The Story of The Buddhist Monk

The Concept for The Buddhist Monk Film

Category: The Story
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I am a voracious reader and sometime around 1968 I spent more than a year studying Buddhism on my own.  I spent long hours in the one room library of the Centre of Buddhist Studies at Delhi University.  The librarian was very suspicious in the beginning because officially I was studying mathematics, so he asked me to get written permission to use the library from the head of the Centre.  But after that he left me in peace.

In one book in the library I came across one single sentence which intrigued me:

"Sukh Nain Singh, a clerk in Calcutta, went to the Potala Palace in Tibet to steal Buddhist scriptures on behalf of the British rulers”.

As far as I remember there was no other information about this event, not even the date or time it happened.  The reason it intrigued me is that I knew Hollywood had made some great films on such themes, and we Indians did not even know of such potential film themes from our own History and often copied Hollywood films for a great story.

At that time I had one or two other film scripts in my mind, but this single sentence began to take the shape of a film, but just in my mind and nobody else knew about it.

Around 1978 I committed my ideas to paper, and took a trip to Mumbai (Bombay) with the dream to make this film.  One institute in Mumbai that was supposed to help newcomers like me was the National Film Development CorporationAnil Dharkar was their Chairman.

I bumped into him in the corridor and when I said that I was applying for financial assistance, he said openly to my face… “You can apply, but you will not get.”

Slowly I began to learn that this single sentence typified Bollywood of those days.  No entry to newcomers unless they belonged to a privileged and powerful family or had solid connections in Bollywood.   Unfortunately, Bollywood hasn’t changed much even today.

I met a couple of other people, including some well-known names and soon the reality began to be obvious.  In about a month or two I was left with no money, and before the need to beg on the street arose, I came back to Delhi.  Seeing no future in India, I moved to Norway to continue my studies in mathematics and theoretical physics.

In Norway as well I tried to find people who might help me, but here the basic answer was, “Go home to India and make it there.”

In that way, Norway was not more helpful than Bollywood.

So, I  became older, but no wiser, because the dreams in my heart remained the same - to echo Mary Hopkin´s song.

Then sometime in 2012 we brothers and sisters were sitting together and somehow the idea was floated that instead of waiting for some Bollywood Godot, let’s make the film ourselves.  After that there was no turning back for me.

To make the idea financially practical within our limited means, I removed the “Calcutta” part of the story so that we can shoot around Delhi.  The artists had to be chosen from around Delhi, because I didn’t know where in Mumbai I could go and look for talent.  My experience with Mumbai forty years back was not very good.

In choosing actors and technicians I had nothing to guide me than my own inner feeling.  But I was lucky to meet very talented people like Shantanu Arora who stars as "Sukh Nain Singh" (The Monk) and Madhu Kandhari as "Aruna" (Sukh's wife).

The audition of the artists was taken in the sitting room of my sister, Bimla Dagar and I made my decision within minutes.  I still remember I asked Madhu Kandhari to lie on my sister’s sofa and say a few words of sick “Aruna”.  In less than a minute I knew I would like to work with her.  Till today I do not know what a screen test is.

I chose both my directors of photography, Jigmet Wangchuk and Inderjit Bansal, after about five minutes on Skype with them from Norway.  Many times I thought what if I made the wrong choice because a few minutes on Skype is not enough data.  But I believe there was some Power I don’t understand which made me make the right choice.  Right choice of key people in a team is very critical - a few mistakes and everything can be lost, especially if you are totally new to everything.

The same story with cameras and especially post production.  I had never heard of Arri Alexa or Red Cameras, and I did not know what DI (colour correction) and 5.1 sound mixing were.  Here my background in theoretical physics helped.  I would sit for days on my computer and study different cameras on the internet before I went for Arri Alexa XT.  But for me DI (colour correction) and Sound Mixing was a little more tricky and I had to take four trips from Norway to Mumbai before I chose Qlab in Andheri, Mumbai, for post production.  Although I met a lot of people in Mumbai ready to misguide me for their self-interests.

I was very tense all the time with high blood pressure.  The reason was that I was supposed to be the “Captain of the Ship”.  This means if something went wrong people could and would wash their hands of you and say, “You are the Captain of the Ship.  You should know.  Your fault!”  Because of this dreaded sentence I felt like I was the most miserable “Captain of a Ship” on earth.  At times I really believed that the film will never be made.

Once the film was completed and I looked at it as a finished product, it turned out to be ten times better than what I had in my mind.  And this was because of the talented team who knew that I was new, and went out of their way to make this a great film.  Here the contribution of Directors of Photography Jigmet Wangchuk and Inderjit Bansal was very great.  They read my thoughts as to what I was trying to say, and put my thoughts on the screen in their own way, and with their own interpretation with marvellous results.

When looking for a Location, I chose Pataudi, about 50 km from Delhi, because it had Hari Mandir Ashram which had a library of old Sanskrit scriptures not existing anywhere else in Delhi.

There I was told that Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts was also shot in the same holy Ashram.

But I had never been to Leh, Ladakh, so all the locations of Leh were chosen by DOP Jigmet Wangchuk who born in Leh.

Finally I want to mention that a few years around 1978 was very creative for me.  I wrote another film script “The Cricket Match”, a short story “Self Analysis”, and two books “Critique of Indian Philosophy, History, and Culture”, and my autobiography, “Silence with the Storm” which has the potential of another epic film.

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who participated with the project from beginning to end, without their talents, enthusiasm and knowledge; the film would still be in my mind.

And of course, a huge thanks to my brothers and sisters who felt it was worth making a dream come true!

Rattan Mann