Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of spiritualized medicine with foundations recorded as early as 5,000 BCE. Contemporarily, it has become more globally recognized as a growingly-accepted form of alternative treatment, as official doctorate designations in any country to practice Ayurveda do not currently exist. Dr. Vasant Lad came to the United States with this wellness system in the late 1970s, effectively triggering an exponential worldwide interest; and Jeremy Frindel has attempted to document the man’s impact on concurrent medicine. The Doctor from India radiates effortlessly with a heartfelt earnestness, however, its highly variable technical qualities, meandering direction, and narrow echo-chambered viewpoints blur the line between an introspective commentary and a lightly-veiled protoscience sales pitch.
While traipsing his early life and career in India, forming a family, and eventual partial migration to the United States, the narrative torch also passes to the present day, where Lad attends to the clients of his United States and Indian clinics, and lectures and workshops around the world. While the primary fuel is provided by extensive interviews and discussions with Lad, several other prominent figures in Ayurveda speak on his impact and their personal investments in the practice. All of this is bolstered by occasional animated sequences, illustrating specific lifestyle points made by Lad and his colleagues.
“…his soft-spoken demeanor and open humbleness are highly attractive qualities in a spiritually-inclined doctor…”
Though Lad is a thoroughly intriguing subject; his soft-spoken demeanor and open humbleness highly attractive qualities in a spiritually-inclined doctor, the film takes minimal efforts to cohere his pontifications and experiences into concrete points. Much of the documentary is spent painting as broad a portrait as possible on Ayurveda and Lad’s role in popularizing it and relying on such a narrow selection of interview perspectives, few legitimate positions are actually logically proven. This would not be as large a point of contention if the filmmakers had settled on whether or not this film was about their titular doctor or Ayurveda (neither side decidedly plants a foot).
This contextual frustration is amplified by the filmmakers’ non-addressment of Ayurveda’s detractors other than a simple dismissal of supposed limited life experience. While controlled laboratory settings suggest its possibilities to develop into an effective treatment, little to no evidence is present that the system is exclusively effective; and this was a perfect opportunity for the community to address this pitfall in its apparent efficacy.
“…re-incorporate our ancient health systems into contemporary medical sciences, there is much we need still must learn…”
Jimmy Ferguson’s cinematography is a slosh of traditional interviews and observational footage, managing flourishes of visual fascination, though primarily maintaining an overly standard flair. Frindel’s editing is mish-mashed together, stumbling so often it never establishes a consistent rhythm, and sorely lacks effective segment segues (often retreating back to Lad’s timeline when it runs out of steam on a half-baked point). However, Rachel Grimes’ musical score is the most persistently intolerable element, as it never seems to shut up; and as it is mixed quite loud compared to the diegetic audio, many of the more subtle moments of the film are buried under the melodramatic tones and chords that only cheapen the final experience (some moments impress like 1990s televangelist infomercials).
As we continue to re-incorporate our ancient health systems into contemporary medical sciences, there is much we need still must learn about what constitutes healthy living. While the debate still rages about the utility of Ayurveda, Lad continues to be a source of inspiration and healing to the communities he and his clinics serve. The Doctor from India spotlights a niche of the human culture well worth exploring, though it so hamfisted and scatterbrained, that it is almost a disservice to its subject’s credibility.
The Doctor from India (2018) Directed by Jeremy Frindel. Starring Vasant Lad, Usha Lad, Robert Svoboda, Deepak Chopra.
★★ / ☆☆☆☆☆