Noted filmmaker Pankuj Parashar talks to Satish Purohit about how his spiritual journey continues to shape his outlook, life, and work
For those of us who came of age in the late 80s, Pankuj Parashar, a graduate of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), painter, graphic artist, composer, and filmmaker, remains an important shaper of our imaginations. Karamchand, the hugely popular television detective series directed by Parashar that made Pankaj Kapur a household name, was running on Doordarshan. I remember Sachin Chawla, a classmate, telling me that he had walked up to Pankaj Kapur, who lived somewhere in New Quarters, a sprawl of single-storey flats painted in the pale yellow of all government buildings across India, to ask him, “who is the murderer?”
Kapur, I remember Sachin telling me, had smiled and asked Sachin to watch the next episode. Detective Karamchand, who loves carrots, maybe for the beta carotene, also had a vacuous secretary, named Kitty, who would constantly be corrected with the line “Shut up, Kitty!” Parashar went on to make commercially successful films like the cop-thriller, Jalwa (1987), starring Naseeruddin Shah, and the Sridevi hit, Chaal Baaz (1989), which got the actress the Filmfare Best Actress Award. His film, Banaras—A Mystic Love Story (2006), was named after the city, which formed the backdrop of the film’s story. Starring Urmila Matondkar and Naseeruddin Shah as leads, the film was rich in references to the Buddha, Kabir, Tulsidas and Mahavatar Babaji. Parashar has shot another film in Banaras recently, for Children’s Film Society India called Banarasi Jasoos, which has little detectives solving the case of Tulsidas’s missing footwear!
Life Positive paid a visit to Parashar’s cosy little office/studio in suburban Mumbai. The leafy lane in upscale Khar, leading to the quiet house which spilled over with musical instruments, books, trophies (including a Filmfare Award for the documentary, Malfunction, in 1980), and a big-screen desktop connected with a musical keyboard, set the tone for the conversation that followed.
Tell us something about the creative and spiritual influences in your formative years.
I was creative as a child, like most children. I was finger painting at the age of five and tried my hand at composing music. When there was a newspaper strike, I ‘hand printed’ my own newspaper that included my cartoons and sold them in the neighbourhood at the age of 10.
Anand-Milind, successful film directors, and sons of the celebrated music director Chitragupta, were my neighbours. Their house was stocked with all kinds of musical instruments imaginable. My father bought me a sitar when I was 13. I was enrolled in a sitar class and made to practice raag Yaman Kalyan for one full year.
I had a grand aunt who was widowed early; she lived in Haridwar. We would often visit her during my school holidays. She freely shared with me stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Yog Vashishta.
It was from her that I learned that I have descended from the Parashar gotra (the blood line or disciplic line descended from the seer Parashar). She told me that I had the seeds of greatness in me, but I had to work hard to nurture them or my lifetime would be wasted. She quoted the Buddha and said that to be born as a human with self-awareness was a great honour and that I should be thankful to the universe for that.
I have always been fortunate in one respect. I attract many spiritual people in my life. I get to meet a lot of elevated seekers, avatars, gurus, and spiritual souls. Considering the sound moorings I had in our spiritual tradition, life was meant to unfold the way it has, I guess.
When I turned 10, I used to badger sadhus in Haridwar with questions like, “Why visit the temple? Why worship idols?” So, I was always a seeker. This side of my personality stayed alive till I entered adulthood.
So, how did the spiritual and creative sides of your personality influence your craft as a filmmaker and storyteller?
Apart from doing the usual Bollywood commercial films (with stars like Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan, Anil Kapoor, Sri Devi, and Madhuri Dixit) I also shot a series of esoteric spiritual documentaries, which opened up new worlds for me.
I read that by the age of 40, our brain cells reach their storage limit. However, one can increase one’s creativity by tapping into the Akashic records, the storehouse of all knowledge and records of what is, what was, and what will be, regardless of one’s age. So, in a way, one remains forever young in the head and the heart and can, if one so wishes, actually be more creative than he or she has ever been.
Tulsidas wrote the Ramayana at age 65. Whether Hanuman recited it to him or he dipped into the Akashic records is worth considering.
I was fortunate enough to hold the original handwritten Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas in my hands in Tulsi Kutir, Banaras, during the shooting of my movie Banaras—A Mystic Love Story. It is sad that most people do not know that it exists.
My life, which includes my creative pursuits as a filmmaker, has been scripted in many ways by spiritual forces. I understood this when I had the opportunity of receiving wisdom from Sri Amma Bhagwan of the Oneness University. Actually, my association with Sri Amma Bhagwan in 2002 (Amma and Kalki Bhagwan of Oneness University) opened up a world of spiritual possibilities for me as an individual and also as a creative person.
How did Sri Amma Bhagwan enter your life?
