In 2008, Burnie Burns and Gavin Free of online entertainment and production company Rooster Teeth saw a YouTube video of an Indian man performing a cosmic head massage. Watching the video triggered an ASMR, or automated sensory meridian response, experience for them both, and the two became incredibly fascinated with this man, Baba Sen — known as the “cosmic barber.” Over the next eight years, Burns and Free continually discussed the phenomenon of ASMR — an experience of a relaxing sensation triggered by many things such as whispered voices — and hoped to be able to get a head massage from Baba one day.
Those jokes of traveling halfway across the world for something that would last ten minutes suddenly became a possibility with the company’s two-part documentary “World’s Greatest Head Massage: An ASMR Journey.” Directed by Mat Hames, who also helmed Rooster Teeth’s last documentary “Connected,” the film follows Burns and Free as they travel to Pushkar, India to try and find the legendary Baba Sen.
For the same creative brains behind online series “Red vs. Blue” and feature film “Lazer Team,” it comes as no surprise that the documentary is loads of fun. As the two prepare for the journey and then traverse a new country, we see the personalities and humor of Burns and Free shine in their rapport and their hilarious commentary on what they’re about to do. As they get hit with the “wall” of humidity in India, Burns asks Free, “Do you feel like you’re sitting in 108 degrees right now?” to which Free responds, “Well, I feel wet…so yeah.” Its playfulness is infectious.
But just as they surprised many with the thoughtfulness of “Connected,” Rooster Teeth once again floor us with the layers and layers of depth put into this story. This isn’t just about going to get a head massage. The film’s first part doesn’t even get to India yet as it spends a lot of worthwhile time with ASMR itself. Interviewing content creators like Gentle Whispering, Ephemeral Rift, ASMR Requests and Dreaming ASMR, whose YouTube videos are meant to evoke an ASMR experience, Part 1 of the film offers not only an explanation of what ASMR is, but also an investigation into the community and how online video unearthed ASMR. It also serves as a commentary on how the phenomenon helps an incredible amount of people out there who deal with anxiety, depression, insomnia and everyday stress.
Part 2 continues the journey within India as Burns and Free don’t let this experience simply be just about the head massage, instead making an effort to soak in the culture. From the massive, sprawling Delhi to the small, close-knit Pushkar, the film takes on an angle of sensitivity to not only the rich culture of India, but also to the powerful spirit and belief behind what Baba does. When “World’s Greatest Head Massage” gets into these layers, however, it still never loses that edge of fun. Riding around the city in decorated rickshaws — small two-person vehicles — Burns and Free get a lot of looks and laughs. Free asks their guide, Saurabh Sinclair, if it’s normal to “ride around in a rickshaw covered in flowers.” Sinclair tells Free, “Yeah absolutely. If you’ve just got married, it’s perfectly normal.” There’s a rhythm and calculation to the filmmaking that brings on a cheek-to-cheek grin.
After the acclaim of their drama series “Day 5,” it was unexpected to see them make another big move so soon afterward. But less than three weeks after that premiere, the delight of this film is yet another testament to the diverse powerhouse that is Rooster Teeth.
Do Burnie and Gavin actually find Baba and get their own head massages? We can’t spoil that, but what we can say is that the journey itself is the highlight.
Part 1 of “World’s Greatest Head Massage: An ASMR Journey” premieres today, with part 2 releasing July 15 — both exclusively for sponsors of the Rooster Teeth website.