'Awake: The Life of Yogananda' - Movie Review

'Awake: The Life of Yogananda'
U; Biography
Director: Paola di Florio, Lisa Leeman
Cast: Krishna Das, George Harrison, Deepak Chopra

Awake: The Life of Yogananda
Awake is a unique experience, one that is completely immersive and paradoxically sublime

AWAKE: The Life of Yogananda is an unconventional biography in documentary form about the spiritual guru who made Vedic teachings accessible to a modern audience, largely the West.

Paramahansa Yogananda brought yoga and meditation to the West in the 1920s and is noted for authoring the all-time sell-out spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi, a go-to book for seekers, philosophers and yoga enthusiasts today. It has been rumoured to be the only book that Steve Jobs had on his iPad — such is the power of this guru, who, by personalising his own quest for enlightenment and sharing his struggles along the path, made the teachings of the Vedas simple enough to attract millions of followers and yoga practitioners.

This documentary, filmed over three years with 30 countries participating, examines the world of yoga, contrasting modern and ancient, East and West while exploring why people from across the world have made conscious lifestyle changes, bucking the trend towards crass materialism and seeking enlightenment through the pursuit of self-realisation. It intersperses archival material (old sepia tinged photos and stock footage) from Yogananda’s life (upto 1952 when he passed away) with interviews of famous personalities including the likes of George Harrison (lead guitarist of The Beatles), late Ravi Shankar (world renowned musician), Deepak Chopra (holistic health pioneer), Krishna Das (famous Kirtan musician) and many renowned spiritual gurus and other experts in the field.

It also includes metaphoric imagery taking us on a journey into the rich and divine past that spans the length and breadth of the spiritualised world — from holy pilgrimages in India to Harvard’s Divinity School to Centre of Science and Spirituality in Pennsylvania to Chopra Centre in Carlsbad, California and many more such beacons of spiritual learning.

Through its process of interviews and recreations that include his apprenticeship with his own guru to his triumphant introduction of Hindu spirituality to America, the scandal that almost destroyed him, and the creation of the revered classic memoir, The Autobiography of a Yogi, this documentary hopes to transpose the human quest — evoking the journey of the soul seeking dissociation from ego and materialism while striving for an immersion into unseen realms. The pace may be slow, but the narrative is compelling while the involvement is near total. This is a voyage of discovery of the self through life experiences and Vedic teachings. Awake is a unique experience, one that is completely immersive and paradoxically sublime.

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