Banaras, A Mystic Love Story

Banaras is not a destination its a journey of our lives. If you go to watch this movie for a ready-made solution or only to "kill" two hours, you may get disappointed. Banaras is aimed to create a thirst for something one is generally uncomfortable to explore.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A dinner with Ashmit Patel aka Soham

On thursday night, Ashmit and I met up for dinner. We discussed a number of things and among them figured Banaras, an obvious bond between us.

We started sharing our experiences about how many people seem to be connecting with the movie and their responses. Some of them are already posted on this blog but many names have been kept private.

I showed him his very ardent fan “Meeta’s Blog ( where she has put just his eyes.

Ashmit gave his usual very humble smile, when he read “Ashmit : good looking ???? Before this movie I wouldn’t have agreed, now I can’t stop at thinking him anything less than DIVINE.. lol

We sat on the dinner table as the food was served. After taking a glance at the laid out dishes, Ashmit looked at me and remarked.. “Sir Kaddu… again...”.

Let me relate to the story of “kaddu” before proceeding further. Being a minimalist simple vegetarian, most of the days during the shoot in Banaras, I used to have Kaddus (White Pumpkin) at the Taj. In the early days, once Ashmit came to the dinner table and asked me if he could share my dinner. For the next 40 days that sharing became a routine, so much so that even when I go to Taj-Ganges today, chef remembers to cook our favorite Kaddu dish.

After the dinner, I asked him the question that many of the viewers have asked me often, “ Will you please describe as to what did you really experience while shooting at Sarnath during the enlightenment scene?”

In Ashmit’s own words: (in quotes)

“I still find it difficult to explain and articulate what I experienced at Sarnath (sounded more like his own dialogue in the movie), but I have given it a lot of thought and have been trying to put some logic to it. For me it seemed like a natural progression that soham went through in his life and not unlike that, I too have progressed, though in my own little way. I say this because just before traveling to shoot for Banaras, I had been going through some very bad patch in my personal life, which had made me to question the purpose of life. And who I am?

While shooting for the film, the Soham’s character started resonating so well with my own inner self that I truly became “Soham” even though temporarily. I am not saying that I am enlightened like Soham was, but certainly I went through a “moment” at Sarnath which yet lingers.

As a child I have always been an introvert, reflective and loving, and would easily empathize with people so much that it would I would seem weak to others. The trait still lives in me, though I masquerade to look tough and independent in order to project a brave image. Today I am still a very soft compassionate and a connected human being and people who are close to me easily experience that. However there are people who have made up their mind to see me in a particular light and they continue to see me in their own image, irrespective what I am today.

Every movie that I have acted in, barring one or two, there have been a shade of me in all those characters, however with Soham I had a complete identification and also that I am influenced by what happened to me in Banaras and has huge bearing on my future. However I prefer to not to talk about those at this time but yes coming to the original question, Banaras did change me.

I believe that if Banaras the movie, can bring about change even in handful of people, which I know has already done so to more than that, it would have achieved its meaning and purpose much more than all the mega blockbusters combined have been able to.

In short, true Ashmit is much close to Soham than the image that people may have of me in their minds.

I have been lacking in use of simple technology like email, and I would like to apologize to my fans, but if you have questions for me, please post it on Mr. Singh’s blog here, and he has promised to send them to me using other means.

All the best and love you all.


In the end, I asked a question as to which song was his favorite, as he replied "kitna pyar", though earlier it used to be "Ishq mein dil ko paagal".

He also related an incident when he travelled to US recently. A number of elderly people came to him and blessed him for his divine role as Soham.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Dadi: "The Super Woman"

Dadi: The sweeper woman

In Banaras sweepers are called “Bhangi”. In fact we had shot the dialogues with the word Bhangi. Luckily, in time we learnt that censor board would have huge objection to that word (Though,if you have seen Omkara, you know how flexible they can be on these matters, if you have right pulls).

Any way we replaced the word “Bhangi” by “Kam jaat”

Dadi’s character was one of the earliest ones conceived.
She was to be an uneducated and a very wise woman who had seen life from very close quarters. She would have to be able to relate to the dilemma of the child, Soham, who was being persecuted in the school by the Brahmin teachers and boys, and be able to guide him towards the great path of the sages.

There were several scenes in the original story, highlighting how Soham was growing up under the prudent guidance of Dadi.

I will describe a scene that was not in the movie:

Soham is lying in a cot by the side of Dadi. They are seen in the dim light of a lantern. He is sad because of the persecution from boys in the school.. Dadi holds Soham’s palm and points out towards his five fingers.

“Sohan, (pointing at the little finger of the palm)…you are born here… you have to try harder…”

Dadi's role was an important one in Banaras and I was very determined to cast someone fresh. One day I went to see an English play in Bombay and as I watched the lead player perform, I was mesmerized. At the end of the play I met her back stage and offered her the role.

