News Column

Movie review: 'One Track Heart' follows Hindu kirtan star

July 18, 2013

YellowBrix

July 18--"One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das," the feature debut from director Jeremy Frindel, is a 2012 documentary about an American man, Jeffrey Kagel, who would go on to become Krishna Das, one of the most popular Western performers of kirtan, a type of call-and-response chanting born out of Hindu tradition.

Much of the film (2-1/2 stars) is spent chronicling the musician's tumultuous life.

Something of a lost soul growing up, Mr. Kagel had dreams of rock 'n' roll stardom only to pass on his chance at fame -- an offer to sing for the band that would eventually become Blue Oyster Cult -- in order to travel, in 1970, to India to study with a Hindu guru, Neem Karoli Baba, or simply "Maharaj-ji."

When Maharaj-ji, who gave Krishna Das his name, died in 1973, his pupil found himself tossed back into a world of uncertainty. Stricken with grief, he eventually developed an addiction to freebase cocaine.

It was only by turning to the kirtan chanting he had learned in India that Krishna Das was able to get his life together and regain access to the spiritual fulfillment he had felt as a follower of Maharaj-ji.

Krishna Das is a talented musician with a powerful voice and, when Mr. Frindel trains the camera on him performing live, the film is a genuine pleasure to watch.

Unfortunately, the interviews, with the musician and with others, while seemingly heartfelt and occasionally interesting, ultimately fail to produce a cohesive, compelling picture of more than the bare bones of the protagonist's journey.

To his credit, Krishna Das is not without a sense of humor about his work.

"I think most of you know how it works: I sing a line and then you sing something that sounds like something I might have sung some time," he tells the audience at one of his concerts.

But it seems likely the film's audience might leave the theater feeling the same way -- asking, "What exactly was that actually about?"

No MPAA rating but contains some adult content. Opens Friday at the Harris Theater, Downtown.

Lee Purvey: lpurvey@post-gazette.com.

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