Portrait of Praharsha’s life and work. The DVD of his life story ‘Video Vertov ‘ is being released today.
Escaping to the West
Praharsha was born in 1941 in Schwiebus (Swiebodzin), a part of Prussia that is now West Poland. Millions of Germans who had been living there for generations fled towards the West during WW2 – and so did his family in 1945 when they escaped on foot before the oncoming Russian Red Army could imprison them – or worse, kill them. They settled in Thuringia where he spent his childhood.
“Escaping the war to a foreign country was, of course, a formative experience in my childhood. Already at that time a longing arose within me that was only appeased with the acquaintance of Osho much later. However, when I was 12 years old, one day I went alone to the nearby forest to collect berries and nuts. I had dressed up especially to look like a Ranger – I wore everything I had that was green. After a long walk around the forest I sat down under a tree to rest. I was tired and fell asleep. I dreamed that an elderly man with a beard and wearing a white cloak came out of the tree. He woke me up and said, ‘Look over there in the distance – that is your direction.’ At first I could not see anything but he encouraged me and pointed vigorously towards the horizon. Then I realized a bright light shining there and he said, ‘That is your direction.’”
At age 18 Praharsha made his first acquaintance with the camera. It was a Leica and the first hint that this medium would become his passion. He became a photographer’s apprentice and, even before he passed his journeyman’s examination in 1961, he had already shown his first photo reportage, ‘Artists in Berlin’.
The die was cast. He enrolled at the school for arts and crafts to study the ‘Discovery of Expressionism’ and had his first theatre appearance as an extra at the Schiller Theatre Berlin in the play Marat by Peter Weiss. He became an actor in Playgirl, directed by Will Tremper, and later worked as a still photographer and as a graphic designer for books.
“I loved documentaries to show the beauty of life, in particular beauty in fashion. I saw the Italian movies by Fellini and Antonioni which has just come out and decided to visit the country where they came from – Italy. I moved to Rome in 1965 where I worked as a camera assistant and also played small roles in several films. The Roman Classical, the Italian life and the first signs of modernity (Andy Warhol) fascinated me.”
The colour red
Red is the colour
of all passions –
from love to hatred,
the colour of royalty
the colour of
danger and joy.
A year later he returned to Berlin, where he enrolled at the German Film and Television Academy, and directed his first movie, Santa Lucia, the patron saint of eyesight. He experienced the demonstrations against the Shah of Persia in 1968 and the killing of Rudi Dutschke during the years of the student revolution. “I especially loved the colour red which was widely used; red led me among other things also to Osho. However, after the revolution my basic life questions remained unanswered.” Praharsha continued to direct movies during the seventies, including one about the Vietnam Congress, called Colour Test – Red Flag.
“During 1979 I fell ill. I had pains in my limbs and could hardly move; I was stiff as a rod. One day I met a good friend of mine who spoke to me, with shining bright eyes, about a group of people who were practicing the ‘dynamic meditation’ and he encouraged me to try it out. After my first meditation (at Vihan, still naked!) I knew: ‘That’s it!’ I came in contact with Dwari and Devapath and their breath work. During a rebirthing training with Alexander Lowen I was asked to work as a cameraman for the Orange Connection Festival in 1981. For the first time I experienced sannyasins in a large group – what an energy field!” (Praharsha unearthed the recordings from the Festival recently and will make them made public soon.)
“Finally, in 1982, I decided to become a sannyasin and was initiated at Vihan in Berlin. I felt I had at last arrived because I had been thinking about it for over two years, squabbling, discussing, doubting, always waiting for the right moment.”
The same year he directed the critical film About Holger Meins, a Red Army Faction (RAF) member who, in 1974, died in prison following a hunger strike. They had been friends and fellow students.
“I visited Rajneeshpuram for the Festivals in 1984 and 1985. The journeys were quite adventurous because both times I was denied a visa for the US on the grounds that I had made a movie about Holger Meins. For the Americans this meant that I was a ‘propagandist of terrorism’. However, by courageously thinking out of the box, I managed to get to Rajneeshpuram. My desire to see Osho was so strong and it felt as if he carried me on wings. “I was so keen to be sitting as far in front as possible that I waited for hours outside the Mandir, in the blazing sun – to experience a man who was silent. I had travelled 5,000 kilometres and risked my life just to be silently sitting among a large group of people. That was awesome, that was good – meaninglessly absurd – the best!”
Praharsha lived in Mumbai for four months when Osho was there after his World Tour and he became part of the group of sannyasins who moved ahead of Osho to Pune to get the ashram ready to receive him. He was also one of the crew who filmed Osho’s return: “We waited for so long and then the car just rushed through the gate – not much footage there! We had hoped Osho would get out of the car and greet us. He was probably too tired.
“In any case, I had a great time in Pune and it was extremely difficult to leave. I had a daughter in Berlin and roots in the film industry. I was going back to what I later called ‘life in the marketplace’.”
