This adaptation of Arnold's 1861 Orientalist epic opens with documentary shots of tourists in Bombay watching street performers. Then a white-bearded old man sitting under the bodhi tree ... See full summary »
This adaptation of Arnold's 1861 Orientalist epic opens with documentary shots of tourists in Bombay watching street performers. Then a white-bearded old man sitting under the bodhi tree tells the tourists the story of Gautama (Rai), son of King Suddodhana (Ukil) and Queen Maya (Bala), who left his consort Gopa (Seeta) and became a wandering teacher credited with founding Buddhism. The religious epic, with its idealized figures, takes up the narrative in flashback and ends with Gopa kneeling before Gautama asking to become his disciple. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Die Leuchte Asiens / Prem Sanyas, co-directed by a German and an Indian, exhibits a strange but fascinating hybrid between exoticism and authenticity.
It tells the very Indian tale of the life of Buddha, but as re-imagined by a British author (Edwin Arnold). It starts with a travelogue of India, which seems there to attract a European audience, but takes care to devote equal time to Muslim and Hindu holy sites, so as not to offend any locals. It attempts to enlighten us about an important Eastern religious figure, but makes sure to include plenty of palm trees, elephants and nubile young Hindi girls, all the trappings of Orientalism. It touches upon Buddhist philosophy, but with a decidedly Christian slant (It would be easy, for instance, to confuse the scene of Buddha teaching with the Sermon of the Mount).
Despite everything, it also has moments where it approaches the Sacred, where it glimpses, however fleetingly, something of the Mystery of Life.
At those moments, like all good Buddhist films, it manages to transcend its own duality.
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