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.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

International Film Festival, Goa: Banaras: An official selection

Banaras , A mystic love story:

Official selection for the International film festival, 2006, Goa.

I am pleased to share the news that Banaras is now an official entry for the forth coming International film festival Goa. Generally, the jury has a tough task selecting very few films from numerous entries from world over. Through this forum I would like to thank all the viewers of Banaras who have extended their unwavering support for the movie.

This is a time for celebration.

Fans of Banaras

On Friday evening, I was to arrive in Virginia at my friend Vijay’s place and everything looked good until the cancellation of my flight from Chicago. I arrived Princeton at 2 am in the vee hours of Saturday. My friend and colleague Ashwini and his wife Archana very kindly drove me to be in time for the Saturday get together.

As we were reaching the destination, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of nature.

It’s autumn in US.

The leaves are gracefully turning yellow and separating from the trees reluctantly. Only a few hours back they were part of the tree. They were identified by the tree. Now they are on their own. The life is gone. The identity has changed. They are, now, the fallen leaves, waiting to be collected and burnt. Yet they look serene. There is certain grace to their extinction (?). As one of my friend states, “Wish I would depart with such grace” . Some times, I feel they are yet alive, for I hear them whispering to each other.

They remind me of Soham. Giving life for someone you love…going away so gracefully. No fuss. a simple act of submission to the iminent.

I am to meet PC Singh after 36 years. He used to be 3 years senior to us. He used to teach me thermodynamics. Vijai is a very warm and sincere friend. We used to be class mates and room mates. When I look at Vijai, I feel as if nothing has changed. I, yet feel like a novice, amateurish and vulnerable. Vijai is someone always in control. When you are in such presence, you simply let go.

I entered his beautiful house situated among the woods of Virginia on the tunes of Om namah shivay. He has some of the best selection of Hindi songs. As always his entire arrangement was flawless.

Standing to my right are Vijai and Indu,
surrounded by other guests.

It was heartening to meet a no of families who had assembled.

As the evening progressed and they learnt more and more about making of Banaras and my experience of making the movie, their thirst for knowing more kept increasing.

The foremost questions were about Babaji and Soham: How did I conceive the character? Did I know someone like Babaji? What did I think of Ashmit Patel? All thought Ashmit to be sweet and handsome. All thought that Urmilla was outstanding. Many thought her portrayal of Shwetambari was perfect and the role was her career best.

A few ladies specially quoted the dialogue of Shwetambari when she talks to her dying father telling him the reason for her moving away from Banaras.(…I went away not because I hated you but because I couldn’t see the guilt on your face….)

They all wanted to know the details of the locations and their significance. Once they learnt their significance, their impression about movie went up even higher. Many said that they would see the movie again.

The significant thing was that everyone a no of families were planning to include Banaras in their next itinerary while visiting India.

There was an all round praise for the songs.

They all wanted to know the plans for the next movie.

It was a wonderful experience being in the company of so many who all love Banaras.

Through this column I would like to thank Vijai and Indu for their hospitality and all the people who made my evening so memorable. May God bless them with all the happiness in the world.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Banaras, Banaras and Banaras

Banaras, Banaras and Banaras

You may be pleased to know that Banaras has been officially invited to be screened in Delhi month during the Asian Film Festival. The even is scheduled in the last week of the month. I am traveling overseas but Pankuj Parashar, the director of Banaras, would be attending.

I have been invited to speak on Banaras, the movie, at Colchester College UK. The event has been organized around the film where a no of senior managers from the industry, faculty and students of mass media discipline would be present. It is scheduled on the 6th of Nov at 7 pm in the evening.

Also on the 11th and 12th of Nov, I am speaking in Singapore at the United world college, on making of Banaras. On this occasion, Banaras is being exhibited and the proceeds would go to AIDS benefit.

I am presently traveling to US, all around, and on the next weekend a friend is inviting a no of families, who, I believe have shown some eagerness to meet me. I am looking forward to it as well.