The Empty Chair
Dying in the dance –
living in the fire
“I visited Poona every year until 1995. I felt very comfortable there and found many friends and acquaintances. I remember in particular the warm relationship I had with Prem Leela while participating in the first Mystic Rose group. Later I became closely connected to the Mystery School, to Waduda (today aka Leela Lovegarden) and friends. She gave me a black robe and allowed me to work as an assistant in various groups. Super great! I also received permission to film in the ashram for a movie about my favourite meditation, Nataraj. This was also an experience I cherish despite the fact that the ashram leaders did not like it because I also showed the daily life of the Indian population… I see meditation in all daily activities: a street sweeper cleaning the road, workers carrying bricks at a construction site, a rickshaw ride….”
“I called this video The Empty Chair – it is a video diary with an empty chair used as a projection screen. To me it was about ‘dying in the dance – living in the fire of meditation’.”
Breath – Voice of the Soul
Many more movies and television videos followed and during the eighties and nineties Praharsha travelled widely in-between films, mainly to India, Australia (where he visited the aboriginals and became fascinated with their didgeridoo), Pakistan and Ethiopia; in 2008 he visited China and North Korea.
Through his friendship with Dwari (who was trained by Prof. Ilse Middendorf, a lone icon excelling in breath therapy) he became acquainted with the deeper meaning and importance of breathing. This ultimately led him to make a documentary about the groundbreaking ‘Breathwork’ of Ilse Middendorf.
He is keen to point out that this movie, Breath – Voice of the Soul [Watch on YouTube], has similarities with the way Osho speaks in discourse: “When Ilse spoke, she was breathing with her movements; it is more of a touching visual monument rather than a movie with scenes. Ilse wasn’t interested in speaking about herself but rather to demonstrate the importance of experiencing breath.”
Holger became a member
of the Red Army Faction
and I found
the radical expression
I had been seeking for –
radicalism without violence.
Five years ago Praharsha met George Clooney in Castel del Monte in Abruzzo, Italy, when the team of the annual Sulmona Cinema Film Festival awarded the Silver Ovidius to Clooney during the shooting of The American, for his inspiring help to the local population after the then recent earthquakes in the region.
Praharsha took the opportunity to give Clooney a DVD of his 2002 film, Starbuck – Holger Meins, a documentary portrait and his second film about Meins, where Clooney appears in a short sequence. “During the students’ movement we became radicals; Holger became a member of the Red Army Faction and I found the radical expression I had been seeking for – with Osho: radicalism without violence.”
Praharsha’s latest film (his 31st since 1966) is called Video Vertov. ‘Video’ means I see. ‘Vertov’ refers to the Russian film pioneer Dziga Vertov who created one of the most exciting movies in film history ever, Man with a Movie Camera. [Watch on YouTube]
Originally Video Vertov was to be a symbolic ‘handing over the torch’; the ageing Praharsha telling his life story to his grandson. However, his son-in-law did not allow to place little Florian as a central figure in his life’s review, so he simply extended the idea of a ‘transfer’ by raising the story from a personal to a symbolic, intergenerational level. The plan was to unravel the confused historical tangle of the late 60s, 70s and 80s with their radical social movements and to grant justice to Osho’s role.
After the revolution
my basic life questions
It is a film about love and revolution, primal scream and meditation, the Red Army Faction and Osho. Red is the colour of all passions – from love to hatred, the colour of royalty and communism, the colour of danger and joy. Sannyasins are shown clad in the colours of the rising sun, in all possible shades of red. There is a striking passage in the film which shows the new sannyasin Swami Satyam Praharsha, whom the viewer had just seen as Gerd Conradt amid a sea of red Communist flags, suddenly pointing his camera to the ‘Ashram in Pune’, into a sea of deep-red robed and unleashed ‘dynamic’ meditating sannyasins!
This amazing swivel appears like an obvious symbol of time, because the generation of ’68 split up – some wanted to see blood and chose terrorism, for others the red they saw showed them the way within. Many of those who had flirted with extremism later became sannyasins.
Video Vertov is a testament of Praharsha’s 50-year career as a creative filmmaker. A journey through the history of media, from the private to the universal, a life between adaptation and provocation; a life in search of knowing oneself.
“In December 1986 Osho answered my question: ‘What is the difference between words and pictures?’ I feel that, indirectly, he always encouraged me to stay with my film work – because that is the medium in which I learned to grow. Video Vertov was created in this spirit – I have even included a small part of him answering my question….
Video Vertov will be released on 18th September 2014 with English subtitles and lots of great music. The DVD can be ordered from amazon.de or from www.basisfilm.de [watch trailer on YouTube]. DVD-Premiere with Praharsha in the Brotfabrik Berlin on 21st September 4pm.
A Great Difference Between Words and Pictures
Satyam Praharsha was born in Prussia, grew up in Germany and took sannyas in 1982 in Berlin. He is a cameraman, director, writer and lecturer for practical video technology. Most of his films and video programmes are portraits – conceptually arranged time images, often documentaries ranging over long periods of time. Every year, since 1984, he participates in various international festivals and is a member of the German Film Academy. He lives with his partner Hedwig in Berlin. www.gerdconradt.de