One needn't be Sikh to identify with the plight faced by Amrit Singh, the protagonist of writer V. Prasad and co-writer/director Sarab Neelam's affecting tale of faith versus duty. Anyone who's ever felt pressure to compromise one's values for the sake of the "greater good" will no doubt find this honest and engaging drama an intelligent meditation on the importance of maintaining your beliefs at the very times when it matters most.
Amrit (Omid Abtahi) is a brilliant young surgeon from Toronto who is about to get the opportunity of a lifetime. A Sikh who views his obligatory turban as more of a hindrance than an article of faith (as his father would describe it), Amrit is offered the unique opportunity to head up a state-of-the-art organ transplant facility in Detroit that will allow doctors to save more lives than ever before. He knows that he has no choice but to accept, despite being involved in a serious relationship with photographer Smita (Navi Rawat) and devoting a good portion of his spare time to Seva (selfless service) around Toronto. But shortly after arriving in Detroit, Amrit discovers that Dr. Ballard (Ron Canada), the man who hired him, doesn't actually have final say on the decision. The hospital board has brought in Dr. Ryan Bristol (Todd Babcock), a well-connected Caucasian from a prominent family, to fill what is essentially the same position. Both Amrit and Dr. Bristol are determined to become the official chief of the new facility, causing tensions to quickly heat up in the hospital. When the board begins to favor Dr. Bristol for the position, despite the fact that it was Amrit whose research will serve as the program's foundation, the frustrated Sikh makes the extreme decision to cast his turban aside and cut his hair (an act generally forbidden in his religion) for the sake of getting the job and serving a higher purpose.
Dealing with issues of faith without slipping into melodrama is a tricky endeavor for any filmmaker, much less a first-time, independent duo like Prasad and Neelam. But their inexperience as filmmakers belies their skill as storytellers, and with a talented cast to give their story life, they ultimately come out on top. As Amrit, Abtahi proves a more than capable leading man, skillfully bringing his character's deep-rooted crisis of faith to the surface and striking a believable chemistry with his co-stars. Prasad and Neelam's richly detailed script could have easily faltered during production with the wrong cast, but the impressive acting talent ensures that issues of health care, cultural assimilation, and family are all handled with the kind of measured finesse that ensures the heart of the film doesn't get lost in translation. Likewise, cinematographer Lon Stratton lends the film a polished look that keeps the viewer focused on the story, and captures moments of transcendent beauty, such as a meditative shot of leaves floating on a lake, with a sense of style rare for low-budget independents like Ocean of Pearls. In a time when religious conflict is simmering around the world and misconceptions about faith fuel ignorance and intolerance, Ocean of Pearls is the kind of film that reminds us that regardless of the color of our skin or the god we worship, it's essential that we retain our values, even -- or, perhaps, especially -- when living in a culture that doesn't necessarily embrace them.
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- Released: 2007
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: One needn't be Sikh to identify with the plight faced by Amrit Singh, the protagonist of writer V. Prasad and co-writer/director Sarab Neelam's affecting tale of faith versus duty. Anyone who's ever felt pressure to compromise one's values for the sake of… (more)