Hare Krishna! – The movie: I liked it so much I saw it four times!
I never thought I would be so proud to be a Hare Kṛṣṇa. Of course, I am proud of the tradition and the philosophy to which I belong and proud of what it has accomplished. But I am talking about a different pride—a more public pride. The pride one feels walking north up 2nd Avenue to attend the premiere of Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All and seeing the crowds of people waiting to enter the Village East Theater under the marque that announced its abbreviated title Hare Krishna. This pride swelled further when I entered the posh lobby as several photographers were flashing away trying to capture and document the excitement of the moment. The feeling of satisfaction continued to expand as I entered the ornate 400 seat theater and saw the people of New York pack the event, all to hear the inspiring story of Śrīla Prabhupāda, the founder of the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement! And my pleasure continued even while leaving the theater. There were long lines waiting to enter for the next showing.
It was a watershed moment for the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement. I believe that was the term used in the film to describe the moment in 1977 when the Supreme Court of New York issued the verdict in response to a serious court case backed by the anti-cult movement that the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement is a bona fide religion. I sensed the film was again that type of moment. In fact, in the introduction before the film, the co-directors, John Griesser (Yadubara dāsa) and Jean Griesser (Viśākhā dāsī), mentioned to the audience a review of the film describing it as the second coming of Śrīla Prabhupāda. It certainly felt that way. Śrīla Prabhupāda was not only manifest through such a powerful medium, but the fact that it would to be shown worldwide if the opening was successful—and by all reports it was—is certainly, dare I say, a watershed moment for the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement.
I had a good view of the arriving audience from where I sat. I not only saw committed members of ISKCON parade in, but many others also, including people that have been touched in New York by the force of our kīrtanas and teachings around the city, but who have not yet really met its founder in any profound way. I saw many such familiar people from a subway conductor to the heads of several major yoga studios in New York. Yesterday I received a letter from Sybel Sierra, a former vice president at Morgan Stanley, who I met at the premiere. Sybel initially came in touch with devotees through a bhakti seminar I gave at a major New York yoga studio. What she wrote reflected what I had hoped the effect of the film would be:
“I was so happy that I could attend the premiere. I especially loved how the film captured the impact of a person’s strong faith on the hearts of everyone he touched. I knew something of Śrīla Prabhupāda from being around the devotees, but the film gave me an intimate view into his life and elevated his teachings to a much more personal level.”
It is hard to be this film’s critic when just about everything about Śrīla Prabhupāda inspires his followers, but I also tried to watch and study it carefully. Those of us who knew Śrīla Prabhupāda knew the expanse of his preaching. I marveled at the austerity it must have been for the directors to pick and choose a fraction of his life to communicate his whole life, but in a sense that highlighted his glories, because as I watched I could also reflect on how many wonderful aspects of his life and accomplishments had to be omitted. If I had a chance I would have liked to ask the directors why certain scenes were chosen over other important scenes, such as the omission in the film of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s dramatic journey on the Jaladuta, but I think the answer is obvious: just how much of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s rich life could be packed in an hour and a half? No matter how hard you try significant events would have to be omitted. Still I felt that still the film captured, summarized, and communicated quite effectively his personality and accomplishments.
A good film or drama has the very difficult task of creating a single mind out of an audience of various types of people. In classical Indian dramaturgy, for example, it is stressed that the purpose of a drama is to create this shared experience. I felt the film did an excellent job of creating a shared experience or understanding for its wide range of viewers. I liked how towards the beginning of the film an interview of Śrīla Prabhupāda is shown where he is asked what he thinks of the Bible potentially pigeonholing him as sectarian. Śrīla Prabhupāda immediately responds that any scripture is good as long as it promotes love of God and recommends the chanting of God’s names. I think his answer was far better than my memory of it, but I am sure his answer had a powerful and unifying effect on the audience, many not of our faith, especially accompanied by clear subtitles dramatically highlighting his speech. At the same time the film did not shy away from vintage Śrīla Prabhupāda speaking directly and boldly the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, exposing the real problems of life and promoting the necessity to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness. At the Bhakti Center reception after the show, I mingled with the crowd, especially to gauge the reaction of people who were not members of ISKCON by asking them what in the film struck them the most. I especially liked the answer of Katie, which surprised me, as I thought her answer was not what most people influenced by the post modern world would appreciate:
“I liked that he was so straight and direct. All successful people have a clear mission. He knew what he wanted and articulated it clearly, directly, and consistently.”
I spoke to Rāma Rāya, of Union Square harināma fame, yesterday about the film. He liked it so much he saw it four times over the last week. He loved how it directly promoted Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission of chanting and spreading the holy name and he added an extra special appreciation of the directors who have dedicated their whole lives to Śrīla Prabhupāda by communicating his glories through film. He described their accomplishment in producing this film as a “triumph!” I also strongly felt that. The accomplishment of producing this excellent film is the example of two humble and dedicated disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda, who gave their whole life to promote Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission through media, and now at the twilight of their careers succeeded against all odds with the perfect offering of that service at their spiritual master’s lotus feet.
I beg you—please go see this triumph!