Trailer: ‘The Beatles and India’ Follows the Fab Four to the Maharishi

One of the basic tenets of hippiedom was the rejection of the purely Occidental point of view, in favor of seeking out less financially-driven wisdom through more far reaching cultures, primarily those of the East. The Beatles, not exactly hippies but certainly swirling around in the same zeitgeist, were notably getting more experimental with each album during their short existence, partly by having become a decidedly more globally conscious musical entity.

But by 1968, they also just needed a genuine vacation away from their crushing popularity in the West – and India, with its peace-proffering Hindu philosophies and luminous sitar players, most definitely appealed to the Fab Four’s increasing appetite for the exotic. A new documentary, The Beatles and India – streaming exclusively on BritBox in the US as of February 15 – fascinatingly follows them around on that life-altering visit.

In the truly captivating first trailer, a reporter’s voice is heard asking John Lennon, “Did you enjoy the trip over to India?,” to which comes the snarky reply, “The journey was terrible, but the trip was alright.” Yet it would be George Harrison who would ultimately be most spiritually affected by the experience, even fully embracing Hinduism a year later after meeting Hare Krishna leader Swami Prabhupada. But he would also fall hard for the music – and here we see the “Quiet Beatle” sitting barefoot on a lawn, sitar “jamming” with legend Ravi Shankar, who now joyfully recalls, “When George and me got connected it was like…wi-fi!”

The main purpose of the trip, however, was to meet the exalted Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was to teach them about Transcendental Meditation – which one imagines might have come in handy after so many years spent trying to outrun thousands of crazed, screaming female fans. We hear an unidentified voice describe the Maharishi as, “the most powerful, magnetically charismatic person I ever met.” And considering how the band’s manager, mentor and best friend Brian Epstein had passed away from an accidental drug overdose in August of the previous year, the doc suggests that they were seeking someone, especially someone who claimed to have the answers to life’s great questions, to fill that howling void.

John enthusiastically explicates the effect the trip had on him (and likely Paul and Ringo, to maybe a slightly lesser degree): “One of the happiest times of my life was in India. It was such a groove, it was such a pure thing.” And with none of the usual real world pressures, we’re told, their creativity thrived. Indeed, songs like ‘Dear Prudence,’ ‘Mother Nature’s Son,’ ‘Sexy Sadie,’ ‘I’m So Tired,’ ‘Julia,’ and ‘The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill’ were all apparently written during their stay – laying the foundation for the White Album‘s groundbreaking experiments in cross cultural pollination. (Silva Screen Records is releasing a 19-song companion album titled The Beatles And India: Songs Inspired by The Film.)

As we all know now, it wasn’t all incredible bursts of creativity and humbling waves of enlightenment. In the doc it’s revealed that the CIA had actually infiltrated the Ashram in order to destabilize India (which sounds about right). But even more telling, another unidentified voice describes the Maharishi thusly: “A great spiritual leader, or maybe a great charlatan and crook, depending on which side you’re looking at him [sic]?” The dubious guru died of natural causes in 2008, but not before numerous accusations of sexual abuse, insatiable greed and mistreatment of his workers had surfaced, with the band eventually publicly renouncing him. (He left a $2 billion fortune upon his death, putting him squarely in televangelist territory.)

Of course, 21st Century Beatlemania is at an all time high right now, with the wild popularity of Disney+’s recent eight hour documentary Get Back. But at 96 minutes, The Beatles and India more pithily explores what was surely the most pivotal moment in their career, reminding us of a time when both pop music and its most important band were still so full of possibility.

“The sun is up, the sky is blue…”

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