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Review: When a young man went on a spiritual pilgrimage and met the Beatles

Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Paul McCartney at an ashram in 1968 in the documentary "Meeting the Beatles in India."
Ringo Starr listens to John Lennon, center, and Paul McCartney working out new songs at an ashram in Rishikesh in early 1968. The photo is taken by Canadian TV director and producer Paul Saltzman.
(Copyright Paul Saltzman. All rights reserved.)

You never know whom you’ll run into on the road to enlightenment. For a heartbroken, 20-something Canadian, his sojourn to India led him to the Fab Four.

The documentary “Meeting the Beatles in India” is releasing on what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday. It’s the handcrafted memoir of Paul Saltzman, who wound up taking that famous “class photo” of Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and others with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968.

Saltzman was already on a spiritual quest in the country when he was wrecked by a Dear John letter. Hearing of transcendental meditation as a possible way to assuage his suffering, he made his way to the Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh, only to find it closed because of the presence of special guests. After waiting outside for eight days, he was finally admitted — and spent a week with the Beatles and their significant others, plus longtime roadie Mal Evans, Mike Love of the Beach Boys and Donovan Leitch.

Paul Saltzman took this photo of The Beatles at the Maharishi Yogi's ashram. The story is in "Meeting the Beatles in India."
Paul Saltzman took this photo capturing the Beatles’ 1968 stay at the Rishikesh ashram of the Maharishi Yogi. The story is told in the documentary “Meeting the Beatles in India.”
(Copyright Paul Saltzman. All rights reserved.)
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For any Beatles fan — especially hardcore ones — this is a fascinating, mysterious period in their history. They were still a band of brothers, looking for answers beyond the fame and fortune. They learned and meditated and wrote songs — most of the so-called White Album and others. As the documentary isn’t sanctioned by Apple Corps, it suffers from not having access to their music or new interviews with the surviving Beatles, but Saltzman’s observations and insight from Beatle historian Mark Lewisohn and TM practitioner David Lynch, among others, offer a window into this heretofore opaque time.

There are specific nuggets that will excite Beatlemaniacs, such as background into the composition of songs such as “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “The Inner Light” and “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” — including an interview with the real guy: the person who was the model for Bill himself. Fans will also get a charge out of Saltzman’s candid photos of the lads in repose and his stories of casual interactions with them.

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Paul Saltzman went on a spiritual journey on which he ran into four lads from Liverpool. It’s described in the documentary “Meeting the Beatles in India.”

Saltzman became a prolific filmmaker; he brought in previous collaborator Morgan Freeman to lend the voice of omnipotence to a few lines that could have used polishing. There are nagging narrative gaps and some jumping around — while that’s a bit jarring, one supposes it’s apropos for the film’s handmade feel. This isn’t an official document; it’s a fan’s eyewitness account.

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Perhaps the biggest news for fans is the film includes a somewhat upsetting story about the group’s exit from the ashram that may offer a clue to the seeds of their breakup. In any case, “Meeting the Beatles in India” is a must-see for die-hard fans.

'Meeting the Beatles in India'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes

Playing: Available Oct. 9 via PPV at Gather.com


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