In 2002, when Sri Amma Bhagwan or Kalki (for those who do not know Sri Amma-Bhagwan are a wife-husband pair) were only known to a minuscule but close-knit circle of devotees, I received a call from their ashram. I was doing mainstream commercial filmmaking back then and had little to do with any spiritual guru or organisation. They wanted me to visit the ashram. They described the place as a verdant forest surrounded by sylvan hills and a clear water stream where little fish nibbled away at the dead skin of one’s feet. I agreed to pay them a visit because in my mind it appeared to be a good place for an extended picnic.
I was received by the closest devotees called dasas at the ashram. Bhagwan was supposed to visit us from Chennai shortly. We made good of the time by playing cricket, talking, and generally having a good time. Food came from a village nearby as the facilities at the ashram were rudimentary back then. When Bhagwan arrived, we spoke for three hours and I sensed that I was standing at a door. If I pushed, a whole world of possibilities awaited me on the other side. He told me that I would be making a spiritual feature film a few years later. I laughed it off saying I would never do an experimental film. Four years later I shot Banaras—A Mystic Love Story! It was eventually screened at the ashram.
What changed for you after that call from Kalki Bhagwan’s devotees?
The conviction that the spiritual world has a lot to offer us grew on me. Bhagwan spoke with great certainty in those three hours. He assured me that a big temple would come up at this very spot where devotees in thousands would arrive and get transformed completely. His manner was that of calm knowing.
At that time, in that remote patch of land, there were no signs of the teeming metropolis that he expected to manifest. Every word he spoke to me on that day has come true. Later, I was told by one of his close devotees that I was to shoot a havan that was being planned. I told him that I had no plans of shooting non-commercial films. However, I finally relented and decided to shoot a film for the Oneness University. It was, of course, a professional arrangement. I returned a few months later after I was told that Bhagwan was now giving initiations. A dasa would come over to my room at six in the morning and pour ‘cosmic energy’ into my crown chakra. Without touching me! For the first six days, nothing happened. Then something opened up within. It was a profoundly transformative experience.
I could watch thoughts flitting through my mind with stunning clarity. I sensed the breathing of plants and saw a horse grazing at some distance. I could suddenly feel what the animal was feeling. The animal did not experience itself at all and was engrossed in the act of eating grass. The ecstasy the horse was feeling was unbelievable. It was a supremely blissful experience. We clutter our heads with so many thoughts on the surface, and in the subconscious, we miss the bliss of just being. The problem is that our ‘self’ is a wall and will not let this happen. Unless there is outside grace, or we get lucky like Krishnamurthy or Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev.
I went through sadhanas that purified the self at very deep levels and as I progressed, I felt extremely light. It was as if a great weight had lifted off me.
In the night, as I lay on the terrace, I felt the whole universe in me. My guide or dasa too felt this and we both just laughed endlessly, a causeless joy.
I went on to shoot a documentary that captured experiences and miracles that a number of Kalki Bhagwan-Amma devotees had experienced in their lives.
There is a woman in Orissa who was healed of her cancer by Kalki who reportedly visited her in her sleep and who in turn has been healing a lot of sick people. She credits Bhagwan for restoring her health, as well as her healing ability,
There have been a number of instances where ash, kumkum (a red pigment used by Hindu women to make a round mark on the forehead), money, and even gold has materialised at altars with photos of Amma and Bhagwan. I have attempted to locate the source of the kumkum that has been falling from such photos and have found nothing. I shot a clock with Bhagwan’s photo that was dripping honey for over a week in Orissa.
Did you ask Kalki Bhagwan to grant you some powers of your own?
I did ask him to give me enlightenment. He had given me glimpses of it. He laughed and refused to do it. He said I would not be able to do anything in the mundane world if I became enlightened. I would just be sitting under some peepal tree, self-satisfied, and withdrawn from the world. He said I had a lot to do yet—I understood.
He just wanted me to gather enough spiritual strength, so I could live happily and peacefully in the world. However, with his grace, some special powers and experiences did come my way in the months that followed. He taught me to physically dissipate the ‘charge’ or ‘hurt to self or ego’ instead of wallowing in it, as the mind tends to.
And it is not just me. There was a Christian minister I know about from New York who had an awakening of sorts and who keeps Kalki Bhagwan’s photograph on his mantelpiece in his church in New York. Then there is the Japanese monk and spiritual leader Kenji Nakanishi who took diksha along with 13 disciples when he finally experienced the cosmic oneness he had longed for all his life, thanks to the grace of Amma and Kalki Bhagwan. I interviewed him on camera.
Could you elaborate what powers awakened as a result of your sadhana?
I could easily scan a person’s body and tell if the body was sick, broken or unwell, or going to be sick. Back in Mumbai, I was sitting in the lobby of Taj Land's End when I saw a yogi sitting a few steps away. I immediately got down to business and tried to peer inside his body and found myself facing immense spiritual energy.
The yogi saw me and suddenly shut my vision. He looked directly at me and smiled. He beckoned me to approach him. It was as if an armour had come up and I could not penetrate it. The man was Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudeva. He wasn’t as famous as he is now, so I hadn’t recognised him.
