The documentary ‘Hare Krishna! The Mantra, The Movement and The Swami Who Started It’ released today. In an interview with Urban Asian, director John Griesser talks about Srila Prabhupada, the film and how social media is taking us away from happiness.
How did the idea for the film germinate?
I released a film in 1984 called Hare Krishna People. I was very interested in Prabhupada and his teachings. He saw that and liked it. I asked him if I could do a biopic or a docudrama on his life. He said ‘What is the need?’. Prabhupada is very humble. He always gives credit to his spiritual master and his disciples. I told him that people in the future would want to know his story of the Hare Krishna Movement and people do want to know. Prabhupada and his group are not very well known compared to other spiritual groups. Prabhupada called his movement the Hare Krishna Movement. He started ISKON – International Society of Krishna Consciousness. So he thought about it for a moment and agreed. We released the film in 1983 on his life but that didn’t see much public exposure. So we collected a lot of footage over the years of Prabhupada and his ISKON movement. So we finally decided to release the film for the public.
You have made documentaries in the past but this is your first full-length film. How was the transformation like?
It was a very difficult. It was one of the most longest and expensive films.
What was the biggest challenge you faced to make this film?
The biggest challenge was the bulk material we had. We had a lot of Prabhupada’s lectures, his 18,000 hours audio recordings, 31 hours of his movement and himself recorded on film. Video wasn’t available at that point. In 1977 he passed away. Video was coming in but it wasn’t good quality. So we got a team together and started working in 2013.
What are the three best things you’ve learnt from Swami ji?
The first basic thing is that we are not these bodies. We are something other than the bodies. Prabhupada gave many examples of it. He said that just like when a person dies, something leaves the body, but all the material ingredients are there – the bones, the blood, everything else. But people say he’s dead and gone. It probably is a very clear example of ‘we’re not this’. That’s the first thing. The other thing was that we’re not the proprietor of anything here. We come with nothing and we leave with nothing. In the middle that we come and claim that it’s mine, we fight. Also, Krishna is our dear most friend. He’s always with us.
How did Rohit Shetty come on board? Was he easily convinced?
We gave him the DVD of our film. He didn’t have the time to watch the film immediately but he gave it to his staff and his staff were overwhelmed by the film. They came out of the screening and were silent. They said we must distribute the film.
Have you tried to be objective and have also shown criticisms of the movement?
We showed some criticisms of the movement. Western people shaving their heads, wearing robes, dancing in the streets was very weird for a lot of people including me. But when I came to India and spent two and a half years and met Prabhupada, I understood that this is a very deep, spiritual culture. It’s an incredible culture and has so much knowledge. So it didn’t seem so strange after that. People are thrown off by visual differences. So it’s kind of superficial. But if you get down to the essence of what the movement is, you will know that it’s very real and wonderful. There were a lot of parents who were upset about their kids joining the movement. A lot of established religions in America were upset. We have a section in the film on that. But as far as Prabhupada (is concerned), we didn’t include any criticisms of him personally. We just wanted to present his life story. Maybe another film could be made with a bit more of that (criticism) in it but that’s not our film.
In this fast moving and internet world, do you feel finding inner peace and happiness has become all the more difficult?
Definitely. We call them weapons of mass distraction. The internet, phones. You can be in a conversation with someone and their phone rings and you are ignored. So we have to train ourselves how to balance our life in the midst of all this. I gave the example the other day that we’re souls inside the body. So the soul needs nourishment. We’re the person and the soul needs live ingredients. So if you neglect a bird in cage and you don’t feed it, it’s going to wither up and not be very happy.
What are your future projects?
There are a lot of things which we’re discussing but nothing’s decided.
Anything else you want to say?
I would encourage you to see the film for many reasons. It’s an inspiring story. It shows what a person with determination and conviction can do, even at a very elderly age and starting with nothing. We would like the audience to be left inspired and feel that they can do great things also with their lives. See the movie, get inspired by Prabhupada and live your life to the fullest.