At once lyrical and smell-the-stench gritty, “Ganges: River to Heaven” provides a respectful, often engrossing overview of the water body that’s among the world’s holiest sites. Visually handsome package is enlightening on several levels, resulting in an attractive fest item with good prospects for public tubecast and possible limited theatrical exposure.
Ostensible focus is on four families who’ve brought fading elders to expire in Varanasi, where the power of Ganga (Hindu mother-goddess of the Ganges) is considered most conducive to achieving salvation in the afterlife. But their death watch provides of just minimal narrative interest. More key is helmer Gayle Ferraro’s easy-flowing consideration of the Ganges’ many roles: As hub for religious ceremony and faith, particularly regarding death rites; as commercial engine for tourism- and funeral-related local businesses, their functions often caste-determined; as endangered environment, with pollution levels sky-high. Ferraro doesn’t ignore the sometimes-graphic underside of human clutter, squalor and unhygenic practices (a bird’s pecking at a bloated corpse floating by is as nasty as it is routine). But overall tenor is one of serene respect for timeless spiritual values. Tech aspects are very nicely turned.