At a time when so many of our cultural icons are falling from grace, and those holding onto their laurels often lack dignity and vision, comes a slew of documentaries on those positive role models whose lives inspire and affirm culture. From “RBG”, the heroic life of Supreme Court Justice, Ruth B Ginsberg, to the genuinely kind and compassionate life of Mr. Rogers (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor”), add the newest film, “The Doctor from India” –a portrait of holistic health pioneer of Dr. Vasant Lad. Jeremy Frindel (One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das) directs this biography on the man who introduced the ancient medical practice of Ayurveda from India to the West in the late 1970s. What distinguishes “The Doctor from India” from these other documentaries is that, while Ginsberg and Rogers are household names, Lad is not. Yet his masterful talents and significant contributions to the West, as well as to his motherland, are clearly noteworthy and deserving of this tender commercial release.
Lad was born in Pune, India in 1943 and barely spoke as a child. So little, in fact, that his father, thinking something was wrong took him to their family’s spiritual teacher. The guru took the boy’s pulses–a principle diagnostic tool of ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest alternative medicine and life sciences. He then instantly affirmed the boy’s health, prophesying that, not only would he be quite the speaker as and adult, but that he would be speaking to audiences around the world. “Doctor from India” starts with the seventy-five year old Lad visiting his birth home, tracking his years as a student, early stages as a doctor, his unorthodox marriage (one made for love and not arranged, as is traditional,) through the establishment of his landmark Ayurvedic Institute (the first in the United States) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
What makes Lad’s journey remarkable is his steadfastness and compassion, his skills that supersede the already extraordinary and elaborate techniques and practices of ayurvedic medicine, and his intuitive acceptance of his life’s mission. Throughout the documentary we see a humble man who is fully present with everyone that he encounters, a man that can go directly to the psychological, physical, emotional, spiritual stresses of his patients, even diagnosing a patient’s ailing mother who wasn’t present in the room just by feeling his particular pulse. Equally impressive is when this unassuming scholar turned down an offer from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi–spiritual guru and leader of the worldwide Transcendental Meditation organization—that would have made Lad a household name, sealing his fame and fortune. In his stead, that golden baton was passed onto New Age sensation, Deepak Chopra who rose to stardom in Dr. Lad’s place. Interestingly, during Deepak’s interview about Dr. Lad he sports diamond-studded reading glasses and, unlike Lad, talks mostly of himself.
While the narrative of “The Doctor From India” has a satisfying and informative flow, the overall production is spotty, edits could be tighter with some lingering nonconsequential scenes shortened, and animated segments less hard-hitting and proselytizing in contrast to this gentle, engaging man. Rachel Grimes score also seems to have a life of its own, sounding less like background, instead pulling undue attention to its repetitive piano melodies. Still, “The Doctor From India” deserves to be seen and will be especially pleasurable to yoga and ayurveda students, healthcare practitioners, medical professionals, and lovers of Indian culture. In its subtle way it reminds us that Eastern and Western medicine are best when they work in harmony with each other, and as Dr Lad reminds us that this relationships “Is the medicine of the future.”
David E Moreno