Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Life and Times of Swamiji

Tamil director RS Prasanna has made a two-hour biopic on Swami Chinmayananda, one of India's great spiritual figures 

Photo by P. Ravi Kumar 

By Shevlin Sebastian

In July, 2013, Tamil film director RS Prasanna had gone to Los Angeles to do post-production work on his debut film, ‘Kalyana Samayal Saadham’. On his return, he decided to have a stopover at Hongkong, so that he could spend time with his uncle, S. Narayanamoorthy. Right next to Narayanamoorthy's house, on Mody Road, is the Chinmaya Seva Ashram.

One day, Narayanamoorthy, a devotee, took Prasanna to the Mission. When Prasanna was introduced to Swamini Supriyananda as a former student of the Chinmaya Vidyalaya school at Anna Nagar, Chennai, as well as a film-maker, she said, “The Mission is planning to make a film on Swami Chinmayananda [the founder of the Chinmaya Mission]. So, why don’t you meet Swami Mitrananda in Chennai who is spearheading the project?”

When Prasanna met Swami Mitrananda, following extensive discussions, he was invited to make the film. “It was my destiny,” says the film-maker.

The two-hour long film, ‘On A Quest’, based on a script by Swami Mitrananda, was shot in places like Kochi, Gurgaon, Delhi, Sidhbari, near Dharamsala, as well as the Divine Life Society at Rishikesh where Swami Chinmayananda had spent some time.

The film has a time frame, from 1910 to the 1980s. A team headed by co-director Anand Krishnamoorthi did meticulous research, to portray accurately the period costumes as well as the props.

Meanwhile, the person chosen to play the older Swami Chinmayananda was an out-of-the-box selection. He is Thotta Tharani, one of Kollywood’s leading art directors. “My costume designer, Preethi Kanthan, suggested Tharani Sir's name,” says Prasanna. “She used to work under him. Preethi said that Tharani Sir had a remarkable physical resemblance to Swami Chinmayananda.”

Which turned out to be correct. And that was how Tharani was invited to act in the film. “It was his first role, but Tharani Sir was more than happy to do it, because it is a spiritual film,” says Prasanna. “He has given a fantastic performance. And so has Sandeep, a monk, who plays the younger Chinmayananda.”

Asked about the qualities of Swami Chinmayananda, Prasanna says, “Apart from being a great saint, he was a fantastic orator. The crew used to joke that some of his dialogues were like punch lines in a Rajnikanth film. And there are so many witty and interesting episodes which we have highlighted in the movie.”

In 1947, people avidly listened to the radio, to get all the news following India's Independence on August 15. One day Swamiji switched off the radio. When his companions asked him why, he said, “India is free, but are Indians free?”

Once when Chinmayananda met his mentor, Swami Shivananda, he kept asking questions expressing his doubts about the existence of God, and asked whether the latter was fooling the people by wearing a saffron robe.

Swami Shivananda said, “I can answer your questions in 15 minutes, but you should decide whether you have only questions to ask or are you on a quest?”

This became the motto of Chinmayananda’s life. When asked to explain the enduring influence of Swami Chinmayananda (1916-1993), Prasanna says, “He has a wonderful way of appealing to the skeptic, as well as the divine in all of us.”

The bio-pic will have its global premiere in September. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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