Road to Peace
Review by Jini Reddy
Road to Peace, a film produced and directed by Londoner Leon Stuparich is billed as an intimate portrait of the Dalai Lama. So what?, you might be thinking. Haven’t there been dozens of films on the Dalai Lama already? Why do we need another?
Because if you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be in the presence of the Tibetan spiritual leader (he resigned in 2011 as political leader), this is your chance to find out. The film is as close to a flesh-and-blood encounter with the man as it gets. Like all Dalai Lamas before him – he’s the 14th – Tenzin Gyatso is believed to be a manifestation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion (an enlightened being), and the aura of joyful serenity he exudes fairly bursts through the celluloid.
“The Office of Tibet invited us to make a proposal to film his 2008 visit to the UK,” says Stuparich, explaining the project’s genesis. “I felt a huge responsibility to show the side of the Dalai Lama that nobody else was showing. The films that showed him as a politician portrayed a rather depressed man struggling against the might of the Chinese. The reality was he was a funny, friendly man at peace with himself. He is someone who is promoting peace for everyone on the planet, not just Tibetans.”
In the film, we hear briefly about the Dalai Lama’s early days and his escape into exile in India, before leaping to the present day. We see His Holiness being ushered backstage in the Royal Albert Hall, London. He’s the very picture of jollity; relaxed, down-to-earth, kind – while around him there’s a swell of emotion. The people who’ve waited for hours (sometimes years) for his visit are in paroxysms of tears, grinning wildly, or are solemn and reverential. His ensuing speech is a success, the audience cheers, and on the way out he sweetly acknowledges dignitaries and cleaners alike.
The next stop is London Metropolitan University, where he cracks jokes with a dazed and grateful Dean and patiently fields questions on the thorny issue of Tibet and China. The Dalai Lama’s levity in contrast to many of those he meets is striking. We watch him hug and reduce stiff-backed Englishmen to tears, and at Lambeth Palace he addresses an interfaith gathering and mesmerises a room full of non-Buddhists. “He meets people at a human level,” says one charmed cleric.
Yes, and how. Amid the smiles and without missing a beat, the Dalai Lama tirelessly repeats his message: that warm-heartedness, honesty and compassion allied with willpower and determination are the key factors to a happy and successful life, be it on any level. Strive for inner peace, change yourself, and you’ll change the world, he says.
Stuparich sees this as a call to universal responsibility: “My understanding of his message is that we all have a responsibility for the wellbeing not only of ourselves, but the wellbeing of the planet,” he says. “We can all have a positive impact on the environment, on poverty. We become responsible by not deferring the responsibility to someone else. We are all ‘someone else’.”
The film was entirely self-funded and the response, Stuparich says, has been amazing: “People say that watching the film feels like they have been in the company of His Holiness. They also come away feeling like they have practical tools to start changing their own lives for the better.”
Unsurprisingly, shadowing the Dalai Lama has had a profound effect on the filmmaker: “It’s been transformational. Slowly, bit by bit, I’m learning how to be at peace with myself. And I think that’s what he teaches, that person by person we can create a world at peace.”