Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Light, Camera, Buddha!

When I first heard the news I was delighted. But after thinking about it for a few moments I started to have a panic attack. Ashutosh Gowariker is going to direct a mega-budget film on the life of the Buddha. His last several films, especially Jodha Akbar, have been hits and there is no denying the finesse and skill of his directing and camera work. And apparently the film will be based on Thich Nhat Hanh's Old Path White Clouds which is a good retelling of the Buddha's life. The Dalai Lama has 'given his blessing' to the film but I really don’t think that counts for much. He 'gives his blessings' to just about anything nowadays. On the downside, I read that the film is going to be shot in the Himalayas which will take the Buddha's story completely out of its historical and geographical setting. And when I think about the other attempts to film a life of the Buddha it has to make you a bit nervous. 'Little Buddha' was, lets face it, a disaster. The lotuses sprouting from the ground as baby Prince Siddhattha took his first steps was as visually impressive as anything Bernardo Bertolucci has ever done and Keanu Reeves did look something like what I imagine Prince Siddhattha looked like. But where did they get the pancavaggiya bhikkhus from? - a home for retired and toothless Indian beggars? And as for the idea of Lama Dorje being reborn into two, three or four different bodies, I have spent much of the last 16 years trying to explain to people that this is an idea unique to Tibetan tradition and not at all in harmony with mainline Dhamma. The Hindi silent movie Buddhadev done in the 1920's was, if I remember correctly, the first attempt to make a film on the life of the Buddha but I know nothing about it. I have seen Teinosuke Kinugasa's 1954 effort and its not bad, except that the actors, the setting and the costumes are all Japanese. Those of you from my generation will have probably seen Conrad Rooks' 1972 Siddhartha in which the Buddha appears without actually being seen. Then there is Sheshagiri Rao's recent Buddha which I am told by Indian friends is long, dull and biographical inauthentic. Then there is the matter of who they are going to have for the leading role. If they asked me (and they haven’t done so yet although I am expecting a call any day now) I would choose the young Telugu star Siddhartha Suryanarayan. He is a relatively good actor, or at least no worse than the others, he has the looks and he even has the right name.
But seriously, a good film on the life of the Buddha is long overdue. Many incidents in the Buddha's life should lend themselves well to skillful cinematography; it’s a wonderful story (no killing, executions, rapes, crucifixions, etc), and it could have an appeal beyond a Buddhist audience. Lets hope Ashutosh Gowariker can do the needful.


Jeanette Yuinen Shin said...

As long as it has explosions and robots that turn into cars, I am sure it will reach a mass market!

Seriously, I hope it is a good movie, there are so many films (of varying quality also) about the life of Christ that I am sure we could use one also, but am not holding my breath, I have to say. I think the life of Buddha is one that can't really be translated to film, like some novels don't work well on celluloid either.

White Lotus said...

I hope ashutosh gowarikar does justice to this film on Buddha. Though I have not seen the old Buddha movies, I do remember seeing the recent Telugu version on television and it is dull. On another note, I also remember seeing the Hindi movie "Asoka" based on the life of King Asoka who later became a Buddhist. It had ShahRukh Khan in the lead role. This movie did not do well. However I had liked this movie as it made the audience reflect on non-violence and the futility of achieving your ambitions, desires at the cost of many lives.

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I am myself a seeker seeking truth. I also have a website http://messagefrommasters.com/ which has teachings, articles, ebooks, stories on spirituality from enlightened masters like Buddha, Lao Tzu, J Krishnamurti, Osho, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna etc.

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David (TheDhamma.com) said...

I'm also looking forward to the movie. It will surely be better than all those terrible cartoon depictions of the life of Buddha.

And it could help spread Buddha-Dhamma when those who have never had any contact with the Dhamma see the profoundness of the teachings.

Walter said...

I share some of the reservations expressed about a movie on the Buddha. Such movies mainly reflect the imagination of the director and producer, a main consideration being the maketability of the movie. If anyone wants to know about the Buddha, he does better to go read his discourses. Similarly for Jesus Christ, one would know better reading the Gospels.

Blogger said...
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Blogger said...

Dear Venerable,

I read somewhere that Keanu Reeves might be roped in.Another film by Pan Nalin is announced but the casting demands are

Body: Tall. Well-built. Lean, but strong.
Features: Handsome. Charismatic presence.
Race / Colour: Indian, Asian, Aryan or any mix-races
Skin: Light brown
Hair: Black
Eyes: Black, soulful.
Mind: Focused
Heart: Warm, open.
Spirit: Questing, Impassioned Ultimately composed.

It would be great if they find an actor meeting all their criteria :) especially the last ones.
I have read somewhere that some Theravadins[I don't] abhor the idea of The Bhagava being potrayed,is it true?