personal (maybe even private) thing on which to hang an hour-long movie full of the kind of heavy-duty philosophy and questioning that have plagued mankind of centuries.

The movie, if it works at all, might be best shown (and probably will be) as a training/propaganda film for possible converts. In Search of God, distributed by RJ International, opens this coming Friday, September 23, for a week's run at the IFC Center inNew York City and at Laemmle's Sunset 5 in Los Angeles.


Anonymous said...

It's a FEEL-GOOD kind of movie ... it is a bit spiritual and philosophical. Do not watch this movie thinking of Avatar or hollywood mainstream pic. You may not like it. Watch this movie with an open mind and to learn about reality of life.

We got a chance to enjoy Rupam Sarmah's movie in Houston festival last night and it was absolutely mind-blowing to watch In search of god. The scenic view of the island was amazing. Being a music and drama veteran, the music in this film is extraordinary, classic, non-stop traditional and fusion music throughout the film. The film touched our heart, we can relate our life to this film. Kavita and Ram did a superb job. Do we have time to think anything else outside of our day to day monotonous, running-after-money kinda life..?? No, we do not. We end our life without doing anything great for others and we do not realize it until it's too late. This film is an inspiration for us to do good to other people and to this world, as Kavita says. Thank you sarmah for making this unusual film. It touched our heart deep inside.

James van Maanen, said...

Thank you, Anonymous (though I do wonder why you couldn't use your real name). I am sorry the movie didn't touch my heart, too, but them's the breaks. At least I didn't hate the film, and I will look forward to seeing what Mr. Sarmah does next.

Love Only No Hatred said...

We also watched this movie and few others - 2 movies really we liked - i am Kalam and In Search of God. We enjoyed both the movies so much. Both of these movies touched our heart. Thanks to Rupam, Kavita, Ram, Samuel and the crew for giving us a wonderful film. we hope both the films win.

We noticed that some people are more adaptable to other cultures and understand the reality of life much better.

People who have learnt to appreciate people - other cultures, other religions, they would like this movie, other people may not. They do not know what they do not know or what they have not seen in life. In rich countries, they may not have seen underprivileged children, lack of water and lack of daily essentials, etc. Some of the comments in the review is pretty blunt and offensive - shows clearly lack of understanding and knowledge about the subject-- Thank you sir at least you did not hate the film.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks for your comment, too, LOVE ONLY NO HATRED. It's good to know that this movie is reaching someone.

As to your comments about some people not understanding other cultures and other religions, or not having seen underprivileged children, lack of water and lack of daily essentials, etc., well, many of us have seen exactly this sort of thing in many other movies -- most of them better thought out and better made than In Search of God. But perhaps for those who have seen relatively few documentaries, this movie will suffice.

Anonymous said...

i am a history student and want to do some research about majulli island, its arts & culture, religion that was the plot in the movie. would like to travel there. i loved the movie, meaningful and fascinating... ...glad to know that in search of god received the best documentary award. thanks to sarmah and team for sending a good message about oneness in god and showed us what we have never seen before about this island.. thanks

Anonymous said...

Highly recommend this movie -- positive message and eye opener. Reminds me of Steve Jobs (RIP). Listen to your heart -- do not get stuck with what you have -- keep looking. Rupam Sarmah's film sends a great message - he was not afraid to ask the big questions in life. Kavita and Ram's reflection of life and spiritual journey touched us. Quote from Gandhi says it all.

ACADEMY -- please watch this movie. You will find something extraordinary in this film that people and today's world need.

James van Maanen, said...

Huh? This reminded you of Steve Jobs? Well, I guess, as they say, that's what makes horse races. This has about as much to do with Steve Jobs, his life and career, as it does with Santa Claus. Wasn't Jobs that creative innovator who started Apple, or am I mistaking him for a sweet and mindless young woman who goes off to India in search of.... oh, right, the big G? Whatever, I am beginning to find all these comments (about a movie that few are going to see) a bit much. And most of them posted anonymously, at that!

chanpatra said...

understandable ...I recommend taking zen classes here in SFO as one of the greatest human being and innovator followed buddhism and traveled to India to search for the meaning of life .. .. check it out


James van Maanen, said...

The link above is to an article that recently appeared in the India Times that is quite simply incorrect. The California-based director-turned-composer has NOT, as the article would have it, "bagged an Oscar nomination for his documentary feature, IN SEARCH OF GOD." Instead, his score for the film,along with literally dozens of other scores, has been declared eligible to be nominated for an Oscar. There is a BIG difference between "eligible for nomination" and "actually nominated," and the author of the article should have known that fact and made it clear.