Yesterday: Exploring the 'Indian connection' shared by The Beatles and director Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle's Yesterday, that imagines a world without The Beatles, is slated to release in India this Friday on 12 July.
Imagine a world without The Beatles? Oh, somebody already has.
Danny Boyle's Yesterday, that is scheduled to release in India this Friday on 12 July, stars Himesh Patel as a musician who is transported to a world where The Beatles never existed. It would be a weird world to live in where no one, not even Ed Sheeran (as depicted in the trailer), gets the coolness latent in the phrase 'Hey Jude' as opposed to 'Hey Dude'.
Coming back to the world we live in, what both Boyle and The Beatles have in common is the influence of India in their respective bodies of work and their contribution in putting the country on the global map.
The Beatles made inroads into the country in 1968, but not to disseminate music. The idea behind their visit and subsequent stay was a spiritual one. They practiced Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his ashram in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand. In the meantime, they made dozens of songs that had either the influence of Indian classical music or were a product of The Beatles' elevated state. These includes the likes of 'Revolution', 'Wild Honey Pie', 'Rocky Raccoon', 'Cry Baby Cry', 'I'm So Tired' and 'Julia', that were a part of their eponymous album The Beatles.
Talking about the track 'Tomorrow Never Knows' from Revolver, The Beatles said that while the composition may sound bizarre initially, it will only be because "you can't listen to Eastern music with a Western ear." Indian maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar even taught The Beatles member George Harrison how to play the sitar.
The Beatles may not have exploded as widely in India as they did in the US. But they did play a crucial role in making India a familiar name in the West. Though The Beatles' relation with Maharishi did go through a strenuous patch after several allegations of sexual advances against the spiritual guru surfaced, their track 'Yesterday' at the Beatles ashram was enough to disseminate Indian spirituality across the world. They also contributed immensely to the popularity of Indian classical music in the West by incorporating multiple instruments like the sitar and tabla in their music.
While The Beatles brought about a cultural revolution in India in the 1970s, Danny Boyle did the same with Slumdog Millionaire (2008), though its impact was limited to promoting Indian cinema on the global level. The success of Slumdog Millionaire — that revolves around a boy from Mumbai slums ending up winning the quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? — cut across the West and shone a light on the limitless talent that Indian actors possess. Actors like Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan and Freida Pinto became familiar faces in subsequent Hollywood films, making it easier for leading ladies like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone to break new grounds overseas. The trend still continues with Dimple Kapadia signing a Christopher Nolan film in Tenet and Huma Qureshi coming on board Army Of The Dead.
The music by AR Rahman and sound design by Resul Pookutty fetched both Academy Awards (a double whammy for Rahman for his track 'Jai Ho'). Rahman went on to score the music for Boyle's survival drama 127 Hours, Alex Kurtzman's People Like Us, Million Dollar Arm, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Pele, and Gurinder Chadha's Viceroy's House and Blinded By The Light. Slumdog Millionaire winning the Academy Award for Best Film and Best Director (for Boyle) established India as a great location for a wide range of stories, the most recent being Netflix's Dhaka, produced by Avengers: Endgame directors The Russo Brothers and starring Chris Hemsworth in the lead role.
Though Slumdog Millionaire was criticised for its display of 'poverty porn', it did fetch Boyle his first Academy Award, which snowballed into multiple opportunities, including an offer to direct Bond 25. Boyle has confessed that shooting in India was a spiritual experience for him as a filmmaker since he shot at live locations. "A director is a controller. You recreate the chaos and capture it by positioning your cameramen around it. You try to recreate it, often compromising continuity in the process. But as compensation for continuity, you get a sense of what life is," said Boyle.
Both Boyle and The Beatles have enjoyed fruitful relationships with India. While the upcoming film will celebrate both, it shall also take us down the memory lane.
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