Ayurveda: The Art of Being introduces viewers to an alternative approach to medicine, widely practiced in India. Based on a holistic attention to the health of the whole person, rather than a fixation on curing disease while ignoring larger issues, the practice of Ayurvedic medicine as chronicled in Pan Nalim's film suggests that Western medicine could learn a great deal from the traditional methods of the East.
In a fairly round-about way, Ayurveda takes viewers on a tour of Ayurvedic medicine, with various doctors and medical practitioners sharing their thoughts on the principles behind their treatments, as well as recounting examples of patients who have been cured by Ayurvedic treatment even after conventional medicine failed. While at the beginning, the ideas behind this approach to medicine sound strange, based more on superstition than science, later in the film we do see evidence that "alternative" is more than a synonym for "ineffective." For instance, a traditional cure using a particular tree bark was laboratory tested and found to have potent anti-cancer properties; we also see dramatic before-and-after photographs from the records of a doctor who specializes in what we'd call physical therapy for deformed limbs and arthritic complaints.
In fact, one of the film's best (although unstated) arguments for Ayurvedic medicine being taken seriously is how it shows that massage and yoga exercises are an integral part of this healing tradition. As most viewers will be aware – and as the film itself shows, briefly – yoga and massage have in recent years been widely recognized as being highly beneficial for the body, and science is slowly turning its attention to determining exactly how those benefits are achieved. It's also worth considering that one of the fundamental aspects of Ayurvedic medicine appears to be a consideration of overall health, and a substantial amount of personal attention from the doctor. It's a message that U.S. doctors and patients would do well to receive, caught up as we are in a culture that has no patience with getting well naturally or living a healthy lifestyle, instead always looking for a quick-fix pill.
Despite the potentially interesting subject matter, though, Ayurveda: The Art of Being doesn't actually work very well as a film. While some documentaries manage quite well by just presenting the interview footage by itself, Ayurveda is one that suffers from the lack of an overall narrator. It's never clear where the film is going, or what is the point of the different segments. The film is repetitive at times, while at other times it skims over areas that really cry out for a more in-depth explanation. In the end, the film's 102 minutes seems too long.
Kino presents Ayurveda: The Art of Being in a widescreen 1.85:1 transfer that's sadly not anamorphically enhanced. The image is adequate, offering an acceptable viewing experience but certainly not one that is outstanding in visual terms. The picture is soft and has a substantial amount of noise; numerous flaws also appear in the print. The contrast is heavy throughout the film as well.
The film has burned-in English subtitles. Oddly, the subtitles appear for all dialogue, even when it's in English. While in some cases that's useful because of the speaker's heavy accent, at other times it's just distracting.
Ayurveda's soundtrack, which is mostly in Hindi with some English, is satisfactory for the fairly basic needs of the film. All the people who are interviewed are reasonably easy to understand (in terms of audio quality; accents are another matter entirely) and the track sounds clear and fairly natural. English subtitles are burned in for all dialogue (both Hindi and English).
The only special feature is a photo gallery.
Ayurveda: The Art of Being examines the ancient healing traditions of India; it's a potentially fascinating topic, and the film brings up some interesting examples of how this little-known alternative approach to healing can be extremely effective. The lack of a coherent structure or an overall narrator reduces the appeal of this documentary, though; I'll give it a "rent it" recommendation for those who are interested in the subject matter.