That was Meenal Patel, the veteran stage actor, whom we now know as Dadi.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Spiritual, Splendid, Saintly & Sacred, Banaras

Greetings from New Media & myself.

At the outset, let me congratulate you and your team for making a wonderful movie ‘BANARAS’. The film reflects the true picture of vibrant and mystic city, where every thing is possible due to Lord Shiva’s abode and people name those things as spiritual, splendid, saintly, sacred etc.

After my retirement from the services of Ministry of Defence since June 1991, ‘BANARAS’ is the first movie; I watched it fully without any interruption. Reasons being bonding theme, melodious lyrics & music, magnificent performance by the actors, excellent direction, good camera movements and light effects.

I pray to ‘Lord Shiva’ to grant you requisite strength to produce more film like ‘BANARAS’, if you intent to continue the filmmaking.

With warm regards and wishing you all the best.

R K Prasad
New Media Communications Pvt.Ltd.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

"Heavy stuff", Banaras Album and other stories

Today I visited Music world, an important retail store in Pune to buy some DVDs and Hindustani classical albums.

Incidentally I looked at the prominent display position for bestseller albums and was very pleased to find BANARAS album displayed. There must have been some 20 titles in all.
I also noticed 3 of them had special notes from the retail store. Among them was a bold note calling the album as "HEAVY STUFF".

It was an intriguing remark. Maintaining my anonymity, I asked the salesman as to what did they mean by heavy-stuff? His reply was swift:

"These days the store is full of funky stuff but when people who understand music come to the store, we don't want them to miss Banaras as it's real classy stuff."

Believe me, just to impress the guy, I paid 150 Rs and bought a CD of Banaras.

Another Story:

Today, I received a call from Ramakant, the actor who played Purnanand in Banaras.
He was really excited. Since I didn't recall his name, he reminded me that he was Purnanand. Though I was embarrassed, but it worked.

He said that he received a call from his Guru, who according to Ramakant( Purnanand), is a great sage.He informed Ramakant that he saw Banaras 7 times and at the scene where Babaji was revealed to be dead for hundreds of years, he cried every time, as he was reminded of his own Guru.

There are people more knowledgeable than we, who are able to connect with Banaras more easily than many of us.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Manifestations of God

PiCture...Courtesy, Prem, Chicago

Today I was playing with my cat. The cat played for no other reason than for the play. It was totally involved while it played. It became the play. Its body, legs and the eyes were all in alert, as I was throwing the foam ball. It would every time intercept it in the mid air and deflect it back in my direction. I admired its knowledge of the rules of the game as it would not hit the ball second time irrespective of where the ball went. After hitting once it would assume the next turn to be mine.

I watched a flying insect that was carrying a piece of leaf, four times its size, and trying to enter a plastic cavity hanging from the roof in my balcony and attempting 20 times before succeeding. The insect’s persistence reminded me of “Krmanye Vadhikaraste...” from Gita and I smiled to myself that only humans have to be reminded of such common sense by no less than God, which insects know it all by them selves.

Then I saw a pair of very pretty little birds sitting two feet away from me and talking to each other. Later they both tried saying something to me. After a while, the two, carrying long portion of green leaves, again came and sat near me. I think, that, fed up with the recent rains, they were building a nest somewhere close by. I am not sure, but I think they were trying to seek some help from me…..I really do…

We live in a miraculous world but are so full of ourselves that we are unable to see the beauty in our lives and remain isolated from experiencing the presence of God.

People like Soham get connected to everything. They are never alone. They experience the beat of life in everything around them as they live a zillion lives in every alive moment transcending the boundary between life and death and experience the presence of God through his manifestations...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Location hunting: Babaji, Shwetambari and Kabir Muth

Kabir is one the most esoteric sage- poets of Banaras. He lived in the during 15th century. He was found abandoned as a child, much like Soham, and was picked up by a Muslim weaver family.

Kabir was born with a burning desire to seek the truth. He would go on the Banaras ghats and look for anybody who could teach him the path to reach the destination. The Hindu Gurus for obvious reasons kept away from him. However Kabir was a very determined soul. There was a famous guru named Ramanand who used to go to Panch Ganga ghat to take bath in the vee hours of the morning. One day Kabir went and slept on one of the stairs of the ghats and waited for Ramanand to return after taking his bath in the Ganages. In darkness Swami Ramanand’s foot went over his body and he uttered “ Ram”. Ramanand accepted him as his disciple to the great opposition of the people of Banaras.

Kabir was an illiterate and he learnt only one word to read and write “ Ram”, which said to have become his mantra.

Legend says that he reliquished his body when he was about 120 years old. There is a famous legend about his death; When he died, his Hindu and Muslim followers started fighting about the last rites. When they lifted the cloth covering his body, they found flowers instead. The Muslim followers buried their half and the Hindu cremated thier half. In Maghar, his tomb and samadhi still stand side by side.

