16 May 2012

Film Review: Samsara (2001), by Pan Nalin, ****


The film was released in 2001 and remains a classic in its genre. A spiritual love-story set in the majestic landscape of Ladakh, Himalayas. Samsara is a quest; one man's struggle to find spiritual Enlightenment by renouncing the world. And one woman's struggle to keep her enlightened love and life in the world. But their destiny turns, twists and comes to a surprise ending... Written by Monsoon Films. Tashi has been raised as a Buddhist monk since age five. When he gets erotic phantasms as an adolescent, his spiritual master decides it's time to taste profane life, sending him on a journey in the real Himalayan world. Once he is told his hottest dream was real, Tashi decides to leave the monastery and marries Pema, the daughter of a rich farmer, who was actually engaged with local stone-mason Jamayang. The ex-lama soon becomes a rich land-owner himself, and makes a killing from his harvest by bringing it to the city instead of selling at half price to the local merchant Dewa, but half of his next harvest perishes in a fire, yet he comes trough and raises a bright son, Karma. After committing infidelity, contemplated for years, and as he later hears from the promiscuous Indian labourer girl, Tashi reconsiders his life... Written by KGF Vissers


Having travelled to Ladakh several times (you can read my travel diaries in Italian here and here). I was moved by this film. I have recognized many places I visited and could fully grasp the mystical atmosphere of the location, which perhaps is difficult to do without having been there.

The film is one more representation of the dilemma of the Buddha, torn between a life on this world, with a family and a kid, and total devotion to his spiritual development. It is a dilemma that knows no obvious or final solution.

I admit I was also struck by the intense eroticism of several scenes, which in my view is entirely appropriate for a movie about Buddhism, a philosophy that does not condemn the pleasures of sex. It is also particularly appropriate for a movie shot in India, where Buddhism and Hinduism (the religion that produced Kama Sutra) have interacted for centuries.

The final part of the movie is also telling: the protagonist's wife, Pema, invokes Yashodhara, Buddha's wife. While the world has identified with Buddha's plight and dilemma for millennia, no one ever seems to care about her, who in the end pays the heaviest price for the choices of her husband.

Acting is good, and Christy Chung lives up to expectations. The scenery is breathtaking and it alone justifies watching this film.

You may want to read this book about Buddha's wife.

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