On return from the events I would be pleased to share my experience

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya

Let the festival of lights enlighten our mind and soul.

I bow to you for your enthusiasm which helped me to build this blog.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Raj Babbar, the improvisor

Raj Babbar aka Mahandraji aka Mahanthji

Raj Babbar, as you know, plays a pivotal character in the movie and he was very keen to do the role as he comes from UP. In the original script he was referred to as Mahanthji ( head priest ) but to keep away from any trouble we changed it to similar sounding name Mahendraji.

Raj is very comfortable with the lingo of Banaras and also, as I would learn later, he is a master improviser.

Being a veteran actor, Raj Babbar, I would believe, had glanced the script and was worried that there were not many actions which were giving him some discomfort. Therefore as he came to the Ramnagar palace (the location of Mahanthji’s bungalow), he asked for Pankuj parashar to come and discuss the script with him. Our executive producer, however called me instead and there I was sitting in front of Raj ready to explain him the intricacies of the character.

To him, I decided to tell the story from his perspective:
This is a story of relationship of a daughter with her father. For what he had done to her a long time back, he suffered for long 17 years without even having a glimpse of his beloved daughter. The movie begins with his cries and whispers…Shwetambari…and the same is heard by the daughter sitting thousands of miles away. Such is the bond between the two and yet….”

I narrated the script for an hour.
At the end of it, there was a smile on his face as he asked me to stop. He called the executive producer and told him to tell Pankuj that he was ready for the shot

He is one of most brilliant actors I have come across. He improvises at will and with spontaneity.

Remember the scene where inspector comes to tell him the news of Soham’s murder.
Mahanthji (Raj) is busy in directing the servants to expedite the decorations as the marriage was only a few hours away. There were the usual dialogues about firing the servants. Instead he murmured…Kahna gaya wo nalayak Rati Shankar..Kuchh kaam nanhi kiya…We all laughed because Rati Shanker was the name of the local production manager.

There were several instances where he improvised the dialogues to some beautiful effects.

Mahanthji’s (Mahendraji’s) role was one of the most complicated ones and he made it look so easy. All credit goes to Raj for his outstanding performance in the movie.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

An appreciation for Banaras

I would like to share with you, a letter that I received today from Steve Spraitzar (California USA), a person, not personally known to me, who saw Banaras, and wrote to me asking for this blog’s url. He now writes me another letter, which I thought of sharing with you.

"Dear Mr Singh,

Thank you for providing to me the name of your blog. When I looked through the blog, I was amazed at how much material there is on your blog. Also, the way it is written clearly shows that it is a labor of love.

When I first saw your movie, I thought that you were fortunate to be able to get Urmila Motandkar, Ashmit Patel and Naseeruddin Shah. However, after seeing it the second time, I had different reaction. I thought, how fortunate were these actors to be a part of Banaras. I hope that in your blog, you will be able to include some reactions of your actors in working on your movie. I recall the emotional times that Ashmit Patel had in his hotel room after shooting the scenes where the Buddha crossed the river. Perhaps there are other moments that you could include.

My hunch about your film is that it will grow in greater popularity as time passes. The film “It’s a wonderful Life”, starring Jimmy Stewart and directed by Frank Capra, did not do well when it was released in 1948. However, as the years passed, the time-enduring values of the themes of the movie struck a chord with the public, and for many years, it has been probably the number one film shown during the Christmas season. It is my prediction that the same type of endearment with the public will happen with Banaras.

On another topic, I thought you might enjoy a DVD that was recently released on a towering spiritual figure who had some of his major work in your area, Avatar Meher Baba. He was born and went to school in Pune, and his Samadhi is located in Meherabad, close to Ahmednagar. The DVD gives a good synopsis of his life and the tremendous scope of his life’s work.

My best to you, your company, and your family.


Steve Spraitzar"

I would like to humbly thank Steve for making the effort to write his appreciation for the movie and my blog. On such times as this, I consider myself blessed to discover the connections in our world.
I take Steve’s suggestions and would share other actors/ technicians experiences while shooting in Banaras.