A New Beatles Documentary in the works?

Will 2012 be the year that renowned Indian-born filmmaker Mira Nair’s documentary film about the Beatles time at Rishikesh finally gets a release?

It’s certainly a great idea for a documentary, and if anyone could pull it off it is Nair.

Known primarily for her popular and successful feature films (Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala, Vanity Fair, The Namesake), she has for the past thirty years also been forging a parallel career making short films, both fiction (Migration, How Can It Be?, The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat) and documentaries (So Far from India, India Cabaret, The Laughing Club of India).

Nair has been talking about making a documentary on the connection between the Beatles and her country India since about 2006. But so far it’s failed to see the light of day. Here’s a response to a question she got about it back in 2009:

Have you ever wanted to make a documentary feature?  Yes, a feature documentary on the Beatles in India. The Beatles wrote twenty-three songs when they went to the Maharishi’s ashram in 1968. And I think the impact of India on the Beatles and vice versa would make for a very cool film. I went to the ashram myself and photographed it—it’s all abandoned. I made a very evocative photo portrait of what is there now. So I mixed that with archival footage and made a twenty-minute piece, to let the producers preview it. The producers couldn’t get the rights to the songs, but we have to keep trying. One day I really hope to do it.  (from The Criterion Collection)

Things have been a bit quiet since, but could the recent focus on George Harrison and his spiritual journey be a new catalyst? The Martin Scorsese documentary “Living In The Material World” certainly has the influence of India on George as a central theme….

I got an email from fellow blogger Beatlindia quoting another 2009 article which appeared in the Sunday Pioneer newspaper in New Delhi. That article has since been republished elsewhere on the web, prompting speculation that Mira Nair’s film may be closer than we think:

Renowned film director Mira Nair is making a film on The Beatles and their inspirational stay at Rishikesh to learn transcendental meditation. The 90-minute “docu-feature” will capture the band’s experiences at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram, which led many celebrities and youngsters to travel to the East in search of peace.

Rishikesh lies in the Doon Valley in the foothills of the Himalayas, some 200 kilometres from the Indian capital of New Delhi. It’s just near the city of Dehradun, which is the subject of a song written by George Harrison and recorded by the Beatles – but never released. Sharad Kukreti, a Doon Valley-based IT professional, produced a short video film using the song as the soundtrack to various sights and scenes of the city:

The article continues:

For the Beatles, their stay in India was said to be their most creative period. When they were in Rishikesh (for several weeks in February, March and April of 1968), they wrote many songs, most of which were included in their White Album, one of their best known. “Dehra Dun” missed getting included in the album. This song is seen now as a rare gem of the Beatles. With their iconic long hair and necklaces of marigolds, The Beatles came to the ashram when they were at the height of their fame. They were looking for an escape from the pressures that came along with the fame. “It was through one of my neighbours that I could get this rare song,” says Kukreti. The video made by Kukreti matches the words of the songs and captures the beauty and tranquility of the valley. However, it is this beauty and calm that the city is fast losing and one wonders whether the Beatles could have been inspired to write a song had they visited it in this day and age. “The song captures the past simplicity of the valley and is very special for Doon’ites, especially those who have seen the days when the Beatles came here,” Kukreti says. He has placed the clip on the net and has received a lot of appreciation for it. “The nostalgia in this song and the fact that it was sung by Harrison makes it unique and I feel it should be highlighted more,” he says.

I hope Mira Nair keeps plugging away at her film project.