CHIANGRAI TIMES– An 87-year-old epic silent film by Indian actor Himanshu Rai on Lord Buddha which was banned in Thailand has been screened for the first time in Bangkok in a movie hall, with a slight modern twist given by a live 15 member orchestra.
As the 1925 black and white film, The Light of Asia, lit up the mega screen at Bangkok’s Scala theatre, one of the very few lone standing cinema halls in the city, the band sitting on either side of the screen played appropriate background music to the trumpeting of elephants, galloping horses and around the main stars, Prince Gautama, (Lord Buddha) played by dashing Himanshu Rai and his wife played by Sita Devi.
As Gautama silently wept, the violin played, helped by the koto’s murmuring melody, when he enters a contest with arch-nemesis Devadatta on horseback, tabla music came to fore.
The highlights were two Indian musicians, Ustad Matloob Hussain Khan on sitar, and Vasi Ahmad Khan on the tabla.
“There’s no problem (for a Muslim to play and sing) in a Buddhist film,” says Vasi, who started by reciting the Gayatri Manta for the film’s opening shot.
“Musicians have only one religion, and that is music. This is an old religious film, and it will be a special performance,” he said.
Indian Envoy Anil Wadhwa said that the embassy was asked to provide Indian musicians and the sitar and tabla were essential to give the background score since it was an Indian movie.
The fact that this was the first movie on Buddha and there are only two prints in the world gave it special significance, Wadhwa said adding that “close to 900 music and cinema lovers who watched the movie were impressed by the novelty of watching a silent movie with live music by international musicians.”