In February 1968, the Beatles, high on a cocktail of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar and four straight years of worldwide fame, travelled to the ashram of the Maharishi in Rishikesh, now in Uttarakhand.
The trip didn’t end too well — there were egos, misunderstandings, the odd upset stomach, and so on.
Life moved on. Fast forward to 2021.
The Beatles And India, a film about the Beatles India trip made more than 50 years after their trip to Rishikesh, hits the festival circuit.
It is celebrated across geographies — from Spain to Calcutta to London and counting.
The inner light
The docu-film — just in case you haven’t seen it yet — features riveting fly-on-the-wall interviews, many of whom were present in Rishikesh, rare archival footage, and rarer photographs, all woven together in a masterly narrative.
But this article isn’t about the film, it's about the marketing of the film.
A film that was written and directed by an Indian, produced by a London-based independent record company, distributed by a British free-to-air public television network, launched on a slew of apps and OTTs, and is now celebrated by Beatles fans worldwide.
Where did it begin?
The political journalist Ajoy Bose wrote the book Across the Universe: The Beatles in India, which was published in 2018.
The book was a sleeper hit amongst the very influential Beatles fan community and Ajoy was frequently invited to speak about the book worldwide — he actually met the co-director Peter Compton at a conference on the (Beatles’) White Album in the US.
Here comes the sun
One thing led to another and powered by the reputation of the book, Ajoy was contacted by Reynold D’Silva, a London based British-Indian musical entrepreneur on turning the book into a film. D’Silva actually flew down to Mumbai to meet Ajoy, such was the interest level.
Next came the research — who to interview, what footage to show, and finally what to shoot.
Much of the process was last minute and much serendipity occurred; the British camera team dropped out and a brand new Indian crew had to be hired.
Interestingly the film does not have any original Beatles compositions — it was just too expensive to buy!
There was an accompanying album though, The Beatles and India: Songs Inspired by the Film, consisting of recordings by contemporary Indian artists of songs written by the Fab Four, that reflect the band's absorption in Indian culture.
It was a brilliant move I think, besides Nikhil D'Souza's version of Lennon's India, India and Karsh Kale and Benny Dayal's McCartney's Mother Nature's Son, the artists included Dhruv Ghanekar, Anoushka Shankar, Soulmate, Farhan Ahktar, Vishal Dadlani and Monica Dogra. Everyone wanted to be in this album.
The distribution team cast a wide net. Abacus Media Rights picked up the main rights and distributed it to Channel 4 in the UK, BritBox North America for the US and Canada, HBO Max for Latin America, Foxtel for Australia, Channel One for Russia, and A Contracorriente Films for Spain.
Pete Paphides of Uncut magazine is bang on when he says, “Over 50 years later, what survives is gratitude on all sides that The Beatles and the Indian musicians, teachers and fans they met got to be part of each other's story”
Finally, this film is a masterclass in how to promote an independent film.
A class act to follow
And these are the toplines I would like you to consider, if you’re planning to shoot the next global hit out of India. Good luck!
1. A book in advance would help greatly, to create some buzz. Travel, plug, plug, plug. Build up a conspiracy of the like-minded.
2. Create a hook-filled trailer. Promote it on social media. You’re competing with the next door kid on Instagram.
3. Create a film website but keep it simple. A website is like an ad these days.
4. Mix it up, make it multicultural. You’ll get a global audience.
5. Think of digital first. Finally that is what will help you win – or perish.
(Shubho Sengupta is a digital marketer with an analogue ad agency past.)