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Ojas Short film review

★★★

Directed by: #SrinathRao

Written by: #SrinathRao

Starring: #VikasSampath

 
A grande temple set against a light cloudy sky.

Rao returns with another short documentary on Indian culture, this time focusing on a more verbally immersive experience involving one-on-one discussions between the narrator Vikas Sampath and the various purohits (priests) he visits at their temples. The journey Rao and Sampath takes us on starts at Tiruvannamalai, in order to understand the lives of the Siddhas – people who have achieved both physical and spiritual perfection. They are wandering individuals who are masters in science and art, medicine and music; their relationship between science and spirituality is the theme that Ojas explores. ‘Is science a consequence of spirituality?’ asks Sampath to the purohit of the Sri Arunachaleswarer Temple in Gingee; ‘I simply consider science a by-product of spirituality’ he replies.


One of Rao’s previous documentaries Saamaanya Saadhaka, an unscripted visual piece covering a variety of topics and including philosophical narrations and songs, is a different type of exploration to his newer Ojas. This documentary on Siddhas is more subject-specific, more focused, and offers the viewer a more traditional documentary style. Ojas loses some of the sweeping shots of vibrant culture and life that made Saamaanya Saadhaka so special, but replaces it with an equally as interesting delve into ancient Indian knowledge.


A shrine with three offerings of orange flowers and fruit placed on it.

Low-angled shots show the Temples in all their monumental detail, static cameras linger on spacious waters and smaller shrines; despite the fact that the camera isn’t showing the ‘grander’ images that made Saamaanya Saadhaka great, the detail of his chosen shots are finer-tuned to the subject matter. The narration (accompanied by English subtitles) describes the Siddhas and their scientific relationship to spirituality, which is conveyed visually through the camera. Rao, who as well as directing also edited and acted as cinematographer, has a great eye for capturing something in a satisfyingly well-framed manner that marries the words of Sampath with his images.


The episodic feel of Rao’s previous documentary is carried over into Ojas, as the narrative fluidly moves through the different temples and the purohits that inhabit them. It ends in a temple in Kiliyanur where it is thought the first Siddha consecrated the place himself. The overall atmosphere of the documentary has a feeling of ease to it, moving between temples with simplicity and having a good balance of shots and interviews without feeling jarring or overly-constructed. The tranquil ambience that Rao achieves could have been furthered by even more shots of the temples as he has proven to have an eye for capturing such iconography.


A crowd of clay dolls about waist-height, painted in vibrant colours and in prayer at a temple.

The English subtitles were unfortunately difficult to read against many of the scenes, as the white font faded into the images. Whilst they would have been easier to read if they were in a box, this definitely would have taken away from the beauty shown in the shot; if you can stand pausing the video to read the subtitles (some of which went by very quickly to match the person talking on-screen) then this won’t detract too much from the film as it may for some. I do think some of the shots were lacking the same vibrancy and colour that Rao’s previous film had, but besides the issues with the subtitles, this was a very interesting documentary on the subject of Siddhas.

 



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