Light, Camera, Buddha!
by Venerable S.Dhammika
by Venerable S.Dhammika
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.