Baba Ramdev. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Baba Ramdev. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

‘Yoga Yatra’ and the business savviness of Baba Ramdev

Ramdev's Trust Patanjali Yogpeeth funded the movie but did not pay Sony a paisa for telecasting the film on a Sunday morning

What is it with bearded godmen in India acting as themselves on celluloid? First, it was Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh “Insan" in MSG, and now it is Gurugram Ki Shaan, Corporate India Ka Sher—Baba Ramdev. Unlike MSG though, Babaji is not self-obsessed (well, not totally). So the 90-minute film called Yoga Yatra is described as “An inspiring journey of Yoga Guru Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna" and was telecast on Sony on 1 May.

I could not bring myself to watch the 90-minute film on Sony, on a Sunday. I instead watched the 90-second trailer of the film, which seemed like 90 minutes by the time I was done with it. The film is written and directed by Kaveta Chaudhury. Remember Lalitaji of Udaan and Surf fame? Well, she’s the one who’s directed this biopic of Babaji and his BFF, Balkrishna.

When you think of the line from the Surf ad (Watch here), which says, “Lalita ji theek kehti hain, Surf ki kharidari mein hi samajhdari hai (Lalitaji is correct, buying Surf is the wise thing to do)", the lines are almost prescient about Ramdev’s spiel for buying Patanjali products.

The film on Ramdev is important because Ramdev is no ordinary godman. He is the man who is shaking up the FMCG market of India, taking on the big boys at Hindustan Unilever and Nestle. On 28 April, at a press conference, Ramdev showed his way with words, when he said, on being asked about his competitors, “Pantene ka to pant gila hone wala hai, aur do saal me Unilever ka liver kharab ho jayega (Shampoo brand Pantene is going to wet its pants and in two years, Unilever’s liver is going to stop working)." And while commenting on his company eating into the market share of MNCs, he said: “We are totally vegetarian."

Sadly, there are few such sparklers in the 90-second trailer.

Now, the fact that Balkrishna is playing Cash to Ramdev’s Tango in this film is not surprising, since all Patanjali commercials star Balkrishna and Ramdev alongside each other. Patanjali ended 2015-16 with 5,000 crore in revenue, and between November and March, Patanjali planned to spend 360 crore for advertising, Mint reported on 3 December. I would have advised Babaji to spend some of this money on hiring the scriptwriter of Wolf Of Wall Street or The Aviator, to spare his fans what has followed.

But we all know that Babaji believes in thinking desi and doing desi, and sometimes Nepali out of deference for his buddy and main man, Balkrishna. Which brings me back to the trailer, which I have kindly broken down for viewers since no one should have to watch it unless they really want to.

Imagine a blank dark screen.

The words ONE MAN flash on the screen.

Visual: Ramdev appears, carrying a cycle with a big sack on it. Then he’s stirring a big vat of something boiling. Wearing white robes.

Voice-over (VO): Ek aise maanav ki kahaani, jo ban gayi kahaani maanavta ki (This is the story of a human which becomes a story of humanity).

Visual: People milling around a car.

Ramdev emerges from the water with his hair straightened and beard straightened—like Jesus. Or is it Mangal Pandey? Either way, it’s without either’s good looks.

Then Cash emerges by his side.

VO: Ek aisi yatra jo kahaani bhi hai aur prerna bhi (A journey which is both a story as well as an inspiration).

Visual: Balkrishna and he in synchronised movements walk together, pour water off a rock together. They’re the ultimate BFFs.

(OMG. I’m only 33 seconds into the trailer.)

Visual: Flags are waving. Women are crying. Ramdev is now in saffron robes. He is picking up a child. (What seems to be the Jaws theme song is playing in the background.)

0:39 seconds: Ramdev decides he is SRK and lifts his arms up in a SRK move, while Balkrishna looks on from behind him.

The screen goes dark and the words—ONE FRIEND—flash on the screen.

Visual: Ramdev appears. The camera moves slightly and behind him we see Balkrishna emerge. Standing with his head bowed, ever so slightly, expressionless. This is by far the most horrific scene of the trailer. It’s like Chucky appearing from behind.

VO: Kahaani ek dost ki (The story of one friend).

Visual: Balkrishna and Ramdev are carrying sacks across the water. (I have still not understood the repeated symbolism of the sacks. They keep carrying them in varying sizes through the trailer.) Ramdev stumbles and falls and Balkrishna reaches out his hand to him, but doesn’t pick him up. (He honestly could have been a bit more helpful.)

Balkrishna is addressing a massive rally. Now he is carrying another sack of something, it looks like a human body has been stuffed in it. Now Balkrishna is stirring a vat of liquid. Wearing a vest. Showing us his arms.

VO: Jisse dosti nibhaane ki ek misaal khada kar diya (He has become an example of friendship.)

Visual (set to Jaws music): Now they’re both carrying sacks. They keep stumbling. Balkrishna’s dhoti is now a langot. There are two boys running with two more sacks.

Visual: Ramdev and Balkrishan are both on a mountain. One in white, one in saffron.

VO: A thin reedy voice says, “Duniya ko duniya ki bhasha mein samjhane ki zaroorat hai (The world needs to be explained things in the language of the world)."

Visual: Babaji and Babyji are walking up a mountain. Babaji is now doing the surya namaskar.

VO: Kahaani yog dwara kranti ki (It’s a revolution through yoga).

Visual: Babaji is doing anulom vilom (His beard by the way stopped being straight 30 seconds into the trailer).

Visual: Babaji is smiling at people. Sticking his head out of the sun roof of a car, with Balkrishna popping out by him.

Visual: There are government buildings, a boy walking through a small alley.

THE END

The travesty of spending god knows how many lakhs on what can only loosely be called a “film" is a topic for another day. Once you’ve gotten over the esoteric-ness of the film, here’s something to remind you of the business savviness of Baba Ramdev. Patanjali Yogpeeth, which is Ramdev’s Trust, funded the movie but did not pay Sony a paisa for telecasting the film on a Sunday morning. According to news reports, such deals usually cost between 50 lakh and 1 crore. Sony will make its money not from Ramdev, but from selling ad spots.

According to Ramdev’s best buddy and the chairman of Patanjali Ayurved, Balkrishna, “We have given Sony rights for one-time telecast. We are not paying Sony anything, nor is Sony paying Patanjali. Whatever advertising revenue Sony generates stays with it. Our aim is to get more and more people to watch this motivational film which will also increases awareness about Patanjali." With a friend like Balkrishna, who needs an accountant?

Frankly, between The Kapil Sharma Show and the Balkrishna-meets-Ramdev biopic, Sony seems to have established itself as the new Comedy Central. I’m still reeling from trying to decipher all the symbolism in the film and erase the image of Balkrishna staring listlessly into the camera. I must say, though, I was disappointed that there were no visuals of Babaji hacking off the heads of hundreds of people who refused to say Bharat Mata Ki Jai. But maybe that’s been saved for the sequel—Babaji Strikes Back.

If despite my second-by-second breakdown of the trailer, you still want to watch the trailer, take a deep breath, say Bharat Mata Ki Jai and click here.

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