The Beatles and India is essentially a documentary version of journalist Ajoy Bose’s 2018 book, which has been the subject of much research Across the Universe: The Beatles in India. The USP of the book and film is that they offer an Indian perspective on events and anecdotes familiar to Beatlemaniacs around the world. Bose, who also co-directed the film with cultural researcher Peter Compton, delves deep into the Fab Four’s ties to our country.
With well-known experts and biographers of the group, Bose and Compton seem to have interviewed almost everyone the Beatles met and all the places they visited on their travels here, at least everyone they could. to access. We are shown all the places where they spent time in Delhi, Dehradun and the most infamous, Rishikesh where they stayed at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ashram between February and April 1968 to study Transcendental Meditation.
The first third of the film could well have been subtitled George Harrison and India, as it traces his interest in classical music – which it is suggested was born while in the womb – and his friendship with sitar player Ravi Shankar. After all, it was Harrison who had the most sincere and enduring relationship with Indian spirituality and culture.
However, most of the operating time is spent moving the group to the ashram, and it is here that first-hand accounts from Harrison’s wife at the time, Pattie Boyd, and journalist Saeed Naqvi who provide some of the most telling details.
Naqvi, who recounts how he infiltrated the ashram posing as a devotee, is hilarious about what he thought of the yogi’s teachings. We also have the opportunity to hear from an assortment of shop owners where the group stopped to discover and learn about Indian instruments, and the veteran pilot who took John Lennon and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for a ride in helicopter.
The documentary would have benefited greatly from the inclusion of the Beatles songs which were influenced and inspired by India, many of which are told to us in the film. But the license fees would likely have exceeded the film’s budget. Perhaps this is why, if we learn a lot about Harrison and Boyd’s Indian tour in September 1966, the first recording sessions for the Wall of wonders Music soundtrack in Mumbai in January 1968 are mentioned very briefly.
It turns out that the band’s lack of music is something The Beatles and India sharing with another documentary on the same subject. Canadian producer-director Paul Saltzman, who lived at the ashram at the same time as the Beatles and also published a book of the photographs he took of them during his stay, released the same title Meet the Beatles in India in 2020.
According to the musician and “hippie trail historian” Richard Gregory, which appears in the Bose and Compton film, Saltzman was originally involved in their project but may have fallen out with the directors.
Going through reviews of Saltzman’s film, available on pay per view, he focuses on his own memories and experiences. The Beatles and India, on the other hand, gives us a glimpse of the impact the band had on Indians, both those who were there to see and read it all and the contemporary artists who fell in love with their songs.
As The Beatles fled the consumerism of the West, teens and young adults here were captivated by the sense of freedom that they and their music represented. So it’s somewhat surprising and encouraging to hear the owner of Delhi’s Lahore Music House talk about how the band made Indian classical music cool, sitars and tablas started selling like hot cakes. .
The Beatles and India also clears up some long-held misconceptions about the group’s opinion on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi which they all but quashed after allegedly sleeping with a devotee. The film informs us that they forgave him or that they later believed he had been wrongly accused. Harrison actually continued to correspond and meet with him.
Yes The Beatles and India sets the record straight, so maybe we should also watch the recently released documentary TV series by Peter Jackson The Beatles: Come Back for the full picture. It is true that the recording sessions of the albums they made after their stay in India were strewn with disagreements, but as Jackson’s documentary shows, a sense of camaraderie remained until the end.
The Beatles and India It might not be perfect, but as an Indian at a career turning point for the greatest band of all time, it’s a remarkable addition to the ever-growing list of chronicles in their lives.
Amit Gurbaxani is a freelance music journalist.