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George Harrison's Life Was Transformed By India, Says Olivia Harrison

Olivia Harrison - 2011
Nyay Bhushan
Olivia Harrison

In an interview with THR, Olivia Harrison explains why "George Harrison: Living in the Material World" comes "full circle" after presenting the film at the Mumbai Film Festival.

MUMBAI – A major highlight of the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival was the India premiere of the Martin Scorsese-directed documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World. Two extra screenings had to be added for the four-hour long documentary to pacify audience demand given the late ex-Beatles' India connections.

“Part of the completion of the film is to bring it here, that's why I especially came down to Mumbai (accompanied with the film's editor David Tedeschi),” Olivia Harrison, who was married to George Harrison, told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview. “The full circle is really having it here.”

While an India distributor has yet to be finalised, the film's festival screening could increase awareness about the project's marketing potential here.

A frequent visitor to India over the years with her late husband, Harrison's latest trip brought back the memories, “This morning I put on the album Call of the Valley (which features acclaimed Indian classical musicians such as flautist Hari Prasad Chaurasia) and I suddenly felt like 'Oh my God, I have to go out into the countryside.' I suddenly felt like all of that memory came back to me. Because when George was in India, he wanted to be in the real India, in someone's home, in the temple. He didn't want to be in the city doing city things though he did that too and had fun. This morning I really landed in India just by listening to that music. George used to always say that if ever you are not feeling right, you should listen to Bob Dylan's Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie and Call of the Valley.

Considering the wealth of material, the challenge of cutting down 600 hours of footage available for the film makes the editor's job quite important. Explaining how he got direction from Scorsese, Tedeschi said, “The most important thing in a way is that we would sit and talk for hours and hours about (Scorsese's) vision for the film but also in a way he was thinking out loud. The subject is very delicate and Marty saw a lot of danger in how you confront it. There's 600 hours of footage and I have seen it all, Marty has seen hundreds of hours if not 600. And then we felt our way through (starting with) the first 15 minutes for which we would have ideas, the way the war sequence comes in and how the music comes in. I think that formed the whole movie. You know on a set the first action a director gives to the actor is the most important thing. That's the same thing working through the first 15 minutes on this film.”

Comparing what audiences in the west and east could take from the film, Harrison expanded, “In the west I think what they took is the music since they knew George because of his music. In India I think it would be to know that George was sincere about India. India was not a fad, it was not a passing fancy to him. And that the philosophy, the culture and the people meant something to him. India transformed George's life in every way. I mean he actually produced music here as well. There is dialog in the movie where George is producing (instrumental sessions) in 1969 in Mumbai (for the Beatles track) The Inner Light featuring Hari Prasad Chaurasia and other musicians. And you can hear him via a translator in Hindi telling the musicians what to do. I think that was just an incredible thing for such a young man at that time.”

With India among the rising economies of the world, it is safe to say that the country is now living in the material world like never before, something which intrigues Harrison, “In 1976 when we came here, George was saying, look they are wearing nylon sarees and the men are wearing platform shoes. To him that was an indication of what was to come. He was sort of sad about that because he always seemed to go to the khadi (traditional handspun cloth) shop and buy kurtas (Indian men's shirt). But the west is going through a lot of searching – thats what living in the material world does to you, it makes you want to go inwards. India has been in, it needs to come out. America has been out, it needs to take the inward journey.”

But does Harrison see the film offering a new insight on India to outsiders?

“All the diversions and distractions in the west, India is multiplied,” she says. “I remember once when George and me were in Jaipur, George looked out the window and just said “Cut! Cut! Too many extras!” But in spite of that, George managed to find the very subtle India – which was an inner thing. I think maybe that is what people should keep their focus on – the riches it has to offer as well as all the wonderful diversions.”