Paul Satlzman didn’t just photograph The Beatles but also Jane Asher, Cynthia Lennon, Pattie Boyd Harrison, Maureen Starkey, Mia Farrow, Donovan, Mal Evans and Mike Love.
Meeting celebrities in person can be surreal; often because the moment is over before you even know it. But there are surreal moments of another kind that let you see the unknown side to a superstar — stripped of all glamour, just like a regular person. Canadian filmmaker Paul Saltzman experienced the latter when he was nursing a heartbreak at Maharshi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh in 1968.
Unaware that his week in the hills was going to be a life-changing one, the Canadian filmmaker showed up at the ashram, hoping to learn meditation. It’s only then that he realised his co-residents were going to be members of the iconic British rock band, The Beatles.
“I was just out of a meditative session, when I saw them for the first time. I walked up to them and asked them if I could join them…Paul [McCartney] said, ‘Come and sit here’,” recalls Satlzman. From that moment on, The Beatles took him in their larger group.
“I could have had photos and autographs of them, I just didn’t think of it. I didn’t want anything from them. So, they were very open with me,” he says, adding that it was only when he saw them take photos of each other that he asked each of them individually if he could photograph them, to which they happily agreed.
Saltzman returned to Canada, and those 50-odd frames — the only ones that exist from that period because of a ban on media entry in the ashram — remained with him as memories for over 30 years. Until one day, his half-Indian, Beatles fan daughter urged him to do something with them. And that’s how The Beatles in Rishikesh was published in 2000, and earlier this year, a special 50th anniversary edition, The Beatles in India, was released.
Saltzman is in Mumbai for an exhibition of the candid pictures, which has been organised by The Consulate General of Canada in Mumbai, Avid Learning and the Institute of Contemporary Indian Art Gallery. Proceeds from the sale of these works will go towards the NGO, Reality Gives.
Among his most memorable moments from the encounter, he picks two. “One day, when everyone left, it was just John and I at the table,” he reminisces. “‘Love can be pretty tough on us, can’t it?’ he said. ‘But the great thing about love, Paul, is you always get another chance’.”
And then he recalls one with George Harrison, which came after a sitar-playing session. “‘Like, we’re The Beatles after all, aren’t we? We have all the money you could ever dream of. We have all the fame you could ever wish for. But it isn’t love. It isn’t health. It isn’t peace inside, is it?’ George said to me. That was life-changing for me because I lived that way ever since.”
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