years. This gave the opportunity to film across India, showing its diversity
and its binding threads, through the unique and interesting story of
Neelkanth traveling all alone across these 8,000 miles.
The story was decided, now the medium had to be specified and planned
. . . .
Since the best picture and sound would be possible in large format
film, it was a foregone conclusion that this clear and crisp ‘large-format’
film would be the best medium to use.
Large Format film is 70mm film on which each picture is eight to ten
times bigger than normal 35mm film, which means a clearer projection
on a much larger screen – up to 100 feet high. This is a difficult
medium to film in, because of the clarity and depth of the film, which
makes it more challenging for the cameraman in getting the right frame.
Very few stories have been filmed in large format, because of this
difficulty and hence a higher expense.
Even BAPS was able to afford this filming only because of the volunteer
effort, without which this film would not have been possible.
Thus began the challenge of producing an large format film. It kept
a BAPS professional team and experienced industry crew busy for the
next three years with the planning and execution of this film. Right
from Authentic research (on India and Neelkanth’s story) to Story
& Script development; from Location search to Shot design; from
Production Design to Shooting Logistics; from Editing to Music, each
and every BAPS volunteer took up the large format challenge.
The first step, of course, was the research on India – the India
of today, the India of 200 years ago, and the India of centuries ago.
& Story development
India is an ancient civilization with contributions in all spheres -
from science to art, language to mathematics, philosophy to chemistry.
Research into these fields was carried out by a team of BAPS historians
who referred to old texts, met other experts, went to many ancient sites.
Research on the central character of Neelkanth was conducted with 200
year old books and illustrations of those times. These BAPS researchers
spent one year referring to more than 270 books in 17 libraries and
Since this film was based on a true story which took place 200 years
ago, the authenticity factor underlined everything. Prized resources
included the original books and drawings published by the British Government
and books of other explorers who traveled through India at that time.
Apart from research for the story development, the costumes and settings
had to reflect the people and places of 18th century India, to transport
the audience back in time. The BAPS researchers took every detail of
what villages, clothing, and monuments looked like 200 years ago. Many
hundreds of hours went into this research.
The research was done, now we had to look for the right professionals
to shoot the film and the right locations where to film...
BAPS extensively researched historic manuscripts and briefed the complete
story to Kamlesh Pandey. Using this brief with the authentic documentation,
research papers and historic manuscipts, scriptwriter Kamlesh Pandey
crafted the original Hindi script.
Nearly 100 large format professionals were consulted. After this worldwide
search of meeting Directors, DPs, post-production Laboratories and many
other professionals, BAPS brought on board Director Keith Melton, Director
of Photography Reed Smoot and Writer Mose Richards. Each of them well
known in the industry and with years of experience with large format
films. Later, Music Composer Sam Cardon, with nine large format films
to his credit, added to the high quality team making this film.
With BAPS acting as overall Producers of the project and providing key
infrastructure and logistics, including research, art department, wardrobe,
locations, legal, casting, and volunteer support, this high quality
team of large format film industry experts provided guidance and expertise
to make this a high-value production.
They were, of course, more than ably helped by the large-format experience
of the USA crew, brought together by Keith Melton. With people like
Reed Smoot (DP), Neal Allen (First AD), Bobby Adams (Grip), Dennis Peterson
(Gaffer), Scott Hoffman (First AC), Tim Lovasen (Second AC) . . . the
crew was a top-notch team from the large-format industry, with the experience
of an average of seven to ten films each, and many years of work in
While the crew was being selected, work on scouting for locations was
also in progress. . . .
For a period film, and an large format film at that, a location has to be as
far away from ‘civilization’ as possible, so that no electric
cables, telephone poles or modern homes are visible – and yet
be near an easily accessible road so that it doesn’t take time
to reach and set up the shots. These opposing requirements were only
part of the constraints for the location scout.
A team of BAPS volunteers scouted more than 250 locations through out
India – from Nepal to North India to Kerala in Southern tip of
India, from Gujarat to Assam, covering more than 22,000 miles! Simple
things like finding a location with an isolated Banyan tree without
electric cables or poles nearby took days of scouting in remote villages.
This was done in the scorching summers when the temperatures were often
higher than 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
After the locations for different scenes were decided, the shots had
to be set up to ensure that no modern objects were visible. This was
where the Production Design department came in.
