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The Bridge at Rishikesh

     

Synopsis

(This film is based on the Hebrew docudrama  "Enlightenment")

In 1994 Paul Bennett, a young advertising copywriter from Highland Park in Chicago decided to take a trip to India with friends Tom and Rachel. Theyíd been fascinated by the sub-continent since their High School days. Like thousands of young Americans, skeptical of their role in the brashest capitalist economy on earth, and also wondering whether there was something else to life...they decided to go see it.

 In the course of his journey, Paul writes letters home to his parents and to his two friends as they separate to visit different places. He also records his journey on home video. As the journey progresses, his letters change from the incidental comments of the young traveling American, to perceptive and sensitive insights into who he is and where he now thinks he is going. The home movie becomes an extraordinary and stunning visual chronicle of a young manís journey into what he believes is spiritual enlightenment.  

But the trip begins in disillusionment. Having thought of India as a colorful, friendly and happy place, Paul is robbed on his first night in Bombay and spends the next few days trying to contact his parents and have them send him some money. He feels desperate and lost and considers returning home.

 But things seem better when they decide to head for Goa - theyíd heard about the drugs, all‑night raves and uninhibited beach life. They go and enjoy what has made Goa famous - or notorious - among young tourists from all over the world.

But Paulís thoughts now turn beyond drugs and enjoyment. He starts to ask questions he never asked before. ďWhy wasnít I happy all my life? What will make me happy?Ē In his heart, Paul begins making plans to embark on a deeper spiritual quest. Paul travels alone to Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities. In the exquisite city on the banks of the Ganges, Paul encounters holy men, magnificent temples and thousands of Hindus rushing to bathe in the sacred river at daybreak. Alongside all this grandeur and spirituality people everywhere try to waylay Paul and cajole him to part with his money.  

Paul canít find the answers to the questions that begin to eat away at his soul with increasing intensity. But Paul is told by a sadhu (Holy man) of the kumbh mela, a great religious gathering. Paul is filled with hope that he will finally find what he has started to crave. After traveling through the night, he arrives at what is probably the largest gathering of humanity for a common purpose. Through the dawn mists he sees a camp of six million people.  

The religious gathering is captivating, almost circus-like, full of impressive and colorful ceremonies. Paul is overwhelmed at first but then is shocked to discover that most of the sadhus are charlatans and petty swindlers. Alone and confused, he wanders through this bizarre spiritual fair, unable to retrace his steps but equally unable to find his way. The questions plaguing his mind set his soul reeling.

 In a desperate attempt to restore his emotional balance, Paul rests in a village where he is welcomed by a local family. The peace and tranquility he encounters in the village intensify the alienation from his own family life. Paul continues to Rishikesh, a town in the Himalayan foothills, where he hopes to find monks who, like him, are tired of human society and prefer to live as hermits in the mountain caves. After wandering, he finds a cave with a sadhu in seclusion. Paul is attracted to his mischievous laugh as he gazes at the monk through the fireís thick smoke. The letters he writes from the cave reveal the all too delicate boundary between madness and genius, between creativity and abandon.

Paulís letters and video eventually record how he finds himself at a crossroads of his life at the bridge over the Ganges at Rishikesh. He has come to believe that when he crosses the bridge he cannot return to his former life.  

Paul crossed the bridge and disappeared into the mists beyond the river. He never came home.  He has not been seen since. His parents and friends still have the letters and the video. They wait, hoping one day to see him again.

 The Bridge at Rishikesh  is based on the true story of a young Israeli, Arnon Yahell, who left home in 1994. His parents Batia and Yakob live in Savion, Israel and have his letters. There was no video shot by Arnon. This device has been added to enable the film to become a mixture of dramatic reconstruction and personal visual storytelling by Paul. Paulís film becomes the compelling central narrative of the movie, with his thoughts and experiences retold by the images he recorded and readings from his letters.

 

CHARACTERS

 Paul: Paul is young, bright and very good at his job writing advertising copy. He enjoys his dog eat dog creative world, but always in the back of his mind he felt that his life as a successful young American was shallow. He is a winner but comes to question what Ďwinningí means. And these thoughts were continually focused by his day to day work Ė using his creative skills to oil the wheels of consumer America.  

 Rachel: A strong-willed but somewhat ditzy young woman who has been Paulís close friend and the object of his affections Ė and those of their mutual childhood friend Tom Ė since their high school days. Paul and Tom courted her relentlessly as part of their never-ending one-upmanship contest, but Rachelís relationship with both never went beyond ďgood friends.Ē

Tom: Paulís childhood friend and chief rival for Rachelís heart is a handsome, charming young man who seeks spirituality but lacks Paulís depth. Even back in high school, the two were rivals as well as friends, their contest over Rachel representing only one aspect of a far more intense kind of competition. Tomís confidence and dominance always left Paul frustrated and hurt.

 William and Phyllis Bennett (Paulís Parents): Paulís parents receive his letters and read about the changes happening to their son. Paul finds it difficult to share his spiritual experiences with them, as he feels they are foreign to their world and to their way of life. Dr. Bennett is a liberal-minded psychologist with a keen analytical mind who maintains a solid, well-entrenched view of the world. His only disappointment is that all his expertise in psychology has not helped him to narrow the gap and ease the crisis between him and his son. Paulís mother is a real estate agent and vacillates between hope and despair, realizing that Paulís disappearance is harder to take than his death, because uncertainty makes it all the more difficult for her to reconcile herself to what has happened.

Barbara: Ten years Paulís senior, Barbara is both a sister and mother figure to him. Paul always looked up to her, admiring her accomplishments as a militant environmental activist and her hippie-like free spirit. She understands him and can identify with his experiences more than anyone else in the family.

 

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