“India, India,” sang John Lennon in 1980, “reveal your historic mysteries to me.”
Recorded shortly earlier than his homicide that December, 13 years after he and the opposite Beatles stayed on the Rishikesh ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968, that tune — “India, India”, launched posthumously on the Signature Field album in 2010 — expresses the enduring energy the nation held over him. “I sit right here at your toes, patiently,” he mournfully ends, “ready . . . ”
Between 1965 and 1968, on the summit of their fame and artistic energy — Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Membership Band was launched in 1967 — The Beatles undertook an odyssey into Indian philosophy and aesthetics then unprecedented amongst western celebrities, and which might profoundly change the course of the band’s music, in addition to their very own particular person consciousness.
The story of these years is informed in The Beatles and India, a documentary that closes Tongues on Hearth, the UK Asian Movie Competition on the BFI subsequent week. Co-directed by the 68-year-old Bengali political journalist, Ajoy Bose, and produced by 66-year-old Goan music producer Reynold D’Silva — each Beatles fanatics since childhood — it offers a uniquely Indian tackle a this pivotal occasion.
Right this moment India’s affect is present in every thing from Ibiza membership music to Silicon Valley and grocery store ready-meals. David Beckham flaunts a Sanskrit tattoo. Indian spirituality additionally mainstreams with meditation and yoga, in addition to ayurvedic remedies and even tantric intercourse. However till the Nineteen Sixties, the nation was recognized within the west for little greater than its poverty and because the former “jewel within the crown” of the British empire.
The Raj had ended solely 20 years earlier than, and the western angle to the nation was largely nonetheless one in all ignorance, exoticism and colonial-era condescension. But “The Beatles went to India with none sense of entitlement,” says Bose once I name him in Kolkata. “They have been so open and curious. Beatlemania was at its top, but they nonetheless wished to find one thing new.”
Their immersion in India’s artwork and thought coincided with experimenting with psychedelic medication, leading to a tectonic shift of their output. Once I telephone D’Silva in London, he says, “They have been searching for one thing. Lennon and Harrison particularly. These two have been all the time searching for one thing else, the that means of life . . . A lot of The White Album was written on the ashram.”
“After that journey they went from being mainstream pop stars,” says Bose, “to being critical different artists.”
Their odyssey started in 1966 with a quick stopover in Delhi when returning to London from touring Japan and the Philippines. Harrison had insisted on the go to, having inherited a love of Indian music from his mom and incorporating the sitar into their current tune, “Norwegian Wooden”. Their curiosity grew throughout a 1967 keep at a meditation retreat in north Wales, the place, accompanied by Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, they first met the Maharishi. They have been there when their mentor and supervisor, Brian Epstein, died of an overdose in London: they have been counselled of their grief by the Maharishi.
The subsequent yr introduced that well-known keep in Rishikesh, the place they have been joined of their each day meditations and discourses with their guru by the likes of Donovan, Mia Farrow and Mike Love of The Seaside Boys. In opposition to the backdrop of the Prague Spring, the escalating Vietnam conflict and the civil rights motion within the US, and ending simply earlier than the Might riots in Paris, the interval The Beatles spent with the mystic anointed the Nineteen Sixties counterculture as a non secular in addition to a political and sexual revolution.
The humility of the working-class Liverpudlian superstars comes throughout strongly within the movie, not solely in the direction of the Maharishi but additionally the Indians who offered them sitars, served them meals and took care of them on the ashram. Whereas the 4 have a captivating English ordinariness to them — Ringo Starr took a suitcase stuffed with tins of baked beans for the journey — they regarded India with a spirit of awe and trustworthy enquiry.
Harrison would later convert to Hinduism, having fashioned an in depth friendship with the good sitarist, Ravi Shankar, and would grow to be one of the influential western champions of Indian classical music. Accustomed to erudite live performance corridor audiences, Shankar was taken to play at Monterey and Woodstock, the place he was “appalled at folks smoking pot and fornicating”, says Bose.
The Beatles would affect India too. Each D’Silva and Bose come from the city English-speaking Indian center class that seemed to the Fab 4 for inspiration in every thing from hairstyles to politics. The Bollywood doyen, Kabir Bedi, credit his personal rise to worldwide stardom to interviewing them in 1965 as a cub reporter for All India Radio.
“I used to be a loopy fan of theirs,” he tells me over the telephone from Mumbai. “Assembly them modified my life.” On telling Lennon that he was 20, the Beatle replied, “That’s how outdated we have been after we began the band.” When his bosses callously recorded over his tapes of that cherished interview, he give up radio to hunt a life within the films as a substitute.
“At all times insurgent,” says Bedi. “That’s what John informed me after we stated goodbye.”