He appears in the British consciousness, obviously, because of The Beatles. There’s a British newsreel in the film, which is very comedic, about the Maharishi. He is seen as this sort of funny guy that’s entranced The Beatles. The story was big, really, all around the world at the time. There’s very little new information that came out about that time. This is the sort of thing that is being uncovered now. The main people that got in are the RAI, the Italian TV company. They got extensive black and white film in there when they all went down on the beach, singing on the beach. They kind of got lucky, they got an invite into the Ashram, which was closely guarded.
I was thinking about the poster you show of Maharishi promising levitation on command.
I think that’s a story to note, because that’s Maharishi appearing at a Howard Johnson in the American Midwest somewhere in ‘61. A lot of Beatles locations in America and the U.K. have disappeared very fast. Liverpool has completely changed. The bizarre thing is that the Ashram, those Gerry-built buildings still stand today, and it’s just an incredible place. These guys saw a real magic about it, completely. Maharishi’s plush bungalow, and the Beatles’ bungalow, have been gutted when it fell into disrepair, everything was nicked and all the video stolen, all of the art there, that’s all gone. But you can walk around. It’s pretty much as it was.
You really capture the bond between Harrison and Ravi Shankar. Was it your intent to show that his study of music was as serious as his study of spiritualism?
I think so. We don’t really highlight it in the film, but he kind of deserted his guitar-playing for a long period after meeting Shankar, and put the effort into his sitar. But it is a life’s work, and he didn’t have that dedication, so he went back to rock guitar. I think that’s one of the great mysteries in The Beatles’ story. You have someone who was just going to become an electrician, and then five years later, he’s imbued with, I suppose you could call it Indian influences. His spirituality just shines through. It affected a lot of people.
I kept replaying the three sitar-based songs The Beatles did while I was writing these questions. The two songs George Martin produced were Hindustani, northern Indian music, but “Within You Without You” are southern Indian modes.