❉ Eoghan Lyng on this year’s OTHER revealing Beatles documentary.
“When I first heard Indian music, I just couldn’t believe it because it was so, so great… The more I heard of it, the more I liked it. And it just got bigger and bigger like a snowball.” – George Harrison
George Harrison first came across the melismatic ragas of Indian classical music during the filming of Help!, a screwball comedy that reflected India in a shallow light. While only the most perverse Beatle fan would consider it a cinematic classic, the film did ignite an insatiable taste in the band’s most reserved member, and he made it his quest to use Indian texts as a way of guiding the rest of his life.
Out of the four Beatles, Harrison was the most struck by the country, but that’s not a disservice to his colleagues: John Lennon used a sitar on his probing Norwegian Wood, and Paul McCartney joined his bandmates on a meditation retreat in Bangor. And then there was Ringo Starr, superficially the least affected by the country, yet a man who maintains a vegetarian diet, not forgetting his efforts to practice mindfulness and meditation. Every member of The Beatles was swayed by the power of India, which begs the question why it took so long to commit this film to celluloid.
As it happens, The Beatles and India is a fine documentary, deepening the viewer’s knowledge into a history that not only changed the lives of four men, but the central philosophies of the native country. Beatle biographer Mark Lewisohn, during one of his interviews, admits that England was familiar with India in the sixties, but says no one would have considered the music in any context, let alone in the sphere of pop. Kabir Bedi (Octopussy) counters this view by saying The Beatles represented everything that was hip and exciting about the sixties, before recounting a heated exchange he enjoyed with band manager, Brian Epstein.
In one of the documentary’s more revealing photos, McCartney and Harrison are seen holding a sitar, neither sure of the structure or the position. Later on, the pair met Ravi Shankar, a prolific and prodigious sitar player who had a profound influence on Harrison: First as a musician, then as a friend. Through Harrison, Shankar had a gateway to more mainstream audiences, although he later expressed concerns when he saw that more and more listeners were enjoying the effects of illicit drugs as they listened to his music.
The Beatles took a plunge in 1968, and set out to spend three months meditating under the tutelage of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Searching for a new mentor following Epstein’s death in 1967, the band found some solace from the Maharishi, who helped them to search for peace within themselves. The three months spent there were productive, and much of the work written there ended up on The White Album, regarded by many to be the band’s most rewarding work. You can visibly see Lewisohn’s glee as he treads his heroes’ footsteps, piecing every room together. Much of the magic still walks the ashram, and the footage shows the area well kept and tidy. Like everything that is magical in life, it is preserved in the hearts and the minds of those who lived through it, and through this film, it will live on even longer.
❉ ‘The Beatles and India’ is released on digital 4 October 2021 courtesy of 101 Films. An accompanying album, ‘Songs Inspired By The Film The Beatles And India’ will be released on Silva Screen Records on 29 October, along with a DVD and Blu-ray release of the film from Cherry Red Group.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Eoghan Lyng’s ‘U2: Every Album, Every Song’ is published by Sonicbond Publishing and available to buy from Burning Shed. Follow him on Twitter. Visit his homepage.
Image credits: Colin Harrison – Avico.