Cultural Conquest ( a Book Sankirtana for the New Millenium )
Posted November 23, 2005
I was walking down the street the other evening feeling somewhat frustrated because I had just read that a multi-million dollar production of "The Mahabharata" started shooting in India with Bollywood super-stars. It was going to be a very ambitious film with special effects done by Peter Jackson's team in New Zealand who were responsible for the hugely successful "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. In fact, this "Mahabharata" is also going to be distributed as a trilogy as well and I couldn't help but think how nice it would have been if some Hare Krishna devotees were doing it. I always said from the very beginning that what the world needed were major motion pictures and good stage plays of the "Mahabharata," "The Life of Lord Caitanya" and the "Vedas" in general.
I believed then as I do now that this is what the world needs to bring the masses to Krishna consciousness in an emotional and kinetic manner. I was happy that the film was being done at least by a competent group of artists in a super-professional way and that if anyone had a right to do this great epic from India, it would be Indians. My only concern now is how Lord Krishna would be portrayed and if the film's vision would stay true to the story's spiritual content notwithstanding the musical numbers which I'm sure will be many given the Bollywood mindset. Of course, this is up to Krsna Himself. We'll see.
I started to think about a major production of the "Srimad-Bhagavatam" done for TV as a miniseries. Every home in the world has a TV set and how great it would be for millions of viewers to see these Vedic stories which is still unknown to westerners. Naturally, my vision for a Srimad-Bhagavatam movie would be with sophisticated CGI effects and a multi-million dollar budget with big name stars and hopefully that day is not far off. However, with a Bhagavatam movie, devotees should be involved as the subject matter is more sensitive devotionally. So far though, devotees have not been successful these past 40 years in connecting with big money people to make this a reality. Then again, we would need Vaisnavas who are as artistically adept and I do believe that a devotee or devotees do exist and will manifest if this is Krsna's desire. I have no doubt that day will come very soon. Perhaps ISKCON Cinema in Mumbai can begin raising money for such an endeavor. Certainly Bollywood and Hollywood have billions of dollars at their disposal.
A VEDIC DINNER THEATRE
On a more practical level, one of the elements that attracted me to Krsna consciousness back in 1978 other than the prasadam was a unique stage play done by devotees at the old New York City Temple of the "Ramayana" that really made me sit up. I was so impressed by the acting and the message that I even invited a friend of mine and his daughter. It would be another year later that I began actually going to a temple where I would begin hearing and reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam and seeing the deities. I was always a shy person. The point is, I was attracted by prasadam and the stage play. The concept of entertainment and food.
A BOON FOR BOOK DISTRIBUTION
There has been much talk about new ideas for book distribution in ISKCON and I think one of the novel ways of doing this would be to introduce a "Vedic Dinner Theatre" concept. In other words, while film is an expensive venture, devotees could distribute books and at the same time invite interested buyers to the temple to watch a stage play and have dinner at the same time. In other words, the book distributor would offer not only a book, but a dinner and a play as well. Maybe all for $20 or whatever would be feasible. This could be an on-going production of say, "The Mahabharata." How would this work?
GET SOME ENTHUSIASTIC DEVOTEES
In traditional dinner theatre concepts whether the venue is outdoors such as a park or indoors, much of the fare is of the musical variety genres such as "South Pacific" and "The Sound of Music" etc. Of course, there are mystery dinner thatre concepts as well that take on darker tones. The tables are set up basically around a make-shift stage or one that can be set up easily. The actors in the play also function as the waiters and waitresses and serve the guests and in that way live off the tips from the guests. They then change costume and take their roles in the play. In other words, a Vedic dinner theatre would be self-suffcient and self-sustaining. This concept can also be executed outside a temple environment by say, leasing a suitable space for those temples so inclined.
The play/s could be done with a limited troupe of actors, say a core of 5-8 men and women and rotating with 1-2 other plays. There would be no need to do many small skits. Just polish 2-4 plays.
PITCH A TENT
Some devotees have told me that space for such plays would be a problem. There is no problem. Plays are done anywhere and everywhere as long as the space is clean. For example, there are temples that have outdoor space. A tent could be pitched and a stage set up. This is good in warm climates of course. The plays would be performed as much as several times a week. Say, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and even a Sunday afternoon matinee just before the big feast. In fact, the play could take the place of the traditional discourse and might prove just as stimulating. Flyers could also be distributed and programs for the guests. make them feel welcome. Or, guests could have dinner separately and then watch the play after dinner, whatever works for that particular temple etc.
The plays would be done as professionally as possible using a strong light design, music and a simple set design. The idea would be to keep the budget at a minimum. I think that this would be especially exciting for book distributors because in selling a book, like say the Bhagavad-gita, they are also inviting the guest to dinner and a great stage play. I think this is a good way to introduce colleg-age people as well. Everyone likes dramatic entertainment and with the high cost of movies today, where else can you get a book, have dinner and see a live stage play for $20. My guess is, they'll pay more than that.
THE PLAYS THE THING
Soon, Srila Vyasadeva, Lord Krishna, Arjuna, Yudhisthira, Draupadi, Gandhari, Duryodhana and all the personalities in the Vedas will become houshold words and their exploits and teachings will be talked about for 10,000 years. They will all be celebrities in the truest sense of the term and Lord Krsna Himself will be glorified. Srila Prabhupada who originally introduced the Vedas to the west in 1965 will also be recognized by the whole world as the greatest spiritual personality in the 20 th Century as well.
I would like to hear from devotees about spearheading such an endeavor as I have the plays to begin with in addition to certain props, music etc. We could make this a reality and it will have a great impact on book sankirtana. I would be willing to travel at my expense to meet with devotees and perhaps begin doing a prototype of this endeavor. I can be reached at: