Samsara (2001) – Review

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Rating *****
(*: least, *****: highest)

Once in a while, in the midst of hundreds of movies talking about meaningless lives and pointless obsessions comes a movie that is far greater than just a masterpiece. Samsara falls in that category. I had heard a lot about this debut movie of Pan Nalin, the list of awards it was bestowed and critical acclaim it received. Frankly once the movie started nothing anyone had said mattered. The tag line of the movie is what will remain with you for a long time:

What is more important: satisfying one thousand desires or conquering just one…

The plot of the movie: (Samsara is) A spiritual love-story set in the majestic landscape of Ladakh, Himalayas. Samsara is a quest; one man’s struggle to find spiritual Enlightenment by renouncing the world. And one woman’s struggle to keep her enlightened love and life in the world. But their destiny turns, twists and comes to a surprise ending… (taken from IMDB)

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The movie questions most beliefs of Buddhism and provides different points of view of the things the religion calls evil. There are questions posed and answers given… the true understanding of those answers are in the teachings and beliefs of the Buddhists. The last few scenes of the movie bring to focus a series of events that happened right through the movie and squeeze out meaning and direction from them.

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I highly recommend this movie and think this is one movie people who question religion a lot should watch. The movie contains a lot of (sexually) graphic-scenes and viewer discreation is adviced.

I will discuss my theories about the end of the film below(under the link). Please put a [SPOILER WARNING] in your comment if you discuss the same. (I understand that the spoiler is not as great as some movies but its better if one watches the movie without knowing how it will end :) )

[SPOILER WARNING] the end of the movie discussed below this line.

I read different versions of the end of the movie here: Discussions The last couple of comments(by hultanu_hutsul and cv313620) caught my eye and I totally agree with them.

The question that is shown at the start of the movie is “How will you stop a drop of water from ever drying up?” and the answer is given towards the end “By throwing it into the ocean.” Remember the question Pema asks the kids when she throws the twig into the river “Where will this twig end up?” The right answer was “the ocean”.

Buddhists believe in rebirth like water which gets evaporated and comes back as water when it rains. The process of cycles of life(water) and death(evaporation) and rebirth(rain) can be stopped by merging with the ocean(enlightenment).

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The questions about Yashodara posed by Pema and that she would hv not left her child the way Siddhartha did and asked if it was possible to attain enlightenment without a life of restrictions, this goes against the Buddist belief that the strict life that Siddhartha chose made him Buddha. Tashi also quotes the Gautama himself and asks why he cannot experience pleasure before disowning it. “Shouldn’t you own something to disown it?”

The part at the end where Pema explains to Tashi and then drops the box they used to give as a wish for a safe journey implied that Tashi would be taking a long journey now, whether it was back to the village or to death is not clear. The part where Pema disappears after she drops the box shows the Buddhist belief that all of life is like a dream. Remember the first time Pema and Tashi unite, Tashi assumes it as a dream. When she disappears Tashi realizes that all of life is an illusion and thats why cries to find peace from this world. That is when he goes to the rock and reads the answer to all his questions. I believe the eagle at the end releases a stone and kills Tashi, allowing him to merge with the ocean finally giving him his much deserved enlightenment.

  • Movie sounds great… Hope I watch it sometime..

  • KC

    This certainly gives me a better understanding of the movie. I was more than impressed by “Samsara,” and agree that the level of your understanding of Bhuddism is proportionate to the insight the movie will give you in return. However the meaning of the movie’s ending is debateable. Thanks and more power to your blog!

  • TaughtMyselfBuddhismInTheSchoolOfLife

    The movie is full of inaccuracies. Anybody who’s spent a little time among the Tibetans or Ladakhis will notice this straight away. No distinction is made between Tibetan culture and Ladakhi culture. Perhaps the director thinks that everyone in the Himalayan region is the same.
    Also many incorrect aspects of Vajrayana Buddhist activities are portrayed. For example, old monks do not sit by themselves in front of Buddha statues and play the gya-ling (the oboe-like musical instrument). It ‘s an instrument played in public, at the beginning of ceremonies or teachings, or when an important lama arrives. Almost always it’s played by young monks.
    These are just a couple of examples of inaccuracies, far too many to list here. Maybe proper research was too time-consuming, or there wasn’t budget for it!
    The gratuitous and explicit sex scenes were unnecessary. But certainly they are an effective cinematic tool to spruce up a film that’s going nowhere.
    The overall message I got from this movie was that someone learned a little bit about Buddhism, didn’t like meditation, got frustrated very early, then made a film about it.
    The Tibetan word for a Buddhist practitioner is “nang-pa”, which means “insider”. The director has clearly expressed his position on his chosen subject. He is an outsider, looking in.

  • md afzal

    this earth is fools paradise,everybody try to tell in their own style

  • Pingback: Samsara… « Tokyo City Blues()

  • Gregory Despain

    Hey, I searched for this blog on Bing and just wanted to say thanks for the excellent read. I would have to agree with it, thank you again!

  • K

    Its a wonderful movie with an insight into a mans life. the soundtrack is outstanding too. there is lot to learn from it rather than trying to figure out what made the director make this movie but i do agree with the inaccuracies though. nevertheless its not a concern

  • pinastro

    I agree to ur interpretations of Samsara but I have a question : why do you say it’s much deserved nirvana ? why does he deserves it , for he is dangling between two ways of life.

  • collb9

    nice review

  • Ashish Singh

    My only comment to the skeptics and the critics is at least the director made something out of nothing here. There is lot to gain from this movie than the thousands of other mindless flicks. My understanding of the movie is that its a reverse analysis of Buddhadom. There are things we must unlearn in order to learn them. There are thing we must own in order to renounce them.

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  • Hi , a very good review and anyways great thanks for sharing this

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