Director Haricharan on shooting a documentary about the Buddhist monk

Filmmaker S. Haricharan (of Thoovaanam fame) visited China on an invitation to shoot a documentary on the life of the 28th patriarch of Buddhism, Bodhidharma. After spending ten exciting days of discovery, Haricharan talks about his experiences.

“When this trip came about, my mind could only fathom the words Kung fu and Zen in a superficial manner. At the Shaolin Temple, Bodhidharma's explosive Kung fu is still being practised; a therapeutic cure for mind and body! When I stepped into the temple for the first time it was the peace and tranquillity that blew me over. As I stood in front of the monastery’s historic main gate and my cameraman clicked the first snap, it felt as if I was experiencing some sort of a mirage,” says Haricharan.

Haricharan’s China visit was broadly categorised into three parts — a three-day shooting experience at the Shaolin Temple; a foray into Chinese filmdom to explore possibilities of promoting Tamil cinema; and meeting administrators of Chinese film academies to moot and promote the exchange of visual communication students and faculty between Tamil Nadu and China. “I feel gratified that I have achieved so much more than I thought possible during this 10-day visit to Shanghai, Hongzhu and Beijing, among other places. I’m confident that my visit will pave the way for the promotion of cinema both in China and India and particularly help take Tamil cinema one step forward in terms of promoting content and attracting prospective investors from China,” says Haricharan.

Unravelling Damo

According to the Masters and administrators of the Shaolin Temple, no Tamil filmmaker had possibly ever visited it, at least in the recent past to verify the records about Bodhidharma. Haricharan had gone to the Shaolin after making a short film presentation based on the records available and information garnered from a few locals. The Abbot Shi Yongxin keenly watched the film and asked him for clarifications and details. After watching the film, to his total surprise, he got up with a smile, blessed him and presented a bronze statue of Bodhidharma (called Damo in China).

Adds Haricharan, “Documentary filmmaking is not exactly lucrative for most Tamil directors. It is my good fortune that Master Sha Yan Lin gave us full access to shoot inside the temple. Unseen stone inscriptions and records were shown to enable me to connect the missing pieces of the Bodhidharma puzzle, which you will get to see in my documentary.”

The documentary will focus on the life of Damo, his travel from Kanchi to Shaolin, his fiery encounter with Emperor Xiao Yan, his deep meditation and his nine-year penance at the Mount Song of Henan province, his words of wisdom which were the very basis and founding of Zen and the art of Kungfu.

“His enormous contribution to traditional Chinese medicine (TMC as it is commonly referred to today) is well-known,” states the director, adding, “The film will showcase the almost-forgotten hero from Kanchi who taught Zen meditation and medicine — Dhyan as Ch'an, Kalari as Kungfu to the Chinese. Through Damo, the Chinese rediscovered Gautama Buddha. It will also showcase unseen footage of the fun-loving but highly disciplined Shaolin monks,” concludes Haricharan.