The yoga world is still mourning the death while celebrating the life of yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar who passed away August 20 at 95. Senior Iyengar teacher Bobby Clennell recently spoke with her son, filmmaker Jake Clennell, over the phone about his experience as a child tagging along to India with his parents, and what it was like to film Guruji for ‘Sadhaka’, a new documentary film about the life and teaching of B.K.S. Iyengar. The following are Jake’s words.
Overall, I would say I have spent, on and off since age five, two years studying at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI), Pune. During that time, I took many photos of Mr. Iyengar and with my father (Lindsey Clennell) I remember shooting some film of him, too. I always wanted to make a great film about Guruji.
Finally on his 90th birthday, Lindsey and I knew we had to make a start. It was too much of a significant occasion to miss. After that I started following him around with the camera. Then finally we took a deep breath, and formally asked Guruji’s permission to make a documentary film about him. He said yes, but qualified his yes with, “But don’t follow me, follow my students,” which seemed a tad disappointing at the time. If Guruji suggests something, you do it, added to which, it’s probably a good idea. So I did just that – I filmed a number of Indian senior teachers and their students. One young student who attends the RIMYI high school in Bellur, the school built by Guruji in the village where he was born and raised, was truly inspirational. Through filming her it became very clear to me the impact that his teaching has on people’s lives.
As a filmmaker, I wasn’t interested in showing the vast scope of his work, his global impact, or how many teachers he had trained. Plus, I wasn’t interested in making a propaganda piece, listing all of his awards or showing library footage from the past. I wanted to show how vibrant he was at this age.
I was always very careful when I was filming him to keep it professional. The Iyengar family work hard and they appreciated that I was also focused and working hard. I showed him some footage and it made me very happy to have the opportunity to go over it with him, sitting with him in his library while he viewed the images on my laptop. It gave him confidence in the project. It was after I showed him that footage that he gave me free reign to film him more intimately.
After all of that work – I spent weeks and weeks in each location – I got to shoot intimate material. It happened mostly in the asana hall. I had already covered plenty of “National Geographic” shots of him in temples and so on but what is really interesting, and what he really does is, teach people and reach people through their bodies. From a filmmaker’s point of view, and also as somebody who has spent a long time watching him as a kid, I wondered how that would come across on film as it such a subtle, yet sophisticated thing that he’s doing.
Some of the most incredibly touching scenes I filmed were of the small group of teachers and students who arranged his props for him in the asana hall each morning. They were extremely familiar with Guruji’s practice. There was a weekly order to it. In his 90s, his practice would involve a lot of precisely placed props.
[Ed. note from Bobby: Jake starts to cry as he remembers this incident. Then I start to cry as I am, listening back, transcribing his words.]
I have never in my life seen such an expression of love and devotion. As those teachers assisted him, the intensity of the moment – it was just so beautiful. The care they showed this body that had been through so much experimentation in the service of others. His body at the end was like a massive treasure trove, a vast repository of experience and wisdom and those around him knew it without a shadow of a doubt. There was no confusion amongst those around him as to who and what he was.
One day he was doing Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose) supported through a chair. He reached for a prop. One of his helpers, Raya, who was practicing Padmasana (Lotus Pose) in Sirsasana (Headstand) nearby, swiftly unwound his legs, rolled out of the pose, slid across the floor and got an extra blanket for Guruji. The whole action, from the moment Guruji’s hand twitched, to the moment Raya touched Guruji’s hand with the blanket took hardly one second.
SADHAKA: the yoga of B.K.S. Iyengar is a feature documentary film about BKS Iyengar’s practice, life and influence from award winning director, Jake Clennell. The film is currently in post–production editing. Watch the extended trailer below and consider making a donation to help finish the film.