Teri McLuhan


Author of 5 books and director of countless documentaries and films, Teri McLuhan offered to the world some of the most heart-rending stories that are easy to overlook in the world of elapsed morals. Her film, Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, A Torch for Peace, took 22 years in the making. But the fruit it bears is deliciously sweet.

The Consulate General of India in association with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan had a special screening of ‘Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, A Torch for Peace’ at the Indian Consulate in New York on 27th January. Below are some excerpts from an interview with Teri McLuhan and The Indian Panorama’s Pooja Premchandran.

Q. When everyone is looking towards a quicker commercial success, what made you look at Badshah Khan, a hero from a region you weren’t familiar with?
It all started with a book. A friend gave me a book called ‘Non-violent Soldiers of Islam’ by Eknath Ishwaran. I began reading it and by around 3 AM, all the electrons in my bedroom shifted. I had realized that I have found a new form of human spirit, and that got me involved.

Then a little bit later, I was invited to visit India by the Government of India, where Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal hosted two other filmmakers and me. We were generally discussing our forthcoming ventures and when they asked me what I was planning on, I said I want to make a movie on Badshah Khan. There was silence in the room when I announced this. But both Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal wished me luck. This is how it started.

Teri was amused when Pooja asked her what her future held for her.

Q. How different is this movie from your usual work?
The five books I have written so far, all highlight different cultures from around the world and they all deal with concepts such as land, earth and memory. They all involve an amount of respect for the Earth, which includes a peaceful manner of living on the earth. I never worked on anything about this region of the world, so that is new. But in terms of themes, non-violence and peace, no, it’s just a different personality.

Q. The film that took 22 years to complete. That must have meant immeasurable research and exhausting deadlines. Did you face any challenges or obstacles that seemed incessant?
We were working with the Indian crew in Afghanistan and Pakistani borders. There were plenty of challenges, plenty of obstacles, and many of them were present with us 24/7. We were dodging missiles, and in those days most of the lines were unmarked. We have faced major sandstorms and multiple equipment disappearances and even arrests. We were dealing with that part of the world, where there is no infrastructure. So whatever you wanted, you had to build it.

There were no roads, there were just boulders. Yet, whatever it was, when you are on a mission, when you are passionate, none of it matters. You always go forward. Also, the more I learned of this remarkable individual called Badshah Khan, the more I moved into his spirit. Three things kept me going during all times. First was his spiritual and moral certainty about his life and his own mission. Second was his uncommon courage and fearlessness and lastly his profound absence of doubt. Imagine that, living without doubts.

While in India, did you sample any Bollywood movies? What are your thoughts on them?
I love Bollywood musicals. I actually watch Indian cinemas a great deal. They are so much fun and highly imaginative. Hollywood doesn’t come close to be able to put on such show. But yes, I love Aparna Sen’s work. I absolutely loved Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milka Bhaag. It left everyone of us moved. The thing about Bollywood is that everything is possible. And that is true; we should not put ourselves in a box and say we will make only Hollywood movies or independent movies. It’s all about stretch.

Maker of the much talked about film on Frontier Gandhi Badshah Khan, Teri McLuhan speaks about the subject and making of the film at the Indian Consulate in New York on January 27, 2014.

Besides a moving book, what else got you passionate about Badshah Khan?
One of the reasons why I feel Badshah Khan is of such significance today is because my feeling is that men like him come only every 100 years. And why do they come? To lift us and to assist us. Many such individuals have come and walked this earth like Gandhi, Mother Theresa and even now countless nameless people are here whose job is to enlighten and awaken us. To me, Badshah Khan is a lighthouse, a beacon of light when times are dark. When I became aware of his spirit, how could I not walk with him?

In today’s world though, has ideals of Badshah Khan or Gandhi become forgotten morals?
Well, yes. I mean, look at Mahatma Gandhi. People don’t pay much attention to his teachings. There is a cursory attention among people, which basically says that he is important. But many of these people have no morals on how they live today. In fact, we are living in the completely opposite way than what these ideals preached. We have wandered away from what mattered. But I believe, we are now moving back again to what matters. It’s happening.

What does your future hold for you?
I have another book coming up called ‘Daring of it all’. But because I am in the process of writing it, I do not want to say much. I have written for two movies. The first one is called ‘Cave of Light’. It is much like an Indiana Jones story and it will be shot in India. The second one is not named yet. But it is about 2 figures coming together from different parts of the world over a span of 2000 years. It basically says that 2000 years doesn’t matter. They both are narrative films. I am going to take a break from documentaries. Besides this, I plan visiting India a lot. India is the home of my heart.

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