The Beatles and India review – the fab four go looking for a guru

This engaging music doc recounts the time the band enjoyed a spiritual summer of love in Rishikesh, and briefly turned the whole world on to India

The memory of the Beatles’ relationship with India is revived in this engaging documentary, and if there isn’t much really new here, it’s still salutary to be reminded of how these four young men – and it’s amazing to remember that they were only in their 20s, as Craig Brown’s book One Two Three Four points out – used their colossal influence, greater than any politician or movie star or religious leader, to direct the world’s attention to India, a country which until then had been opaque for many in the west.

The film amusingly notes that, before this, India had been just as crazed with western Beatlemania as anyone else, with a popular Beatles-style band called the Savages, and Shammi Kapoor bopping around wearing a Beatles wig in Bhappi Sonie’s 1965 film Janwar.

George Harrison visited India in 1966 to take sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar, and his humility and creative curiosity is still moving. In 1968, all four Beatles (Ringo Starr carrying a second suitcase full of tins of Heinz baked beans) went to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas, where they earnestly pursued transcendental meditation, experienced a summer of spiritual love and wound up composing most of the songs on the White Album.

The film rehearses the theory that with their manager Brian Epstein’s death in 1967, the Beatles needed a new guru, and duly fell for the Maharishi, whom they later found to be manipulative and grasping. Yet perhaps they reached this conclusion as a result of being manipulated by another guru, the supposed tech visionary Alexis “Magic Alex” Mardas, who became a malign influence on the chaotic business affairs of the Beatles’ Apple Corps.

Maybe the Indian influence on the Beatles’ music didn’t last, but India’s own prestige, its soft power in the west, was immeasurably enhanced.

• The Beatles and India is released on 4 October on digital platforms.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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