Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Want to see a lengthy Ayurveda infomercial? Try Jeremy Frindel's THE DOCTOR FROM INDIA

What's Ayurveda? Well, according to the press release for the movie covered here -- THE DOCTOR FROM INDIA. directed and edited by Jeremy Frindel -- "Ayurveda is considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science still in practice. In Sanskrit, Ayurveda translates roughly to 'The Science of Life.' Ayurveda is the art of daily living in harmony with the laws of nature. Working through entirely natural means to maintain the health of a healthy person, and to heal the disease of an unhealthy person. Ayurveda is not a passive therapy but rather asks each individual to take responsibility for his or her own health through their diet, relationships and activities, and to take simple actions towards prevention, self-healing and growth towards fulfillment."

All of the above certainly sounds like something that you or I might want to practice, maybe in conjunction with the occasional antibiotic or knee/hip replacement, as we grow older. But as given us by Mr. Frindel (shown at right) and his leading character in this documentary, Dr. Vasant Lad (shown below, right), the holistic health practitioner who first brought Ayurveda from India to the west in the late 1970s, this healing process seems much more like a "replacement" for the medicine that most of us know (and probably don't particularly love).

From what we see and hear here, Dr. Lad appears to be a pretty good lad, overall. As the movie begins, the doc's day does, too, as he opens up shop in India. Though he now lives in the USA, he returns yearly to the sub-continent and to his birthplace in Pune. We learn of his family history (his dad worked for India's freedom, back in the day, and was jailed by the British for his effort. We also learn how Dr. Lad's marriage to a woman of his choosing alienated him (and his bride) from his own family -- though over time this rift has apparently healed.

So far as Ayurveda is concerned, we are told how its gurus compare to mother turtles, we see free treatment and free medicine being given to those in need, and learn something of the Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico. There's some charming animated explanation along the way, and then one of our interviewee's notes that "Integrated medicine is the future of medicine." So far, so-so. Then we're told of the "magical" (that is the word used here, I believe) healing of Lad's own son, followed by one of our interviewees' description of the good doctor in the following fashion: "He's a Yogi, he's a psychic, he's a healer." If, by this time, some red flags (or silver alerts) have not been raised, they certainly will be now.

Dr. Lad does seem like an awfully nice guy (if there are any problems concerning the fellow, you're never going to see them in a film like this), and while Ayurveda and its Ayurvedic Institute do appear to be thriving and are probably very financially successful businesses, so what? Could the filmmakers not have found a single important person in our own medical establishment to confirm any positive accomplishment of Ayurveda or Dr. Lad? Surely a few such people are out there? Or maybe not. The bona fides of the folk who are interviewed here do not strike me as anything special. They're Ayurveda boosters, first and last. Excuses are made for why Ayurveda has not overtaken (or maybe taken over) standard medicine, as it were. But an excuse is still an excuse -- even if it sounds a bit better than "the dog ate my homework."

To add to the negativity, further along the way, we hear more and more "God" stuff -- which for me, as an agnostic-tending toward-atheism, is not helpful. Then, toward the latter section of the film, we learn that the Transcendental Meditation movement wanted at one point to fold Ayurveda, along with Dr. Lad, into its own organization. Nothing doing! So instead TM brought Deepak Chopra (shown below with the film's director) and his version of Ayurveda into its welcoming arms.

By the time we see and hear our good doctor explaining to his acolytes that "Modern science is just moonshine; Ayurveda is sunshine," you may suddenly realize, "Oh, shit -- I've just spent an hour-and-a-half of my life watching a goddamned Ayurveda infomercial!" Instead of making me interested in learning more about Ayurveda, this movie succeeded mostly in closing my mind.

From Zeitgeist Films  (in whom I must say I am disappointment for releasing an "advertorial" in the guise of an actual documentary) and Kino Lorber, the movie opens this Friday, June 1, in New York City at the Quad Cinema. Its theatrical run in Los Angeles is restricted to one day only at several Laemmle theaters, and the movie will also open across the country in another dozen cities. Here in South Florida look for it to screen one day only on June 16 at the O Cinema, Miami. To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and scroll down.

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