Buddha in Cannes

Buddha in Cannes


Buddha in Cannes

Over the years, Dipankar Khanna has worn many hats: yoga teacher, author, Buddhist monk, behavioural consultant, leadership coach, and so on. A few years ago, he turned producer of a documentary which is set to be screened at the “Short Film Corner” organised as part of the 69th Cannes Film Festival.

Mount of Excellence is directed by Shivajee Chandrabhushan, whose first film Frozen (2007) won two National Awards and more than 20 international awards. In a freewheeling chat with Sunday Herald, Khanna, who runs a creative learning centre in Bengaluru, shared nuggets of his life and his motivations for/experience of producing Mount of Excellence.

Here are some edited excerpts from the interaction:

On his engagement with Buddhism

Born to erstwhile Bollywood heroine (Indrani Mukherjee), I initially joined family business only to be disillusioned before long. As I struggled to fight my personal demons, serendipitous circumstances brought me close to yoga. I then became a teacher and researcher at the Yoga Institute in Mumbai. My interest in Tibetan Buddhism was triggered in 1987 after reading a translated text on Sutras and Tantras written by the 1st Dalai Lama about 400 years ago. My meeting the Dalai Lama in 1989 proved to be another turning point in my life. Over the next years, I met many monks who guided and inspired me to study Buddha’s life and teachings. I was ordained as a novice monk in the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism by the 12th Chamgon Kenting Tai Situpa. Even though I left the monastery after a few years to carry the mantle of a householder again, my connection with my guru and the institution he represents have continued unabated.

On his documentary

In mid-2013, I decided to produce the documentary, Mount of Excellence, to pay homage to the long line of Tibetan lamas; and in particular, to the Maitreya Buddha lineage right up to the present Tai Situpa incarnations. I also wanted to show to the world the connections of the lineage to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the 17th Karmapa. I approached Shivajee and his wife Triparna Banerjee to give shape to my ideas. We jointly wrote the script for the film; shot extensively in Himachal Pradesh for about 5 months; and ended up with about 65 hours of raw footage! With careful editing, a final cut was made with a running time of 65 minutes.

Mount of Excellence premiered in Delhi at the India Habitat Centre on February 9, 2015. The film was once again edited early this year. The 35-minute film is now set for its international premiere during the forthcoming Cannes Festival.

On funding the documentary

As far as finding funds and support for the film, things fell in place like a miracle. Initially, I pooled my own resources to get the project going. Later on, I was able to get my family and friends to chip in. When the film was almost ready, we approached Kabir Bedi to be the narrator in the film. He not only agreed, but did so without charging a single rupee.  

On what the film is all about

Mount of Excellence is a stylised documentary film, which takes the viewers on a soulful journey into the centuries-old Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The film is set in and around the enchanting Palpung Sherabling Monastery in Himachal Pradesh. The film unfolds the stories about the lineage of the Tai Stupas and the Buddha Maitreya; it also captures the vibrant world of knowledge, wisdom, arts, and performances as practiced by the Buddhist monks. Using a non-linear format, the documentary unravels the secrets of the rich lineage of Tai Situpas by presenting several colourful ceremonies and rituals including the energetic Cham Dance; and Grand Abhishek ceremony of the Red Vajra Crown.

On the future of the documentary

I have never thought of Mount of Excellence as a commercial venture with a revenue model. My sole intention was to carry the message of Buddha dharma and the glory of the Palpung lineage of the Tai Situpa Lamas through the film.

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