Combustible Celluloid Review - Ayurveda: The Art of Being (2001), Pan Nalin, Pan Nalin, Dr. Scott Gerson, Brahmanand Swamigal, Vaidya Narayan Murthy, Dr. Nicolos Kostopoulos
Combustible Celluloid
With: Dr. Scott Gerson, Brahmanand Swamigal, Vaidya Narayan Murthy, Dr. Nicolos Kostopoulos
Written by: Pan Nalin
Directed by: Pan Nalin
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Hindi, English with English subtitles
Running Time: 101
Date: 09/20/2001

Ayurveda: The Art of Being (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A Taste of Our Own Medicine

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening today at the Roxie, Ayurveda: The Art of Being takes perhaps the first swing in the battle between the medicine of science and the medicine of tradition. It's a battle that will most likely continue to escalate in the coming decades. For now, Americans are beginning to turn to holistic medicine as a matter of last chance. Witness the scene in Man on the Moon when a cancer-riddled Andy Kaufman (Jim Carrey) travels East to try unconventional medicine after all else has failed.

But what can you say about the increased number of Ayurveda books printed and sold around the world (500 this year and next year alone, according to the press notes)? I've already seen some cynical gut-reaction reviews of this new film, reviews from people who immediately resisted the idea of holistic health and scoffed at everything the film had to say. But San Francisco is a bit more open-minded than other parts of the world, and I suspect that many viewers here will find something worthy.

Admittedly, director Nalin Pan doesn't do much to weigh any arguments one way or the other. He simply presents his point of view that Ayurveda works. No question. Pan introduces us to various "doctors," experts of the practice. The first introduces us to the idea of the body's fundamental energies -- Vata, Pitta and Kapha -- which stem from the elements Space, Air, Water, Earth and Fire. If these energies become unbalanced, the body gets sick. It's as simple as that. The doctor can find the balance simply by analyzing a person's hands; he can then prescribe a cure.

The film shows us another method of diagnosis called "mudscanning." The patient is covered in mud and sits in the sun for an hour. When the mud comes off, little red marks on the body show where things are off-kilter. Another doctor sits in a hut while villagers line up outside. For each one, no matter what the problem, he prescribes a handful of tree bark to be taken in different ways. The bark cures everything from cancer to excess gas. (The doctor scoffs at the gas man: "Gas isn't a sickness!" What a bedside manner!)

Yet another practitioner shows the various methods of changing ordinary rocks or gems into medicines. Apparently, in the wrong form these items can kill but in the right form they cure hundreds of ailments, including AIDS. One rock needs to be encased in a clay pot, sealed with cow dung and baked in the sun for 14 hours. (I couldn't help wondering how many centuries it took to come up with this particular formula.)

The film does take a few gentle pokes at Western medicine and the way our doctors tend to get rich from their skills. The doctors in the film subscribe more to the Patch Adams method: Treat the person and not the disease. Ayurveda also strays off the beaten path for a look at an American laughing club, where folks gather to make faces and funny noises and whip themselves up into a laughing frenzy. It fits; we've all heard stories of sick people laughing themselves well by watching funny movies. It helps, when watching Ayurveda, to have just a little bit of faith.

Filmmaker Pan (whose upcoming fiction film, Samsara, will be released by Miramax) doesn't probe very far beyond the "miracle cure" state. At one point, an old man comes in shaking and spasming uncontrollably. The doctor studies his body energies, gives him a rubdown, and the man walks away, perfectly normal. Is this a trick or the real thing? It seems convincing enough. And it would be awfully nice to believe that it's true. As the film is playing during the first anniversary of 9/11, a little hope can only be a good thing.

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