When we entered the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in rural India we discovered a place that was both ancient and contemporary—a unique contemplative world and a necessary contrast to urban society. We knew that we had to approach the subject in an exceptional and non-traditional manner in order to convey its essence.
Unlike traditional documentaries on religion, which tend to be either didactic or mediated through political and social lenses, Gurukulam seeks to capture a direct experience of a place and community. The film incorporates storytelling structures that do not rely on the narrative movement of time. By using non-linear approaches, we invite viewers to immerse themselves into an unordinary viewing state while delivering a portrait of a place that is rarely opened to outsiders. The film acts as a metaphor, where its structure in terms of tempo and rhythm mirrors its content and evokes the spiritual and emotional processes of the students.
The film brings the viewer into the Gurukulam as if they are studying there and stepping into the lives of the students. The idea is to provide a direct, empathetic, and experiential insider view. The film’s intentional lack of narration and composed music seeks to remove any mediating filters between viewers and subject/place. The intimate cinematography, extended shots, pacing of scenes, and rich soundscape enables the viewer to embody the physicality of the space. This avoids the kind of cold distancing and orientalist “othering” that drives a wedge dividing the East and West.
The unfolding of the film invites the viewer to engage a process of contemplative self-inquiry with a sense of the wholeness that the tradition reveals. We hope to ground the audience in their deeper humanity, and to experience a nostalgic sense of recovering something lost.