Interview with Simon Busch
Why India? Why are you so fascinated with India?
I’ve been in India numerous times in the past, and each time I felt an increasing desire, or rather a need, to make a film about this country. Much of our contemporary knowledge, which we take for granted, dates back to India. When we go to India, from a certain perspective, we go back to our roots.
You mean that in a spiritual sense, don’t you?
Certainly. India is virtually the mother country of spirituality. Buddhism originated there, as well as the idea of multiple reincarnations. Tantra, Ayurveda, meditation and yoga stem from India, too.
Was it easy to shoot in India?
Not at all. Already the pre-production was extremely difficult. We had decided to shoot with a small crew in order to be flexible all the time. But you need official permission for the shooting and this wasn’t easy, the bureaucracy was exceptionally complex. We had to list each cable and each battery, and we even had to submit a detailed shooting schedule, because the permission for each location was given for just one day. Bad weather or delays are not tolerated with this style of organization.
But everything worked out, didn’t it?
On location, we discovered that our official shooting permissions were completely useless because actually local authorities were responsible. And they decided on a day by day basis. Each shooting day was a nail-biter, and very often we shot without any permission or with camouflage cameras. Even the RED Cam was often accepted as a normal SLR stills camera.
When one views the film, it seems to have been shot with enormous complexity, is that right?
Yes, indeed! We packed several 3D-cameras, an Oktocopter – that’s a kind of drone – for the aerial photography, a steadicam and a computer-controlled track for the traveling shots, numerous tripods and much more equipment. You need this huge amount of technical equipment if you want to capture the high quality, which we had in mind. And we were not allowed to board normal aircraft in India. The normal planes were too small for all this baggage. Therefore the equipment had to be transported overland by car, which obviously took a lot of time.
How could you shoot the tigers in the wild?
This was pure luck. We had been deerstalking for several days with very experienced local guides, unfortunately in vain. On the last day we shot in the remains of an old fortress. Suddenly four adult tigers crossed our path, and we were able to react very quickly. This was an impressive perspective albeit very dangerous. During the recent months there had been several attacks by leopards and tigers in this National Park.
What was the most difficult challenge during the shooting?
This was distinctly the Kumbh Mela. This is my personal climax of the movie, and is not coincidentally placed at the end of the film. There were 35 million people – barely half of Germany’s total population – crowded together in only eight square kilometers. This is simply unimaginable! It was impossible to move forward by car or tuk-tuk. We had to struggle through the crowd on foot. Despite our press passes and shooting permissions, we were still not allowed to get closer than one hundred meters to those bathing.
How did you nevertheless manage to capture those impressive shots?
50.000 policemen and soldiers controlled the site. It was their job to prevent a mass panic. We played cat and mouse with them. Time and again we were discovered and had to disappear into the crowd. Then we continued filming from another point. To get closer to the bathing pilgrims, we had rented a small boat to get us to the shallow waters of the Ganges just before sunrise. We were able to spend some magical hours until noon amidst the pilgrims, shooting continually, and wearing nothing but our underwear.
Didn’t the pilgrims feel disturbed by the cameras?
No, they didn’t. To the contrary, they were downright euphoric. They were happy to share with us this probably most important day of their life, which they had imagined with excitement for years. Somehow this happiness spread to us. I hope you can see this feeling in the movie.
And the aerial shots? How was that done?
Our Oktocopter, the drone, was equipped with a 4K RED Cam. However we didn’t get a clearance for take off as the authorities were concerned of assaults. And as the drone had been categorized as a weapon, snipers were deployed anywhere. So we adapted our strategy. We traveled to a military post, presented our general shooting permission and asked for help to prevent the curious crowd from the drone. Fortunately the soldiers were very interested in this unusual technical device and they wanted to see how it worked. So they formed a circle around us, kept the crowd at distance, which enabled us to make some flights across the River Ganges.
This sounds very adventurous. Would you do the whole thing again?
Absolutely. Filming there was an incredible experience – strenuous, intensive, but at the same time, rewarding.
How was the film financed?
Exclusively with our own money. We received neither film subsidies nor TV investment. We did however receive some support from the marketing manager of the airline in the form of equipment transportation. We invested a huge amount of our own money in the project and I think this underlines the fact that the movie is made with our blood, sweat and tears.