M. Night Shyamalan's "Praying With Anger" (at the Sunset 5) is a beautiful, accomplished work about a young man, played by Shyamalan, who reluctantly becomes an exchange student in India, the land of his parents' birth, and ends up discovering himself.
Winner of the first feature award at this year's AFI Film Fest, it is all the more impressive when we learn that Shyamalan, a New York University alumnus, was only 21 when he wrote, produced and directed the film, as well as starred in it. The best part is that no allowances need be made for its maker's youth and inexperience, for it is above all a mature film.
Many serious Indian films have been highly critical of Indian society, but almost certainly none has had the virtually unique perspective of "Praying With Anger." The India that Dev encounters, both at school and in the home where he is staying, is incredibly rigid and nakedly xenophobic.
The most politely expressed questioning of an instructor's ideas is strictly taboo, and the caste system and the traditional subservience of women remain in force to an extent that can only seem cruelly absurd to an American. The college tolerates hazing practices on the part of upperclassmen that are not merely stupid and humiliating but even life-threatening. Sunjay (Mike Muthu), the levelheaded son of the couple with whom Dev is staying, explains that "pride, which is India's greatest attribute, is also its greatest weakness."