He asked me what I was doing. It was a little embarrassing. He invited me to his ashram where he personally took me on a tour of the power spots at the ashram on Shivratri. He told me to keep my spine erect on Shivratri night as the planets were aligned and I should let them work on my chakras. I also released a book he had written, at three am on Shivratri!
In fact, after my experiences with Kalki Bhagwan, I found myself encountering a number of elevated spiritual souls who opened up to me and added to my understanding of spirituality. Around this time, I also received a call inviting me to a meeting with Avdhoot Baba Shivanand and attend his camp in Rishikesh.
He had seen my film, Banaras—A Mystic Love Story, and it was quite surreal discussing my cinema with an attained soul in Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganges.
I told him that the music they played in the morning was really awful. The Baba, the sport that he is, laughed heartily and asked me to compose something better. I did, and that is what they play now at times in their Shivirs.
I have witnessed the efficacy of Shiv Yog agriculture, where the soil, after being given Shaambhavi or Shiv energy by Avdhoot Shivanand Baba, increases its fertility by as much as 18 to 20 per cent. What is being achieved by the grace of these masters is amazing.
Another remarkable teacher I met, this time through an article in Life Positive, was Dadashreeji of MaitriBodh Parivaar. He is a direct disciple of Mahavatar Babaji and is in constant touch with his guru. I went to Karjat to meet him when the ashram had not really developed. Once more, my good fortune brought me to the feet of a master whose congregation was yet to grow to a noticeable size. We spent hours talking one-to-one. It was amazing. He said he would convey my regards and respect to Mahavtar Babaji. Dadashreeji has visited this room you are in now. The photograph I have of him, which I took here, is used for worship at Dadashreeji’s ashram near Mumbai.
One of my life’s biggest blessings was that Dadashreeji was told by Mahavtar Babaji that I should paint Babaji as he is now! So, I had to do many trips to Karjat as I did versions of Babaji till I finally got it right according to Dadashreeji, including the walking stick that Babaji carries now. It is this painting that is put up at the ashram now. Dadashreeji also let me sign it as ‘Mitr Pankuj’! I remain humbled by that gesture.
I also found the only surviving photograph of Lahiri Mahasaya (Sri Shyama Charan Lahiri), the Kriya Yoga master, who could not be photographed as his body vibrated at a frequency which the cameras of those days couldn’t capture. This particular picture was taken with his permission.
I made a documentary on him in the Banaras house where Babaji appeared to him and where many miracles were performed by Lahiri Mahasaya which is available on youtube. This short film also features Dadashreeji and the painting I did of Babaji.
So, I am blessed when it comes to satsang with mahatmas. One of my closest friends is Dr Pankaj
Naram, who is an ayurveda guru and a descendant of the gurus who originally treated the Buddha in Sarnath. He also has some parchments that are over 4000 years old with ancient ayurvedic formulas. He has lived in a cave for several years with his guru in the Himalayas, attaining ayurvedic knowledge.
How has this spiritual unfolding affected your filmmaking?
Without experiencing various spiritual dimensions and the transformation within myself, I would not have been able to make a film with a spiritual theme like Banaras—A Mystic Love Story. Avdhoot Baba Shivanand and Kalki Bhagwan asked me to be vigilant for the emergence of the 'spiritual ego’, which is the surge of pride that accompanies what are called siddhis (spiritual powers). It is very easy to have a swollen head after one gains some spiritual experience. This advice has held me in good stead. It has grounded me in my life and work as well. Banaras—A Mystic Love Story would not have been possible had L C Singh, the Chairman and CEO of Nihilent Technologies Ltd, not decided to produce it. He was clear at the outset that he wanted to make a good movie and not a money spinner at the box office. This gave me the creative room to bring the light of my spiritual experiences to my craft. Singh wanted to create a film that was aligned with his
search for big answers pertaining to knowledge, truth, existence, being, and becoming. When the film was released, it attracted considerable critical acclaim and drew like-minded searching souls together. I know of several groups of seekers brought together by their love for the film. Not surprisingly, the film continues to be a spiritual catalyst in the lives of many. This is evident from the countless comments on YouTube, where the film is available for free viewing.
I was shooting in Manikarnika cremation grounds in Banaras, where an Aghori sadhu surprised me with the advice: “drop the ego; the search becomes easier,” in English. Wonders never cease.
Satish Purohit is an author-coach whose professional background spans the fields of publishing, editing, writing, and bookselling
Life Positive follows a stringent review publishing mechanism. Every review received undergoes -
Only after we're satisfied about the authenticity of a review is it allowed to go live on our website
Our award winning customer care team is available from 9 a.m to 9 p.m everyday
All our healers and therapists undergo training and/or certification from authorized bodies before becoming professionals. They have a minimum professional experience of one year
All our healers and therapists are genuinely passionate about doing service. They do their very best to help seekers (patients) live better lives.
All payments made to our healers are secure up to the point wherein if any session is paid for, it will be honoured dutifully and delivered promptly
Every seekers (patients) details will always remain 100% confidential and will never be disclosed