Yogananda was the swami who wrote the very well-read book Autobiography of a Yogi and founded the Self Realization Fellowship (SRF). He came to the US in the 1920’s and was a pioneer of eastern ideas in the west. He spoke of Realization, Yoga and a scientific approach to spirituality at a time when people got news by writing letters or reading the paper. His master was Sir Yukteswar, a very insightful jyotishi I’ve mentioned here prior.
The film tells Yogananda’s story using old photos, bit’s of old film, re-enactments, narration of his own words, and various effects. There is extensive short interviews with a wide range of people. This is not a dry documentary nor is it a film version of his Autobiography. It is freshly and thoroughly researched. They also don’t gloss over the challenges he faced and the bad press that came later.
I quite enjoyed the film although it was mostly about historical events and only lightly touched on his teaching and realization. It certainly filled in a few gaps in my own understanding of his life. There was a subtle emphasis on concentration and renunciation although Yogananda did support householders. They also dwelt a little on yogic powers, with an amusing clip with a well-known modern yoga teacher who leaned on abilities and power rather than realization. I was surprised they gave him that much screen time. As the film noted, the Yoga Yogananda was teaching was not about flat abs.
I hope more such films about pioneer Yoga teachers will get made. As the book American Veda describes, their impact on western thought and culture should not be underestimated. (the author is in the film too)