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Chinmaya Dunster: Making the film Concert For India's Environment

This film was made entirely budget-free. Everyone involved in both the concert and the film project gave their time and skills without payment. It is also available for free. It is an expression of love and gratitude for our planet, the natural world and it’s denizens, both human and animal.

I never expected to see myself as a film director. I never planned to make a film. But then in the three and a half years since the Concert For India’s Environment in 2004, a kind of organic growth took over and this simple musician has also had to become concert organizer, film cameraman, interviewer, score composer, film editor and graphics and web designer too!

The concert, originally planned simply to inaugurate the new auditorium at Bharati Vidyapeeth Institute of Environmental Education and Research (BVIEER) in Pune, had its roots in two extraordinary meetings for me. The first was in 2001 with the Institute’s Director, Dr Erach Bharucha, whose inspiring presence is so central to the film. I was searching for some recordings of Indian birdsong to use as background to the music on a CD project, and was told that there was indeed a gentleman who had compiled such recordings living in Koregaon Park, Pune - in fact just around the corner from me. He opened the door to this stranger, heard my request and was, within a minute or two, hunting out his last remaining tape copy and pressing it into my hands! From that moment on we were friends and I determined to do something in return for him. He showed me the Institute that he had set up, with its brand new auditorium. And took me to areas on the fringes of Pune city that were still wild, where leopards could be still heard (and occasionally seen!) in patches of primeval forest. It was an India I had little idea of, and as he began to explain the many issues facing local people living in such areas, and where his Institute was introducing environmental awareness into the local schools, I found myself wanting to do something for this India too.

The opportunity came about thanks to the second meeting I mentioned. This was with Sir Paul McCartney, who, as a result of buying and falling in love with my CD Celtic Ragas, invited me to play a concert at his wedding in Ireland in 2002. I formed the Celtic Ragas Band especially for the occasion, and afterwards an idea formed in my mind to repeat the same concert in India, at BVIEER’s as-yet-unaugurated auditorium, and to invite Paul and as many other ‘notables’ as possible to help raise awareness for the cause of conservation in India. Central to the idea was that we would film and record the concert for posterity.

A year and a half later I found myself at the center of an Indian whirlwind! The band and I were rehearsing; I was producing publicity material, issuing invitations, and printing and selling tickets; hiring equipment and crew for sound and lighting; searching through my friends to find two film cameramen, audio recording equipment and operators, stage decorators, a stage manager and an event manager; auditioning schoolchildren poets; cooking up a powerpoint presentation to be projected at the back of the stage; organizing transport (the venue was right across the highly polluted city of Pune from where we, and many of our most valued foreign guests were staying – eventually four full sized buses were hired); arranging refreshments…..and all without a budget! On the eve of the gig our Artistic Director, who was to have flown in from London, announced that his mother had just died and he wouldn’t be coming. My partner Naveena jumped in, took herself off her role as tanpura player and began tackling the Mac computer controlling the projector and the ambient sounds that were so central to the overall ambience of the concert.

The ‘Stage Set Up’ film (in the DVD Extras menu) gives something of the flavour of those weeks. The bags under my eyes are pretty obvious! But at the end of it we had our two concerts. One free, by invitation to staff and students at BVIEER and parents and friends of the schoolkids; the second at a nominal charge (we didn’t break even), to our ticket holders (Sir Paul, sadly, was not among them!).

Resting up in Goa afterwards we met up with Zeenat (Julienne Stretton, a well know New Zealand TV documentary producer), who looked through our concert footage and sensed the possibility of a direction. So Svargo (one of the cameramen at the concert) and I took ourselves off into nature and began filming, while Zeenat and Avesh (the other concert camerman) headed off to interview Dr Bharucha. Without the imputs of all three of them at that stage, this film would probably be no more than an hour of footage moulding on the shelves of each of the band members!

In the three years since I have discovered a new love. Filming the nature and peoples of India. Every spare moment - and buck! - I have has seen me out in the wilderness, patiently waiting to capture on video the elusive Indian beings who live there. It has taken me to extraordinary corners of the vast Indian subcontinent, and introduced me to some the most hearty and charming people I know. I’ll never forget the three days I spent alone in the dry, windy waste of Rehakuri Blackbuck Sanctuary in Maharashtra, waiting for those splendid creatures to come within range of my cheap zoom lens. Or the steep forest looking out on distant Nanda Devi in the Himalayan foothills of Uttaranchal, where with my feet slipping out from underneath me, I struggled to set up the tripod and film the local women high in the treetops, cutting fodder for their cows.

Every spare moment I say - but of course this film would not look as it does if that was true. Downloading, logging and then editing all that footage has had me up at all hours. And here I must again thank Svargo, who has come over to New Zealand from Australia on several occasions to help me through a difficult patch with his Final Cut Pro expertise and sensitivity to editing: and Naveena, who has continued her role as Artistic Director into the editing and who’s eye for beauty and detail is uncanny!

Another vital step in the overall shape of this film was the release on my label New Earth Records in 2005 of the live CD from the concert, ‘Fragrance of the East’ (www.newearthrecords.com). This was the opportunity I needed to remix the audio up to CD quality, and gave the film its first public exposure, in the form of three short Quicktime clips that I squeezed onto the CD. By late 2006 it dawned on me that I was only one more film shoot in India away from finishing, and immediately a sense of urgency took over. It was as if the film had a life of its own and was struggling to emerge from its long gestation and see the light of day! So I put the first song up on Youtube and left. How exciting, three months later, to come back and find that hundreds of people had watched it, and many had commented on it and rated it five stars! Now, April 2007, with the editing finished, I am learning new skills as a web designer, to give the film a site where anyone who wants to can download it for free - www.fragranceoftheeast.org. And offering it to film festivals. I have only one condition for the use of this film. It must not be used for commercial purposes. It must be free.

A word about equipment: I used a second-hand Sony DCR-TRV20 (you can pick them up for under $500) for my shooting. And a four-year old Apple G4 for editing in Final Cut Pro. I still do my sound over on OS9 in Logic4.7 (that’s a piece of history nowadays!). I mention it because I hear from filmmakers and composers so often the mantra that industry wants us all repeating as consumers ‘I can’t manage without the latest equipment’. This film is proof that we can find ways to get things done without spending lots of money!

THANK YOU again to all of you who gave yourselves to this film. I hope I have credited you all in the credits at the end. If I missed you by name, it is only because there have been so many of you who contributed, not because I forget you!

Lastly, a word about sharing: I learned from my master Osho, that the spiritual law of sharing is very different from the economic one. In economics the more you give away the less you have. But with love and energy, the more you share, the more you get!

Contact: fragranceoftheeast@gmail.com, chinmaya64@hotmail.com
Link: www.fragranceoftheeast.org


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. .   Divakar: RE:Making the film Concert For India's Environment Jun 17, 2007
. .   Peaceray: RE:Making the film Concert For India's Environment Feb 5, 2011

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