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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 5, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 45
Did it take George Harrison to bring us Ravi Shankar?
Arts & Entertainment
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Did it take George Harrison to bring us Ravi Shankar?

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

The first words, appropriately enough, on Raga: A Film Journey into the Soul of India are of Ravi Shankar counting out the un-western meter of a raga. His point throughout the 97-minute program is to educate. He attempts to convey some of the complexity of the Indian culture and its music. The result is a fascinating, episodic series of snapshots of periods of his life. They are generally well-filmed, sometimes very artfully and sometimes like a simple documentary. The sound is consistently good for the periods. Much of the film is narrated by Shankar in his beautifully accented English.

He describes his journey from a spoiled childhood in Paris, dressing like a dandy and always chasing after girls, to his eventual commitment to a guru, spending more than seven years of utter surrender to a tyrannical teacher, to whom he feels he owes everything. He says that sometimes the guru is even above God; he is the source of all knowledge. We see Shankar revisit that guru, who is by this time about 100 years old.

Included, of course, is a questioning coverage of the famous lessons with George Harrison and what the bridging of East and West means, if anything. Joyous sessions between Shankar and violinist Yehudi Menuhin shed further light on this intriguing subject. We see Indian audiences as well as American crowds receiving his performances with wild enthusiasm. I felt both embarrassed and charmed by the excesses in manner and dress of the California hippies listening to his playing.

The final 15 minutes are appropriately a complete performance of a raga.

To anyone uninterested in Indian music, watching this DVD would be akin to forcing someone unmusical to sit through Wagner's Parsifal. But for any of us with even a superficial interest, this careful documentary will reward repeated viewings.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu

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