Life at an Ashram - Search For Inner Peace
A New York Times Review, concerning a film which included footage shot in the
tantra groups held at the Ashram of Osho between 1970 - 1980.
(By JANET MASLIN)
(Published: Friday, November 13, 1981)
At the start of "Ashram", a title announces that this film has
condemned by the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, even though
Wolfgang Dobrowolny, who wrote and directed "Ashram", was a Rajneesh
disciple at the time the film was made. Mr. Dobrowolny may not have
intended any treachery, but it′s understandable that the Rajneesh
organization would be upset by even a straightforward, unbiased film
record of its activities. That is largely what "Ashram", which
today at the Waverly theater, appears to be.
The group′s practices, including therapy sessions in the nude and
violent encounter sessions, cannot help but look foolish on the
screen. When they are seen writhing on the floor in the manner of
"Altered States", for example, the devotees are bound to appear
debased than enlightened. But these people, when interviewed at
moments, also say credibly that they′ve never been happier in their
lives, and they have a look of contentment to prove it. Mr.
Dobrowolny′s film, which is valuable chiefly for the bizarre
it presents, also poses a provocative riddle. Will a complete lack
inhibition lead the way to wisdom? To put it another way, can inner
peace be achieved by methods that, on the surface, appear absurd?
The film′s answer is a resounding "Why not?" Though it mildly
the guru and his tactics at times - for instance, when it labels his
new cream-colored Mercedes-Benz "one of his jokes that cannot be
understood in a poor country like India" - it also offers evidence
the disciples′ serenity. "Ashram" was filmed in Poona, India,
large numbers of well-off seekers come to learn from a man whose
teachings - at least on this film′s evidence - are none too
remarkable. And yet any of these students is liable to experience
ecstasy if the guru so much as touches his or her brow.
"Ashram," which has been filmed and assembled in very ragged
fashion, offers a candid glimpse of life inside this community. The
place seems ruled by a gentle but very firm hand, as witnessed by a
sign near the schedule of lectures, "Friends, it is not possible to
leave the discourse before it is over." For a relatively high fee,
visitors have the opportunity to hear the master, mingle with one
another and experience Rolfing, primal-scream sessions and some of
ashram′s more idiosyncratic therapies. A great deal of physical
interaction is encouraged, leading the disciples to drop their
inhibitions about violence and about sex.
Scenes of these therapies have the mood of other movies′ madhouse
episodes. In one scene, a large number of people are found
shouting, embracing and recoiling from one another as though their
movements had been choreographed by Ken Russell. In another, a group
pillow-fight meant to release violent instincts becomes a naked
free for-all, accompanied by the most piercing screams of fear and
rage. During the course of this session, a narrator tells us, one
woman was very nearly raped; indeed, when she′s seen on camera, this
woman appears to be hugely distressed. But when she′s interviewed
later, it turns out that she has been at the ashram for a long while
and is very content. The violent therapy, she says, has helped her
overcome her fear of men.
A narrator must explain what has happened to the woman because
Dobrowolny′s footage is often so poorly shot, and so muddled, that
it′s hard to understand. His film is also unsubtitled and
multilingual, and this woman happens to speak German. Because her
story is told only superficially, and because her experience is not
exactly universal, it is not clear what can be made of it. But Mr.
Dobrowolny has certainly captured a moment that′s odd and troubling,
an emotional excess that′s not usually seen on the screen. Janet Maslin
To Inner Peace
Directed and produced by Wolfgang Dobrowolny; a Mu-Film;
released by Libra Films. At the Waverly 1, the Avenue of the Americas
and West Third Street. Running time: 83 minutes. This film is not
Peter Claussen, Friedemann Kliesch, Kirsten Liesenborghs and Wilhelm Schulz.