Starring Victor Banerjee, Leonidas Gulaptis
Directed by Pavan Kaul
Rating: *** ½ (3 and a half stars)
“There is true kinship only with God,” says the film’s young protagonist Walter as he rapturously ricochets towards the centre of his cosmos, the spiritual guru Paramhansa Yogananda, played with a beguiling blend of the haughty and the naughty by the extraordinarily talented Victor Banerjee.
It’s been quite a while since we saw Banerjee in action. For those who have forgotten what miraculous alchemy he can perform with his personality, here is proof in the plotting. Bannerjee embraces Yogananda’s godliness unconditionally and makes the man’s teachings his own. So intimately is Bannerjee shown connected with the rather unorthodox beliefs and thoughts of Yogananda (this Godman brought Jesus Christ into the same line of vision as the Bhagvat Gita) that we are soon left watching not the actor but the mesmerizing Saint with the childlike smile and his artless connectivity with the Universe.
However, this is not a biopic about Yogananda. It is about his relationship with his favourite disciple Walter, an American seeker of the truth, played by Leonidas Gulaptis, a young untrained actor with the bluest eyes on this side of the Pacific Ocean. Gulaptis plays the beloved disciple with a mixture of awe and acquiescence. It is almost like what Ranjeesh shared with Ma Sheela except that there is no sex between the Godman and his disciple in this case, though early in the story when Yogananda meets Walter for the first time the latter confesses sex is a weakness.
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Though patchy in parts and low on production values, the central relationship between the Guru and the disciple holds up with tremendous persuasiveness in this evangelical film. There are moments of spiritual awakening in the plot done with such integrity that they move you to tears. While the supporting cast is frequently amateurish Bannerjee and Gulaptis create a certain kind of rare and precious frisson and magic on screen that must be seen to be believed. The film is worth our time even if some of us are non-believers.