Documentary Review: The Road to Vrindavan

Entertaining while ‘engendering’ a vital debate about education.

The time limited link to watch this documentary is here:

Previous portrayals of the poor, street, and slum, life of places like Bombay as depicted in Shantaram, the 2003 novel by Gregory David Roberts, and perhaps like the novel itself, first appeared as an illuminating western perspective until it became quite obviously incredulous and lacking genuine context, even for fiction. The welfare of India’s poorest young girls is a topic the west and east have little discussed but still mostly disagreed upon.

This was most notable perhaps when the late polemicist Christopher Hitchens published his book “The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice” in which Hitch criticized her efforts to alleviate the suffering of Calcutta’s poor and claimed, outside his assessment of her character, that those efforts since based in religious dogma and motives, ensured that the wretched situation there was actually compounded by such interference. Hitch went on to explain that the one thing that has positively changed life outcomes for poor young women is ensuring that they have sovereignty over their own bodies. The long and arduous route to that societal shift in the subcontinent of India must obviously traverse education.

A snatched still from a single moment of the journey in the documentary.

The Road to Vrindavan begins with its creator Ravi Chambers understanding that immersing himself in even the planning of the central arduous journey at the centre of the film may somehow echo his previous unintended exclusion of those most dear and closest to him, as he acknowledges the effects on others of his other journey to Vrindavan as a Hare Krsna monk twenty years previously.

Jeff Gomez has in recent years articulated the shift from Campbell’s heroic journey to concepts around shared storytelling, the collaborative creation of story universes to inclusive, transmedia, and an expansive equality inspired ‘collective journey’ this very personal documentary film by necessity requires a sort of simpler immersion in the individual threads of our collective imagination.

Interviewees along Ravi’s fund raising and fact finding journey introduce terms like ‘significant importance’ and ‘authentic’ with respect to Indian Culture, Indian Tradition, and the defined roles assigned to men and women in their society. Ravi conducts his interviews with a forthright sensitivity and perhaps because of the subject matter, the obvious emotional, intellectual, physical, and maybe spiritual investments he’s making in this documentary this ensures it becomes a rich tapestry of all these elements, from the natural splendour of the countryside to the sprawling human hubbub of various urban spaces, to fresh faces of young girls each of whom has her own individual special story, the vibrancy of colour, the texture of personality and ultimately the exploration of possibility.

Just as with the ideas within it, the film itself expands its intellectual, theoretical, and ultimately sociological breath to broaden the question beyond simply the education of young girls, it does so without ever resorting to becoming academic or abstract, issues with inheriting the wisdom within tradition, societal evolution without inherently damaged historicity swamping progress, become developing backdrops to the imperative questioning at the centre of the documentary.

Here I must confess my personal connection to this story as I am a long time family friend of Ravi’s parents, but this story while about cultural, societal, gender, community, and broader questions, is ultimately about these personal stories, and the relationships between them, it is about men and women, parents and their children, what is acceptable to us as individuals and as parts of our communities, what are our responsibilities to each?

The Road to Vrindavan is a timely and very well produced reminder about individual and collective bravery, gender roles, rights, and gender sensitization at a time when violence against women is on the National agenda in India. Unlike that book Shantaram, the truth and authenticity of ‘The Road to Vrindavan’ increase as the documentary itself evolves, ‘be inspired films’ has delivered a film really worth watching and certainly a documentary very much worth discussing. Go watch it and Enjoy…

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