After “Little Buddha” and before Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun,” Western audiences may appreciate an Indian picture about a holy child being found and inducted into religious life. “Journey to Wisdom,” superbly shot in southern Kerala with an excellent cast, is interesting in taking a disapproving view of how early monk-hood can destroy a boy and his family. Unfortunately, as promising as it starts out, pic self-destructs midway through and, instead of continuing its story, ends in an hour of flowing tears. It has become a local hit, and may appeal to markets for Indian product.
Pachu (Master Kumar) is a cute, bright boy of 10 brought up in a cultured environment. In an opening scene, he watches his father (Vijaya Raghavan) perform as a traditional Kathakali dancer and singer. The boy’s skill at chess and memorizing the sacred Vedas brings him to the attention of the Acharya, the aged head of a nearby monastery. He selects Pachu to succeed him, an honor that thrills Pachu’s old grandfather (Unnikrishnan Namboothiri) but sets his mother and father at odds.
Second half of film is given over to the protracted, teary regrets of each family member at losing Pachu, and the boy’s own sadness at losing his playmates , punctuated by piercing musical notes. When director Jayaraj finally gets the little Acharya over to the picturesque monastery, his ritual induction as head monk comes as an anti-climax. As for spiritual life and Pachu’s journey to wisdom, pic has nary a trace. This is particularly disappointing, given the obvious care with which the film was made.
Leading a notable cast is the humorously deep Namboothiri, certainly a contender for best film grandfather of the year. Raghavan plays a major role as Pachu’s artistic father, torn between religious beliefs, society’s expectations and family bonds, and Kumar is quite lively as the child saint.
Top-quality tech credits, especially M.J. Radhakrishnan’s beautifully subtle camerawork, lend pic a refined look, while unusually fast pacing from editors B. Lenin and V.T. Vijayan keeps first half of the film moving swiftly.