2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘Ganden: A Joyful Land’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Jampa Legshe in “Ganden: A Joyful Land” (Photo by Ngawang Choephel)

“Ganden: A Joyful Land”

Directed by Ngawang Choephel

Tibetan with subtitles

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 12, 2019.

If you ever wondered about how influential Tibetan Buddhist monestary Ganden survived China’s invasion of Tibet, by relocating to India in 1959, and rebuilding in 1966, this thoughtful documentary explains it all. Ganden is where a young Dalai Lama had his religious origins and his awakening as an activist for world peace. Although the Dalai Lama is not interviewed in the documentary, several Ganden monks who were part of the relocation share their memories of what it was like to be refugees from their native Tibet and to rebuild the monastery in India, a country that welcomed them, with the help of the Dalai Lama.

For the documentary, director Ngawang Choephel (who also narrates the film in a soothing tone) has kept the pacing very deliberate and historically oriented. It’s the kind of film that would be right at home in a museum, a school class on Tibetan Buddhism, or on PBS. In other words, “Ganden: A Joyful Land” might be too slow-paced for those who prefer their documentaries with more flash or quick-cutting editing styles, but just like the monks in the film, tranquility is valued over adrenaline. (Choephel says he began filming Ganden in India in 2011, and about half of the monks interviewed in the movie have since passed away, which adds a certain historical weight as archival footage.)

One of the strongest qualities of the film is the cinematography, which is simply gorgeous. Some of the most compelling and colorful imagery is of monks creating mandala paintings for the Tagtse Dumshoe festival, using sand-like paint. Because the movie has first-person accounts of the monks who founded Ganden in India, their stories are the heart and soul of the film. Many of the monks consistently say that even if they didn’t have enough to eat in the early years of the monastery, life at Ganden was extremely fulfilling for them. One of the monks said that when he went home to visit with his family, he couldn’t wait to get back to the monastery.

Of course, the hardships and suffering they endured are not ignored in the film, and neither is a mention of the high number suicides of the refugee monks and the monks who were still in Tibet, because of their despair over China’s invasion and religious persecution. Despite these depressing but necessary aspects of the film, “Ganden: A Joyful Land” is ultimately an inspiring story of faith, hope, and the will to survive in a world where a peaceful existence is always at risk.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Aamis’

April 26, 2019

by Carla Hay

Lima Das and Arghadeep Barua in “Aamis” (Photo by Dolee Talukdar)


Directed by Bhaskar Hazarika

Assamese with subtitles

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 26, 2019.

A married mother is seduced into an emotional love affair by a good-looking younger man—and things take a dark turn. It sounds like the plot of a Lifetime movie, but “Aamis” is not a predictable TV movie of the week—far from it. The twist in “Aamis” is so disturbing that it would be too freaky for Lifetime. It’s best for anyone seeing this movie to be blissfully unaware of the spoiler information that’s revealed in the second half of the story.

“Aamis,” which is set in modern-day India, is the first Assamese-language film to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. What can be told without any spoilers is that the secretive love affair in the movie starts out innocently enough.  Nirmali “Niri” Saikia (played by Lima Das) is a successful pediatrician who’s in a fairly uneventful marriage to another doctor. Niri’s husband Dilip (played by Manash Das) is a workaholic who is frequently away from home on business, leaving Niri to raise their young son mostly on her own. There’s no indication that Dilip is a bad husband and father. He’s just become inattentive to Niri, and it’s led to stagnancy and boredom that Niri feels not just about her marriage about also about her life.

When she meets grad student Sumon Boruah (played by Arghadeep Baruah), Niri is ready for something new and exciting in her life. Sumon, who is a long-haired bohemian type, has an obvious crush on Niri, who initially plays it cool and basks in the attention that the younger man gives her. Sumon is researching food habits—specifically meat eating—as part of his Ph.D. studies. It’s an excuse for him to arrange foodie dates with Niri so that they can sample unusual types of meat. Sumon encourages Niri to be more adventurous in what she eats, and he makes the bold claim that any animal can be eaten under the right circumstances.

Niri, who has a prim and proper image, makes it clear to Sumon and others who ask about their relationship that she wants to keep it strictly platonic. But her lingering glances with Sumon and her increasing anticipation for their next meet-up tell otherwise. It isn’t long before Sumon and Niri open up to each other emotionally, but Niri won’t let Sumon cross the line for them to become lovers. Meanwhile, Sumon becomes increasingly uncomfortable with suppressing his growing feelings for Niri, and it no longer becomes enough for him to take her to restaurants. He begins giving her gifts—artfully made gourmet meals that he has prepared himself.

The gourmet food gifts are a turning point in Sumon and Niri’s relationship. And when Sumon tells Niri what he did to prepare the meals, their relationship reaches the point of no return. The last 15 minutes of “Aamis” deliver a knockout punch that will leave viewers feeling both nauseated and emotionally haunted over the choices made in the name of love.