The long journey towards making Hare Krishna! started almost 50 years ago in 1970, when I found myself, camera in hand, smack bang in the middle of frenetic and beautifully intoxicating India, in a little town steeped in ancient spirituality called Surat. It was here that I first met Swami Srila Prabhupada.
At the time, I was a student enrolled at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York doing a Masters in Photography, and I had traveled to India to do my thesis on the origins of the Hare Krishna Movement.
Back then, the Hare Krishna’s were a relatively new group on the scene, mainly in New York and San Francisco. Known for their baldheads, orange robes, and dancing in the street, they were a source of bizarre fascination and a sight unseen before by the cynical, seasoned New Yorker. Yet, they seemed to be attracting a lot of attention among the youth of the burgeoning revolutionary movement.
I was a surfer from California who’d been a student at Berkeley during the height of the 1960s unrest, and had come to New York to pursue film and photography. My first interaction with the Hare Krishna devotees was when I received a freelance assignment from Asia magazine to do an article on the movement. I took the pictures and Jean, my girlfriend—later to become my wife—wrote the article. My first impression upon meeting the followers at their New York temple was that they were exotic and strange. I was inexplicably attracted by their philosophy and practices, and felt a strong desire to meet the Swami who had brought this to America.
I was not prepared for the impact of that first meeting with Prabhupada. In person, he was diminutive, and yet exuded a powerful presence that was both attractive and mystifying. I had never met such a person. During the following months in his company, surrounded by the rich spiritual culture of India, I found never- ending sources of inspiration from behind my camera. I experienced something beyond explanation—I felt I had finally come home to people and places I had known before. In the following years, Jean and I continued to document Prabhupada and his movement up until his passing in 1977.
Over time, I have come to intimately know Prabhupada’s life story and teachings, and in whatever professional or personal path I have taken, have always felt him to be a prominent guide in my life. It is exciting beyond words to revisit his extraordinary life, and share it with others in a film that I feel will offer rare insights into his multifaceted personality, and his enduring message of happiness and hope.
Growing up in the United States in the tumultuous ‘60s, I was suspicious of everything metaphysical. In early 1971, after having graduated with a degree in photography from Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, I was working as a professional photojournalist when my then boyfriend (now husband), John Griesser, invited me to India where he was completing a project on the Hare Krishna movement.
When I first heard about bhakti, the yoga of devotion and the foundation of the Hare Krishna movement, I flatly rejected it. It was worlds apart from my upbringing and my concept of spirituality.
That was until I met Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and spent time in one of India’s most holy places, Vrindavan. The pious residents and sacred rhythms of life in this small town caused my heart to shift. Despite myself, my skepticism waned.
Since then, I have studied the text that Prabhupada carried to the West, the Bhagavad-gita, and have practiced its precepts. My respect for the wisdom, relevance, and comprehensiveness of the teachings has grown.
My time spent with Prabhupada revolutionized my conception of life, so it was only natural for me to want to help create a film about his story and teachings. As co-director and screenwriter, it was important for me to delve through the mountain of material available and find that golden thread: the powerful, concise reality of Prabhupada’s almost unbelievable journey. I wanted to capture the odds that were stacked against him, and how, due to his unflinching faith and determination, he succeeded beyond even his own expectations.
At its core, this film is about how love conquers all, and how love is not dependent on externals. By giving viewers an introduction into the life of this extraordinary personality, I feel this film offers a new perspective on happiness and where one can find it.
I happened to meet John and Jean Griesser on a trip to India in 2014. A producer friend of mine had told me about their project and I was intrigued, as I had been interested in meditation and yoga practices for a number of years. However, I had limited knowledge of Srila Prabhupada’s story. All I knew was that he was the founder of the Hare Krishna movement and his followers were those exotic looking people in robes who sang and danced in the park near my school growing up. Little did I know of the adventure I was about to embark upon in making this film!
When researching for the film, I watched Prabhupada on screen and immediately felt drawn to his presence. I felt as if I were one of those young kids in 1966, walking into the Matchless Gifts store in New York’s Bowery, sitting at his feet and learning about this exciting alternative way of life. His exoticism and gravity is counterbalanced by his warmth and humor, making him an intriguing and engaging character. His story of perseverance and profound faith is one that I found to be deeply moving and believed would resonate with audiences.
Further to this, the key component that registered for me was his message – that what connects us is so much greater than what divides us. That we are so much more than the designations we are assigned at birth or choose in life – man, woman, black, white, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc. We are souls. And in order to begin to right the wrongs in the world and to live with a deeper sense of fulfillment, we must address this truth within us and live from that place, a place where there are no borders. After years of traveling and making documentaries featuring people and cultures from all around the world, this rang true to my own life experience.
It has been an amazing opportunity to work with two such experienced documentary filmmakers. John and Jean’s work was born out of the cinema verite era, and captured a unique personality and cultural phenomena in recent history. Their rare collection of footage and photographs offers a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the life and teachings of a man whose message remains universally relevant to this day.