Production Design for a period film is as difficult as the location
search. Once selected, the locations had to look as the scene would
have been 200 years ago. Therefore, a mammoth effort was undertaken
by BAPS to re-create many locations to look as they were 200 years ago.
Mud huts, thatched roofs, wooden doors, oil lamps, ox-carts... many
constraints had to be kept in mind to recreate India of two centuries
BAPS’ Art Directors and Designers researched these places to get
the exact measurements and design details, old photos and references,
and local opinions on older structures. All of this was converted into
computer drawings. A team of 200 volunteers consisting of engineers,
artists, welders, and carpenters worked on the production design to
make it feel authentic enough for the clarity of an large format screen, which
would show each detail clearly on a large screen.
The town of Neelkanth’s childhood, Ayodhya in Northern India,
was visited by the BAPS designers. They mapped out the current town,
its streets and the course of the river. Then researched locally on
the houses which used to stand 200 years ago – locating the neighborhood
sweet shop, the nearby temple, the street’s largest house . .
. . and then sketching the area as it was, 200 years ago at the beginning
of Neelkanth’s journey. The sketch was verified by history professors
and an architect for historical accuracy in the design and materials
that would have been used in Neelkanth’s time, and then converted
to computerized plans for the set construction. The drawings were then
converted to huge three-dimensional sets, three streets of old Ayodhya,
seen for the first time as they would have been two centuries ago. Every
detail including the intricate peacock design on top of the wooden frame
of the sweet shop’s door had been researched, drawn, computerized
and then finally made in wood, brick and plaster!
The same attention to detail and readiness for hard work also showed
in the selection of the central cast and the costuming.
As the central character and a representative of India’s mysticism
in the film, Neelkanth had to look the part. The real Neelkanth, 200
years ago, had been thin and starved himself as part of his ascetism,
yet had bright eyes with love, confidence and courage shining through.
Searching for the same look entailed a huge search stretching across
the country, videotaping 11,000 children throughout India and finally
selecting the two who play younger and older Neelkanth.
The call sheet on 08 February 2004 showed a cast of 20,000 children
to be filmed together at Akshardham in Gujarat. This was a unique voluntary
effort – a children's voluntary convention where they gathered
from different regions and different economic backgrounds to reinforce
the message of Unity in Diversity. First AD Neal Allen said, “This
is unimaginable in the film industry. Only BAPS can do it”. While
this was the highest cast assembled for any one scene, the Akshardham
Arti scene had 9,000 cast while the Rath Yatra scene had 8,000. With
a total cast of 45,000, Mystic India had the biggest cast ever in any
large format film. Director Keith Melton said about the huge 8000 cast, at the
end of the Rath Yatra scene shoot, “Were it not for the wonderful
discipline, cooperation, patience, and dedication of the BAPS extras,
this moment would not have been possible.”
Participating as actors was only a small part of the work that BAPS
volunteers performed – they managed most of the film’s production
and other departments . . . . . .
Mystic India is unique not only because it is the first large format
epic on India, but because of the way and the spirit in which it was
made. Volunteers donated their time and efforts selflessly for this
film, free of charge. Professional, engineers, doctors, students, businessmen
and government officials – all took leave from work or school
to help create Mystic India. All the work added up to a mammoth One
Million man-hours over two years, which were all volunteered free of
charge by these professionals.
A networking scientist took a three-month leave from his job at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). A visual arts student took a year off from university in Nottingham, England. An advertising expert quit his advertising job for one year while a young transport business owner delayed his marriage plans till after the shoot. The list would be endless . . . . .
Each of these 570 volunteers made their best contributions, yet chose
unanimously to remain unnamed in the film’s Credits – they
were not working for money or fame, but for this epic film about their
country. The film does not name any of them in deference to their wishes
that their service to India as a country and Mystic India as a representative
of their culture remain unnamed.
Once the planning for the film was done, the actual shoot began . .
. with its daily challenges and changes in spite of the detailed planning.
Principal photography began in Pokhara, Nepal on March 5, 2003. Beautiful
aerials of the Himalayas were captured. Many of the shots show Latesh
Patel with nothing on but a dhoti (loin cloth) in the freezing temperatures,
a pebble in his surroundings at 13,000 feet. In preparation for the
snow shots, ten-year-old Latesh spent two weeks training and acclimatizing
near Everest Base Camp.
