“Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami who started it all” is a fascinating and informative documentary that is shrewdly crafted, giving a one-sided, favourable account of the Guru who spread Krishna consciousness globally. The film tells us how Prabhupada, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, found his true calling in his spiritual guru Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, who in turn was a follower of the sixteenth century spiritual leader Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
A married man with children, Prabhupada renounced his family in 1959 at the age of 64. He admits, “My mission is to preach the chanting of Hare Krishna.”
According to Sumitra Morarjee, a philanthropist, Prabhupada approached her with a desire to go to the US and she helped him. In 1965, at the age of 70, he landed in America with practically no money or connections.
How he spread the message of Krishna and insisting on the infallible truth that the mantra with the vibration of its transcendental sound is the elixir of life — offering a high to those who are low in life — forms the crux of the narrative.
The non-linear screenplay layered over a third-person voice-over narrative delivered by director Rohit Shetty meshes a series of archival print and television footage, personal videos and stills from Srila Prabhupada’s album and interviews of those who interacted with Prabhupada as well as those who are a part of his foundation today.
Prominent among the talking heads are the Beatles member George Harrison, whose association with the movement gave it a stupendous boost. Harrison gave the movement its own musical anthem with his classic song, “My Sweet Lord”, which incorporated Vedic prayer as well as the chant into its lyrics.
The others include Allen Ginsberg an American poet, Sally Agarwal as a sponsor, Yogeshvara Das a disciple and biographer, Mukunda Goswami nee Michael Grant a musician and spiritual leader, Amarendra Das a lawyer, Larry Shinn as a Professor, Shaunaka Rishi Das nee Timothy Kiernan, Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and some of the guru’s disciples like Yamuna Dasi, Abhishek Ghosh, Shyama Sundar Das and Govinda Dasi.
Visually, the frames with a blend of grainy images, gives this documentary a texture of a well-documented subject. But the fact is, while the narrative is astutely woven, it skips many milestones and controversial hurdles that the movement faced. It also certainly lacks the objectivity and contextual information that would provide a balanced view of the subject.
Overall, the film is definitely more than just a biographical documentary detailing the life of the founder of the movement. It is a filmic paean to him.
Film: Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami who started it all; Director: John Griesser; Cast: Srila Prabhupada, George Harrison, Thomas J. Hopkins, Sally Agarwal, Allen Ginsberg, Larry Shinn, Mukunda Goswami, Yogeshvara Das, Abhirama Das and Rameshvara Das.