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The 23rd UK Asian Film Festival concludes with the world premiere of The Beatles and India. The 11-day event has showcased full-length features, short films and documentaries, screened nationwide and online. Focusing on emerging talent from South Asia, UKAFF is produced by non-profit organisation Tongues on Fire, and involves a small and dedicated team.

Tributes are paid to actors and artists recently passed, followed by a celebration of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Satyajit Ray, marking 100 years since his birth. An award ceremony accompanies the honours, in which The Beatles and India wins audience award for best film and musical score. Directed by Ajay Bose and Peter Compton, it is a gem for Beatles fans, with thousands of hours of archive and unseen footage exploring India’s impact on the band that defined a generation. A montage of vintage films with clips of the group travelling, amongst screaming fans, depicts the frenzy that followed the Liverpudlians across the globe.

The country was a major inspiration for guitarist George Harrison, in its classical music, arriving in Delhi for the first time in July 1966, the group’s new musical route inspired thousands of fans to purchase sitars and tablas, which were “selling like hot cakes”. Through mutual friends, Harrison was introduced to eminent musician and sitar virtuoso, Ravi Shankar, eventually becoming his disciple. The British pop star not only loved Indian music, but was captivated by the country’s culture, which heavily influenced The White Album.

They met guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – at a seminar in Wales – who is praised for developing the Transcendental Meditation method. Mahesh’s followers were increasing rapidly at the time, and the musicians were attracted by the spiritual leader’s teachings, later visiting Rishikesh, nicknamed a “gateway to the Himalayas”.

Directors Bose and Compton state in the interview afterwards that their background is in music, not film – though this is what makes the documentary fascinating and adds such a spark. With meetings from artists inspired by The Beatles to an off-screen conversation from Harrison’s ex-wife, Pattie Boyd, these key accounts shape the production.

The UK Asian Film Festival was on from 26th May until 6th June 2021.


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