The next scene of Akshardham Arti scene was filmed over two days. On
the first day, a shot was needed that included about 9,000 volunteer
extras holding lit lamps and singing in unison as the sun was setting.
With each candle lasting 20 minutes, and with a perfect “shooting
window” of only about 10 minutes, everything had to be exactly
in place. A massive crane shot, the logistics and choreography of getting
9,000 candles lit at the same time, people moving and singing in sync,
had to be carefully coordinated.
Many other shots presented different challenges – how to maximize
the impact of the Sun Temple with its large pillars and deep stepwell
in front; lighting up a 200 feet street set at Ayodhya for a rainy night
scene; shooting from a boat in rapid river water. Another scene of arti at Haridwar
in North India was shot throughout the night, with over 500 extras staying
awake till dawn for the shoot.
After 9 weeks of continuous shooting, phase- 1 principal photography
came to an end. The next phase of shooting began on January 26, 2004
in Jaisalmer, the city of golden sands and stone in Rajasthan. This
second phase of shooting took place at more than 50 locations in Rajasthan,
Gujarat and Delhi.
This shoot had a unique and very exciting shot of 20,000 children at
Akshardham singing the National Anthem with Indian tricolor flag in
their hands. The shots at Jaisalmer with 5000 extras and Sarangpur with
3000 extras were equally exciting. This shoot involved extensive traveling.
The crew traveled more than 6500 kms in 21 days of shoot – an
average of 310 kms a day!
Another additional phase of filming was the still photography undertaken
for panoramic panels which are part of the film – for Art and
Architecture photos, a three-man crew traveled with large format still
cameras an additional 7000 miles, by road, presenting four unique art
and architecture panels in the film, with 300 unique photos of amazing
architectures of India. This also yielded the over 250 ‘faces’
of India stills – shot across India to put together the diverse
looks of India, united in this film. Remote locations like Muktinath
in Nepal and mountain lake Devariya Taal, which is accessible only by
trekking, were also included in this phase.
For everyone involved, the whole shoot was a unique experience and had
a never-before outcome. Director Keith Melton says, “Mystic India
has an amazing visual panorama. The audience will experience a unique,
multi-layered view of India that is both intimate and spectacular.”
It was then time to compose similarly unique music to uplift and highlight
the strong visuals...
The music, like the rest of the film, is a fusion where East and West
harmoniously and seamlessly meet. The composition too was a meeting
of West – Sam Cardon and East - Ronu Majumdar.
Composer Sam Cardon enjoyed the experience of learning about Indian
instruments and ragas and incorporating western symphony into the score
with the Indian music. After many meetings to design the appropriate
music with the BAPS team and Ronu Majumdar, all experts in Indian music,
the theme and score was designed. After including music from various
regions of India, different instruments were recorded by some of the
best artistes of India under the supervision of BAPS volunteers at Mumbai
and Ahmedabad, and the western symphony at Seattle.
Around 60 different artists were recorded for authentic Indian music
providing traditional classical Indian music – with unique fusion
of a 75 piece western orchestra of Seattle. Indian and western music
was mixed at Salt Lake City with experienced mixing engineers helped
by BAPS volunteers on Indian parts.
Incorporating this music, sound and visual effects was then part of
David Bartholomew worked enthusiastically on getting the negatives to
see the light of day – making positives and checking the film,
often marveling at the quality of the shots and calling up India enthusiastically
just to praise the scenes, the sets and the splendid camera work.
Visual effects also added some magic to Mystic India. The still transparencies
of monuments and shrines and tourist interest places were scanned at
BAPS facilities. All the graphics and compositions were prepared by
BAPS. Amalgamated Pixels of LA applied their expertise and combined
knowledge to the exercise of merging the film with visual special effects
and stills. Michael Morreale of Amalgamated worked hard at transferring
the digital files of high resolution onto large format film which could be projected
to large format size and adequately showing their splendor and majesty.
One of the most innovative shots, utilizing traditional and next
generation filmmaking techniques, was the 360-degree yogic posture shot.
The scene shows Neelkanth, in the changing seasons, growing older on
screen. All the while, the camera is slowly circling around him as snow
falls, followed by rain and lightning, the growing of flowers and the
flying by of butterflies and birds. Green screen shots were filmed in
Ahmedabad, India. The background plates were shot in Nepal. The whole
scene was put together in Los Angeles, California. This film is a true
worldwide effort of talented filmmakers to bring India to the eyes of