Finding Peace In The Land Of Contradictions: A Visual Story Of India

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Holy Priest in India

At times life can be dull, pretentious and unfulfilling. Of course mass media has a significant effect on our perception of life and happiness, making us believe money could be the answer to all our problems, that it will magically make everything better, including our feelings, our relationships and inner satisfaction. Today we are in conversation with a skilled filmmaker and photographer, Tolis Fragoudis, who left behind his 9 to 5 grind, in a quest to find simple joys and his unique journey to release his stunning documentary - Spiritual India.

Tolis Art

Would you like to tell our readers a little about yourself?

I was born in Greece and raised in Switzerland. I spent many years of my life working as a successful Manager for high profile companies until I learnt a lesson through a certain event in my life.

I realised, this kind of materialistic and successful life wasn’t giving me joy. I felt like I was functioning like a puppet with no control on my own life. So to make a deep change I put traveling and photography into the core of my life. I knew that aiming to focus on something I am passionate about was the only way to look after my inner well-being and it naturally led me to a humble lifestyle. I focused on my true desires and material things only became an instrument that I’d use to transform my dreams into reality.

I didn’t want other things to determine who I was, instead I wanted my creativity to determine it. As I changed my focus, I felt like things became effortless and I realised how much ease had started to flow through my life and how good that felt. That feeling is the most valuable thing I own today and I want to take care of it for the rest of my life.

Today I'm a filmmaker and a photographer. Once a year, I focus on my own project, every winter I travel for two months to capture footage and then do post production during the rest of the year.

Spiritual India is a result of that and the biggest so far. Of course such projects are not possible without a solid budget. I only managed it by working hard, seven days a week, which enabled me to finance this completely on my own.

Rajasthan India

You live in Switzerland, so what inspired you to tell stories about India?

After going through this life transformation and becoming more enthusiastic about photography and filmmaking, I slowly started to hone my skills to become a serious photographer and videographer. I started to take more jobs to improve my skills. Being in this flow made me more curious about my path. I wanted to understand the energies which were arousing such ecstatic feelings in me. So I had a quick vision to go to India, make a film and find out whatever I could find, without any prejudice, without any expectations and open my heart to anything that’ll cross my way.

The reason why I made this film is very easy: I did it because it was simply time to do this. I have no commercial purposes, no attributes like; competition, money, success, fulfilling requirements, satisfying stakeholders, etc. I did it with complete creative freedom only because I was curious to see how far I could go.

Tell us about your mind frame while you were traveling across different parts of India and capturing stories?

My mind was completely free of everything. As I had invested all my money in this project, I was completely free to do it anytime, anywhere, and anything that I wanted. 

I didn’t have any plan. I didn’t want to compromise on anything. I travelled in my own flow and I decided to let life take me wherever it wanted me to, ready to dive into things I felt comfortable with and leave things I found uncomfortable. No obligations, no demands and no pressure, just being fluid and living my life at its fullest potential.

Why is ‘Spiritual India’ a special project?

It is neither special nor extraordinary, it is only an authentic film that catches real momentums of life. It’s very real!

If you understand how much value only a few seconds in your life can have, you will understand how limited life is in time and how important it is to experience and enjoy such little moments to its fullest.

To get a glimpse of what moments I'm talking about: I have visited some of the most sacred places, participated in holy Hindu rituals, spent a lot of time with a sadhus under a tree and even visited and spoke to a sadhu in a cave. I lived with a Muslim family, filmed the prayers, walked at midnight over a bridge to feel the breath of Himalayas.

I loved being surrounded by huge eagles while they were fed meat. I thought I'd be sinned, falling into the holiest lakes of India, only to learn from a sadhu that god Brahma would accept me.

I was invited to see the most beautiful gypsy dancers I have ever seen, talked to a man who western people would consider as a beggar and found out that he was a true philosopher with the wisdom of the ancient Greeks and so on. I could go on forever. At the end, our life is an accumulation of moments and you are the creator, that’s what I felt during this project.

While filming, especially in the rural areas of India, how did you overcome the language hurdle?

It was not in English, although people in the rural areas understand the language more or less. I was lucky to meet people who helped me with translation and then I relied on gestures, which literally became a very practical language and the best thing is, it worked very well during the filming.

Have you spiritually and emotionally grown through this project?

The only conclusion and wisdom I can claim to have after this experience is what Socrates used to say 2500 years ago: “I know that I know nothing”.

I had the opportunity to get a glimpse of what was out there. But the sparkle of what I experienced was turning my life upside-down. My spirit became like a wild horse and my emotions like a wild river and the less I tried to fight them, the less effort it took me to ride them. I think this is similar to what a surfer must feel like. You cannot fight a wave but you can connect with it.

All I know is the experience made me feel connected to my life.

Himalayas India

What are your expectations from this film?

I have a motto, I’m expecting nothing but I’ll take it all.

I made this film without any expectations and I’m still in the same position. At the moment I am doing movie shows where I've previewed all 11 parts and explained all the stories.

I just finished two shows in Zurich, and both shows were completely booked out. In other words people were sitting on the ground, standing in the back or wherever they could find a place.

People of all ages, from teenagers to retired grandmothers, from several countries and several religions, just every kind of people you can imagine, where there. I was not expecting this at all. To see how little it takes to inspire people is worth all the effort.

But what gives me most hope is that human hearts still long for the real fire in life.

It seems like people get tired of all the illusions that society is selling them every day like pop-star shows, bachelor shows, big-brother shows, reality-shows of celebrities, shows where embarrassing and disrespecting other humans has become normal, abusing animals for entertainment while they are suffering, watching people debate like kindergarten kids and these are the people running for presidency to become world-leaders!

Yet amidst this chaos, what’s nice is there is a sparkle of hope that everyone is not falling into this madness.

Would you like to share a unique experience/memory while living and capturing individual stories in India?

One night, while I was in Rishikesh also known as the Gateway to Himalayas, I was walking home after a jam session from a little hippy bar.  It was after midnight and there was not even one bone on the streets, as we say here in Swiss, so it was literally like a ghost town. I approached this very long bridge called Lakshman Jhula. My guesthouse was on the other side of the river Ganges so it was a bit scary to cross because the wind was blowing and the bridge was shaking a bit, and for some reason I felt uncomfortable to cross but that was my way home. Despite the strange feeling I had, I stopped half way on this bridge and looked towards to mountains.

As I mentioned there was this cold strong howling wind blowing through my whole body and as I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a moment there was a clarity in me, letting me clearly understand, this wind is the breath of Himalaya. It felt as if the Himalayas would let me know, that they noticed me.

Without even seeing the mountains, I was standing there in the middle of the night on this bridge with such a reverence in me that till today I cannot explain what it was. I experienced one of those vibrant feelings where I felt I could die in this moment and I wouldn’t even mind.

This was one of those moments where I understood that these few seconds in life made my whole life worthwhile.

Ganges view India

Do you feel you’ve captured the essence of India through these 11 unique stories? If so how?

The essence of India is something far beyond what someone like me could ever capture in this life, or in another thousand lives, neither with my camera nor with my mind.

One billion short films would not be enough to give any justice to what the real secrets of this country are. To capture a culture of over 12000 years’ of history is a mission impossible. If I would say I captured the essence, I would be disrespecting the energies ruling a place like India. Only the spirit is able to capture such a beauty.

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