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The Beatles And India documentary film review

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

★★★★

Directed by: Ajoy Bose

Co-directed by: Peter Compton

Starring: The Beatles


 

A psychedelic image of The Beatles' faces point in both directions while a mandala explodes from the middle stating the title of the film.
Film poster for The Beatles And India

Everybody knows and loves The Beatles, right? They're probably the greatest band there ever was, right? This was even observed with a twinkle in the eye by Danny Boyle's heart-warming comedy Yesterday in 2019 as it wryly ran with the premise that one would think it very odd to come across anyone who had never heard of The Fab Four. Including their own movies there are well over twenty films that explore the music, lives and deaths of these Liverpool lads, so you might well ask yourself what else there can be to tell or show about them that hasn't been heard or seen before. However, into that busy realm now come two more films, both with a distinct focus on the band's time in India.


Meeting The Beatles In India (2020) is Paul Saltzman's personal reflection on that period, where he met and photographed The Beatles as they shared time at a spiritual retreat in the mountains of India. It boasts big names as talking heads, holds court on the fundamentals of transcendental meditation and even has Morgan Freeman doing the voice-over, yet still this film is limited in its scope and has a much more individual standpoint. The next film, The Beatles And India (2021) thankfully takes a much broader view of this period in the lives and careers of The Beatles. It paints a much fuller picture of just how their time in India affected them personally and professionally as well as how this meeting of worlds shaped the culture of Eastern and Western societies for decades to come.


For those already au fait with the ins-and-outs of Beatles history it will come as no surprise that George Harrison was the main driving force for the band's Eastern awakening. He had used a sitar on Norwegian Wood while filming Help! In 1965 and this started him on his journey to explore the sounds and instruments of India, eventually leading to a meeting and friendship with Indian music icon Ravi Shankar. Soon the rest of the band got involved and they began to consider how to use this sound to enhance and diversify the music they were creating.


It was during this time that The Beatles met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a spiritual teacher and founder of the practice of transcendental meditation. They connected at a retreat in Bangor in Wales, while tragically at the exact same moment in London, The Beatles manager Brian Epstein died from misadventure at the hands of what was deemed an accidental overdose. Seeking a new guide and a new path the still twenty-something Liverpool lads dove head first into meditation and spirituality under the tutelage of the Maharishi, leading them eventually to Rishikesh, the holy guru's retreat in the foothills of the Himalayas. Here they stayed, played and meditated for an entire summer as they dealt with their grief and learned to be at one with themselves. Here they also wrote most of the songs on The White Album, a seminal piece commonly hailed as their greatest work. And the rest is history.


So, when faced with yet another documentary pertaining to the exploits of The Fab Four, the first question that inevitably arises is 'Does it add anything new?' We could all sit down with the iPlayer and pore over hours and hours of stock footage overlaid with vox pops from Jamie Theakston and Jo Whiley, but where does it get us? Thankfully, The Beatles And India has a very clear vision and focus, using its cinematic aspect to full advantage to give us a detailed and comprehensive overview of what was a relatively short period in the lifetime of the band. Not only that but the director and producers have a vested interest in the story they are telling and provide a stunning portrait not just of The Beatles but of India, too.


The personal stories and individual accounts of those who were there at the time provide a genuine connection to the personalities of John, Paul, George and Ringo, whilst new found footage, photographs and audio recordings lend a definitive authenticity to every recollection being aired. Some segments which use original footage overlaid with present day shots of the retreat also become very affecting as you watch the imprints made on time and space by such an historical event.


There is plenty to explore here, from the early days of Beatlemania in the more Westernised communities of India, to the story of the band's - and more importantly George's - relationship with the country, to the effect this experience had on the people, the culture and the music that followed. The relationship of the band with the Maharishi is dealt with openly and evenly, never descending into bias or blame, and while this is undoubtedly exposed in more detail elsewhere, by others, director Ajoy Bose makes expert decisions in just how deep to delve and who to listen to when piecing together evidence from both sides.


There is more to The Beatles And India than just either The Beatles or India. The music, multicultural learning, meditation, media stars and many other aspects of the film ensure that anyone, not just fans of The Fab Four, can access, enjoy and spend time in the company of those who defined an era.



 

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