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The Monk Who Left Journalism

Thotta Tharani as Swami Chinmayananda. Photo: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: GRJGM

Who says commercial films starring superstars like Rajnikanth or Shahrukh Khan alone can have punch lines?

Sample this: “India is free, but are Indians free?”; “God is like the petrol in a car. Without the petrol, the car cannot run. But it is the driver who determines where the car goes.”; “Without the touch of life (read God), a sinner cannot sin neither can a monk meditate".

These are powerful words not penned by any scriptwriter but uttered by men of high knowledge and wisdom that appeal equally to the atheist and the divine. Many more such meaningful dialogues generated applauds, evoked emotions and accentuated the wow factor of ‘ On a Quest’ -- a period film on Swami Chinmayananda’s journey from a freedom fighter and a non-believer to a teacher of Vedanta.

The two hour biopic in English was screened for the second time on popular demand in Madurai and the people who filled up the Mookambika theatre on Sunday morning got their money’s worth.

Made by the Chinmaya Mission to mark the birth centenary celebrations of Swami Chinmayananda, this is the first ever documentation of the fiery young revolutionary’s transformation into a missionary. It is a beautifully woven and enacted story which unlike the stories about most other gurus, does not push Swami Chinmayananda’s lectures, achievements or books to the forefront.

Rather, director R.S.Prasanna of “ Kalyana Samayal Saadham" fame convincingly and touchingly tells the story of a man who never made claims of being a god or a godman and offered miracles. He simply interpreted the Bhagavad Gita for the masses. No matter, if there weren’t enough people to listen to him or even if the most educated came to him to understand the meaning of life. The multi-linguist Swami simply shared his knowledge without a fee and alluring promises.

Obviously Swami Chinmayananda is not his real name. He was born Balakrishna Menon in 1916 in Ernakulam. As a student of Lucknow University, he briefly joined the nationalist movement and was jailed by the British in 1941. When he is tortured and left to die by the British, he is nursed back to life from the throes of death by a friend’s family. But when the same friend dies unexpectedly in the prime of his youth, it sets Balan thinking about life, its meaning and uncertainties. He joins The National Herald as a reporter and in a short time establishes a fan following with his articles. The subjects he chooses and his style of writing sets the paper’s circulation to a new high.

But deep within Balan is unable to fathom many things that touch his life. If a cobbler’s life humbles him, he wonders why the rich argue with a poor rickshaw puller and pay him only 30 paise for a ride with no regard for his labour and with much ease offer a sadhu five rupees to seek his blessings.

He plans to expose what he calls the racket of religion and the myth of sadhus and goes off to Rishikesh to meet Swami Sivananda. He stays on for six months to see things firsthand at the ashram. While the rationalist in him refuses to believe in the existence of God, the journalist in him questions meaningless rituals and the seeker in him sets about experiencing everything.

Eventually he gives up his name and profession and gets his orange robe and the name of Chinmayananda. Then he goes further North and learns the Shastras for 10 years from the well know sage, Swami Tapovan. It is this ardent quest for the truth that sees Swami Chinmayananda reaching out to the world in a way it understands best. It is a spectacular transformation from an unconventional seeker to a revered master, who inspired the establishment of missions all over the world and embraced an ever-expanding network of devotees and students.

The film has created a lot of buzz with 75 plus screenings across the country. Except art director Thota Tharrani who plays the older Chinmayananda, all others on the screen are amateurs. Together with technicians from KSS, the film has succeeded in matching international quality because all the people who have been associated with the film in any which way have done it with the purity of their heart.

Madurai is the only city in Tamil Nadu to have screened the film twice and is planning a third one soon. “We have received good response from the people,” says Swami Sivayogananda, Acharya of Madurai Centre, “but want more children and youths to watch it for the inspirational and invaluable lessons that can be drawn from Guruji’s life”.

If you feel inclined to watch, don’t miss it the next time. It could make a difference to your lives. Or at least watch it for the effort that has gone into it.

( Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail soma.basu@thehindu.co.in to tell her about someone you know who is making a difference)

To know more about the film, click >here

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 11:22:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-monk-who-left-journalism/article6932946.ece

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