The social and practical manifestation of Kabir's philosophy has rung through the ages. It represented a synthesis of Hindu, and Muslim concepts. From Hinduism he accepts the concept of reincarnation and the law of Karma. From Islam he takes the affirmation of the single god and the rejection of caste system and idolatry. The basic religious principles he espouses are simple. According to Kabir, all life is an interplay of two spiritual principles. One is the personal soul (Jivatma) and the other is God (Paramatma). It is Kabir's view that salvation is the process of bringing into union these two divine principles.

Kabir is a very important figure in Indian history. He is unusual in that he is spiritually significant to Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims alike. Kabir openly criticized all sects and gave a new direction to the Indian philosophy. Kabir touches the soul, the conscience, the sense of awareness and the vitality of existence in a manner that is unequalled in both simplicity and style.

When we needed to shoot the ashram of Babaji, we were keen to show the Kabir ashram. We met the authorities of the Kabir muth at Kabir Chaura and they readily agreed. Since the Ashram is at the end of a narrow lane, we had big logistical problems while shooting inside the ashram. We owe a lot to the keepers of the ashram who allowed us to put a statue in the important place inside the ashram, even though Kabir always ridiculed the idol worship.

I am sure you remember the scene where Shwetambari learnt that Babaji had been dead for hundreds of years. That plcae used to be the abode of saint Kabir.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Location hunting: Krishnamurthy Mission

We wanted to shoot a very important place where Buddha crossed Ganges.
Before giving the details of the shoot, I would like to give a little background:

It may be recalled that in 500 B.C, disillusioned with life, Siddhartha began his search for the truth as he left his princely state and wandered for six years but found nothing. Disillusioned again, was possibly on his way back to his estate, when he attained enlightenment in Gaya (Bihar) about 300 kilometers east of Banaras, and became the Buddha. He chose not to speak to people there about his experience, which he had in Gaya under the Boddhi tree, instead he began to walk west, which he did so continuously for the next 60 days to reach Banaras.

While doing research itself we got determined to show the spot where Buddha would have crossed Ganges while on his way to Sarnath (in the vicinity of Banaras). During investigations, we came across somebody who had put the same question to J. Krishnamurthy while they were walking on the bank of Ganges and Krishnamurthy had pointed out the exact spot where Buddha had crossed Ganges. J. Krishnamurthy clearly had used his mystical abilities and would have envisioned Buddha crossing the Ganges. We, therefore, decided to show where J. Krishnamurthy used to meditate under the peepal tree and in the same shot the place where Buddha crossed the Ganges.

Unfortunately that spot was inside the Krishnamurthy mission. I say unfortunately, because the mission never allows any shooting inside the campus. I approached the director of the institute Mr. Dalal, who along with his colleagues, went into discussion with me and my colleagues on the significance of shooting inside the campus. He was eager to understand the credibility of our research and the depth of our understanding of Krishnamurthy’s philosophy. After long hours of discussion, he finally allowed us to shoot on the very spot. We were and even now are very grateful to them for allowing us to shoot at such a holy location.

Remember the shot when Babaji asks Soham referring to a prince having walked 300 kilometers and crossing Ganges and Soham replying that he could see everything. There were visuals of the shadow and silhouette of Buddha and some followers walking on the bank of Ganges. Babaji meets Shwetambari for the first time and professed that she had the ability to overcome her fears.

While shooting, there was a large crowd of students from inside the mission campus who flocked around the scene. We were very proud we could show such profound personalities as Krishnamurthy and Buddha, though living in different times, but in the same shot.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Sohams Don't die in Banaras

The final benediction:

Gayatri Devi was a mother. Just a mother. She acted in a manner of the most primitive instinct of a mother to protect its child. That’s why I never saw an evil in her character and that’s why, possibly, you never feel any ill will towards her even when you learn the truth and that’s also the reason why Shwetambari is able to understand her action so very easily.

Her act was her love for her daughter gone haywire, that’s all.

Imagine her pain she would have had to bear when she would be told that Shwetambari was leaving Banaras for ever.

Imagine the hell that a mother had to live knowing how she had ruined the life her only child. Imagine the pain she have had to bear all by herself, as she could not tell her tale even to Mahendranath. Imagine the days and nights she would have cursed her soul and cried for her daughter.

Imagine, the nail she would have felt piercing right through her heart, when she learns that Shweta knew all along what she had done. It is then, that she completely breaks down.

That was the moment of the truth. A point for complete transformation. No more struggle. No more fighting to conceal things. A total submission. A mother falling on the feet of her daughter.

“Tu kaun hai Shwetambari?”
That was the climax of the movie. The mother asking her daughter,” Who are you, Shwetambari?”

At that moment, mother gets ready to "receive", as she transcends her physical existence as Shwetambari is able to feel the true being of Gayatri Devi. It is then, that she offers her the grace by showing her the ultimate truth, that Sohams don’t die in Banaras.