Large screen documentary, retracing the steps of the late 19th century boy yogi, Neelkanth, who walked 8,000 miles across India over seven years, barefoot and bare chested, relying on faith alone to survive the elements. His travels and his belief in tolerance, compassion and peace was built on the notion that the world is one human family and there is unity in diversity. The documentary showcases India's ancient history through architecture and customs, while traveling across the country's varied and spectacular landscape.
Review by Louise Keller:
With its sentiments of brotherhood and peace, the filmmakers' hearts are certainly in the right place. But Mystic India is a hybrid, trying to be all things to all people, coupling the central story of a young yogi setting out on a journey of self-discovery with a travelogue.
Magnified on the giant IMAX screen, this ambitious film excels in showcasing the drama and uniqueness of the land where the snowy peaks of the Himalayas lie in contrast to its barren deserts and fertile plains. From natural wonders such as crystal clear waterfalls, the camera zooms on the intricate carvings of magnificent temples. We embrace the bright colours, and can only marvel at the way flowers are used so effectively in celebrations. Rose petals are flung from the back of an ornately decorated elephant and we become immersed in the musical rhythms and lifestyles of the people.
Peter O'Toole's modulated voice is perfectly suited to the narration, although the script often feels like a travel promotion. We glimpse the mystical India the filmmakers are trying to show us, but only superficially. The story about the eleven year old boy setting out on a seven year journey becomes a distraction.
It may make its point that fearlessness can be found only when we are willing to face our fears head on, but I would have enjoyed the journey more, simply observing the cultures and traditions of this exotic land. Interesting to note that 11,000 children were auditioned to play Neelkanth at both ages, and the total cast numbered at 45,000, a record for any large format film.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
On face value, Mystic India is just a travelogue on the biggest possible screen, to make the biggest possible impact. But it's a documentary dressed up with the spiritual side of India, through the story about an 11-year old boy who leaves home, already a student of yoga and quietly determined to be a yogi when he grows up. It's a wonderful storytelling device, and only the most cynical will sneer at the attempt to capture this spiritual journey for today's audiences. And that's precisely why the production has come about (made by BAPS, an internationally recognized cultural organisation, the film is supported by the Governments of both India and Australia), driven by a genuine desire to provide a tiny window, on a giant screen, into the possibility of tolerant coexistence. If India's 18 languages and 1,600 dialects can talk to each other as fellow countrymen, there is surely hope for the world.
In the week of the film's release, it does seem overly optimistic, as extremist Muslims call for the massacre of infidels who run cartoons of their prophet. And the film is a trifle naïve, a tad simplistic and a bit stilted, but it has such a pure heart we can't but forgive its cinematic weaknesses and embrace its message of peace and tolerance.
Peter O'Toole's narration adds gravitas, even if he does have to repeat 'harmony' once or twice too often, and the visual spectacle that is India when compressed into 40 minutes, even on a giant screen, is overwhelming. Palaces, castles and temples of eye popping grandeur or detail adorn a landscape brimming with promise, while its people are shown as colour obsessed devotees of a spiritual world in which their beasts graze beside them and their rituals recall a thousand years of practice.
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MYSTIC INDIA (G)
CAST: Latesh Patel
NARRATION: Peter O'Toole
PRODUCER: Brian Rogers (for BAPS)
DIRECTOR: Keith Melton
SCRIPT: Mose Richards
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Reed Smoot ASC
EDITOR: Harry B. Miller III
MUSIC: Sam Cardon, Pandit Ronu Majumdar
RUNNING TIME: 40 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: IMAX
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 9, 2006 (Sydney); October 19, 2006 (Melbourne)